The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local news

April 14, 2013

Grape crop strong amid dry weather

While wheat farmers and other agriculture producers across Oklahoma struggle with drought, the reduced precipitation has been a boon for at least one crop.

Consumers can expect to appreciate last year’s high-quality harvest on store shelves by the end of this year, said Gene Clifton, operator of Canadian River Winery and president of Oklahoma Grape Industry Council.

“We’ve been at this for 13 years, and last crop was our best ever,” Clifton said. “The quality of the grape has been better, so we’re just the reverse of everyone else. I felt sorry for everybody else around me, all the wheat and hay fields and all that, but it’s been great for us.”

According to a recent study commissioned by the organization, Oklahoma has more than 60 wineries, up from just three in 2000, when state legislation allowed commercial winery tasting rooms. The state has climbed to 31st in wine production, with about 4,000 cases of wine per year, according to research by Frank, Rimerman & Co.

Many of those wineries don’t have their own vineyards, so a network of contracts and business partnerships has developed to keep grapes flowing to the presses. About 140 commercial vineyards operate 440 acres of mature vines, but Clifton told The Journal Record demand is exceeding supply.

The vast majority of grapes produced in Oklahoma will remain in the state this year, he said, and other producers are happy for it, given the circumstances. The next batches of Oklahoma-produced wines should be better than usual.

“It’s always a good year for Oklahoma wine,” said Dennis Flaming of Fairview, owner of Plymouth Valley Cellars.

Flaming said the company sustained some freeze damage, but will not be able to tell how severe it was for a couple of weeks.

“Some buds shrunk in size. I don’t know what will happen to them. Some will be borderline. It depends on how the freeze affected it,” Flaming said.

He thinks the whole area is like that. The northwest Oklahoma area is later budding out than the Oklahoma City area, which is normal. There will not be as much damage in the Panhandle as there is here, he said.

“It’s anyone’s guess what the weather does. Until it starts to green out, we have a ways to go before we’re done with it,” he said. “But Oklahoma wine is always good, and there will be good quality wine out this year.”

At Whirlwind Winery in Watonga, Brad Stinson agreed it is too early to tell.

“They’re just budding out now. We’re trying to determine if the freeze hurt us or not. It may be a week. A week will tell if they bud out from a primary or a tertiary. If it’s primary, we should have a pretty good crop,” Stinson said.

Brian Brus of The Journal Record and Staff Writer Robert Barron contributed to this story.

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