White, Red or Blush? 5

Local Wineries Want Your Business

Like the wines they lovingly produce, each of the three wineries in Cleveland County is unique.

Of the three, Canadian River Vineyard and Winery is the oldest, and in fact, is one of the oldest wineries in the state.

Gene Clifton purchased the land in Lexington in March 2000, and immediately began planting vinifera (wine) grapes. The Tasting Room opened in 2001. The vines began to produce in three years, and they began to produce Oklahoma wine. Clifton says the varieties grown on-site, especially the Riesling and Merlot, thrive in Oklahoma’s climate—especially in dry, even drought, years—and in the sandy river-bed soil.

Today, he and partners Bill Lehman and Jill Stichler oversee a thriving eight-acre vineyard, where they grow eight varieties of grape: Sauvignon Blanc, Seval, Riesling, Muscat Canelli, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese. From other Oklahoma grape growers, they purchase Riesling, Merlot, Chardonnay, Muscat Canelli and Cabernet Franc. Their most popular product is their Moscato, a sweet white wine.

All stages of wine production are handled on-site. They produce about 15 varieties, ranging from dry vinifera wines to sweet wines and a few blends, as well as a chocolate dessert wine. He, and the other winery proprietors, agreed that, in Oklahoma, sweet wines are the most popular.

“Canadian River Winery wines are Oklahoma-grown wines,” Clifton stresses. “This separates us from most Oklahoma wineries.

Their Oklahoma-grown wines have won medals in every international competition in which they have been entered. This year, their Chocolate Drop won both the Double Gold and the Best of Class at the International Wine Competition in Indianapolis run by Purdue University, which featured some 3,000 entries from around the world.

Canadian River Vineyard and Winery hosts weddings and other private events. In the spring, they host a bud break festival, in the fall, a grape-stomp in which the public is invited to dress up as the beloved comedic actress Lucille Ball. Both feature music and craft and food vendors. They also host a monthly Sunday farm market with Oklahoma-grown fruits, eggs, vegetables, fresh baked goods and music.

Canadian River Vineyards and Winery is located at 7050 Slaughterville Road. The gift shop and tasting room is open seven days per week from noon to 5 p.m. (Phone: 872.5565; website: CanadianRiverWinery.net.)

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Redbud Ridge Vineyard and Winery was founded and is owned by landscape architect Tom Knotts, who bought the property in February 2002. He cleared and planted the first half-acre that Memorial Day weekend, but waited three years to plant the remaining one and a half acres. He started making wine for sale during the fall 2006 harvest season, opened the winery for business in October of 2008.

He chose to plant only one kind of grape—Cabernet Sauvignon—a “dry, full-bodied” wine, which he supplements with grapes purchased at other Oklahoma wineries.

Despite ongoing work on Highway 9, Knotts said his business attracts a fair number of travelers, especially tourists, and workers from the nearby Postal Technical Training Center. He also has numerous loyal customers.

Despite most Oklahomans’ fondness for sweet wines, Knotts describes most of the wines that he produces at the winery as dry dinner wines, predominantly red wines.

“I planned well enough to go for the long haul with more mature wine palates in Oklahoma,” he said. “A problem I have found is that many of the people who like dry wines have gone to Oklahoma wineries and found only sweet wines, and believe that all Oklahoma wineries only make sweet wines. But sooner or later, they get bored and come out and find my winery and are surprised at the dry wine selection.

“I tell my customers that ‘I have to make the wines like I like them. Because if I can’t sell them, I will have to drink them.’ ”

His most popular products are two semi-dry wines: a Riesling and one described as “wine for stoops.” No, not that Stoops. The wine was thus named because it’s “designed to be consumed out on the stoop, or porch, of people’s homes while watching that hawk making lazy circles in the sky,” he explains.

Another popular wine selection is Think Pink. Knotts donates $2 from the sale of each bottle to a breast cancer fund operated through the Norman Regional Health Foundation.

Knotts’ interest in wines began many years earlier, as a college student in the 1960s, when he started making wine in his dorm room. In the mid-1980s, his father and another Oklahoman started a small, non-commercial winery in Edmond that they named Dos Okies.  “I was the indentured servant, so did a lot of the heavy lifting,” he said. If nothing else,” he said with a laugh, “I learned what NOT to do!”

Knotts loves to educate people about wine. On the winery’s website, visitors will find suggestions on how to pair wine and food, tips on establishing and maintaining a background vineyard, and more.

Redbud Ridge Vineyard and Winery is located at 7301 East State Highway 9, Norman. Hours are 1 to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.  (Phone: 321.9463; website: RedbudRidgeWinery.com.)

Native Spirits Winery was established nine years ago by Rick and Staci Vollmer.

The winery features a large selection of dry wines, along with some sweet ones. Their most popular is a sweet red wine, Fancy Dancer. Though they don’t grow their own grapes (Vollmer says the deer find them delicious!), they do purchase Oklahoma-grown grapes, and process and manufacture the wine in their own full-scale facility.

Native Spirits Winery features a large tasting and sales room and gift shop, and hosts weddings and other events on-site. Friday evenings, they host a live music night.

The winery attracts visitors from across the country and even overseas, and are listed as a site to visit by Harvest Host, a club for RVers.

“We’re a kind of hidden gem,” acknowledges Vollmer, noting that they depend pretty much on word of mouth and social media for publicity. “People don’t know normally think of Oklahoma in terms of wineries, but there are around 64 in the state now. We still get visitors, who live here in Norman, who say they didn’t know that we are here. We want people to come out and give us a try. If we can get people out here once, they’ll be back.”

Native Spirits Winery is located at 10500 E. Lindsey St. Winery and tasting room hours are noon to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday or by appointment. (Phone: 329.9942; website: NativeSpiritsWinery.com.)

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To learn more about one of Oklahoma’s fastest growing agribusinesses, including the three wineries featured in this story, visit 
OklahomaAgritourism.com/trails/wine-trails/.