The History of Wine in Tulsa, Oklahoma

By Haley Kieser 

Today, there is a large variety of different wines that we can enjoy for almost any occasion. This beverage dates back to approximately 4100 BC; however, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, wine wasn’t always around. In fact, it didn’t begin to emerge until the late 1800s, where it flourished into what it is today.

Wine & Oklahoma: The Beginnings

Tulsa’s wine-tasting scene didn’t exactly have the easiest beginnings due to a volatile climate and the conditions of the soil around the state. Wine pioneers had to experiment with a variety of native hybrid grapes to figure out which grape could be mass produced. The first winegrower to kickstart the industry in the state was Edward Fairchild in Oklahoma City. As both the technology and awareness of the land’s capabilities grew, so did the wine industry.

Unfortunately, obstacles remained after the first documented winery was established. Anti-alcohol advocacy groups, like the Anti-Saloon league, were successful in including prohibition in Oklahoma’s state constitution. It wasn’t until 1959 that the ban was lifted, almost a quarter of a century after the National Prohibition Act ceased. Throughout all the troubles, wine growers were able to withstand some of the pushback by focusing on grapes for eating. Production was then hit by the Dust Bowl, where farmers battled to sustain their crops through great dust storms.

Once the dust settled, literally and figuratively, the land between Oklahoma City and Tulsa saw an increase in grape production to capture new opportunities in the state!

The Process of Great Wine

The difficulties experienced in Oklahoma’s wine beginnings yielded newfound knowledge on many different species of grapes that are indigenous to the state, which contributed to the creation of premium hybrid varieties. The process of making wine from the grapevine to glass varies between the grape, the region, and the type of wine you’re making; however, it can all be broken down into five basic steps:

  1. Picking the grapes
  2. Crushing the grapes
  3. Fermenting the grapes into wine
  4. Aging the wine
  5. (Finally) Bottling it

Today, the process of making wine in Oklahoma is seamless.

It’s fairly typical for vineyards to go for white grapes before moving on to different varieties of red grapes. From the vines, the grapes are then taken to the crushing pad, where they are transformed into juice. When picking grapes, vineyards can either harvest each fruit by hand or remove it by machine. Additionally, vineyards have the choice of harvesting during the night or the day; night harvesting is a popular option for many vineyards, as you’re working in cooler temperatures to retrieve grapes that are at stable sugar levels.

Once the grapes are crushed into juice, the real wine-making process begins. White grapes, once crushed, are fed through a machine which extracts the grape juice and leaves the grape skins. The juice is then placed in a tank, where sediment sinks to the bottom. Once this step is completed, the juice is “racked,” which essentially means that it’s filtered from this tank into another one to thoroughly separate the grape juice from the leftover residue. Once this step is completed, fermentation can begin.

Red grapes are also destemmed and crushed like white grapes. The main difference is that red grapes are dumped into the tank—skins and all—to begin the fermentation process. The inclusion of the skins is what give red wine its color. If the red grapes were skinned like the white grapes, it would also make a white wine.

Fermentation is the process that turns the sugar into alcohol, and while there are different techniques employed among different vineyards, this process essentially includes adding yeast to the fermentation tanks to start. For red wines, carbon dioxide gets released, causing the grape skins to float to the surface. In order to keep the skins incorporated in the grape juice, winemakers either “punch down” or “pumpover” the concoction. After the fermentation process is complete, the red grapes are then pressed again and aged. After the appropriate amount of time (white wines are ready to be bottled after a few months, but some red wines need 18-24 months), the final product is ready to be bottled and served.

Wine in Tulsa Today

Today, Oklahoma has over 50 wineries, many of which are thriving in Tulsa, which has caused many wine enthusiasts to relocate to the Tulsa area. After getting a taste yourself, you might be next!

Here are a few wineries and other wine-tasting opportunities in and around Tulsa that you would definitely enjoy:

Whispering Vines Vineyard and Winery: An award-winning and family-operated winery that produces Oklahoma’s best. Each grape is handpicked by family and friends, blending an artistic approach to wine making.

Gander Way Vineyards and Winery LLC: A family-owned operation located a few minutes away from downtown Tulsa. Located in the hills, the winery offers breathtaking views all around.

Girouard Vines Wine: This is an urban winery located right smack dab in the middle of downtown Tulsa. They offer two brands of wine, one of which has emerged as an award-winning beverage.

The Wine Loft Bar: This gorgeous spot is truly a gem in Tulsa. With 200 different wines and a delectable gourmet menu to choose from, you definitely won’t regret stopping by this premier local eatery.

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