A Vintage Stock
When many people think of wine cellars, they see an image of cold, dank, cobwebby underground cave-like rooms so dark that the light barely reflects off of the bottles of aged vino.
In Oklahoma, however, the OKC Cellar goes more modern and above and beyond the basic wine cellar concept. This facility combines the high-tech, climate-controlled storage of fine wine with a club room full of plush chairs, wood tables and a community kitchen. Welcome to Oklahoma’s only wine storage facility.
No wine is sold in this state-of-the-art environment but it is full of bottles from private collections. The collectors are finding a place to not only store their drinkable treasure in the perfect climate, but a comfortable lobby club room to enjoy the flavors of their own bottles.
“We store individually-owned wine. It’s such a simple concept, but nothing like it existed in Oklahoma before,” said Hunter Merritt, co-founder of the OKC Cellar. With storage size options starting at a small cubby that holds 58 bottles up to a full locker that can store 396 bottles, collectors of all sizes now have a secure location for those ruby or white bottles.
A Simple Idea
Merritt began plotting a way to open a wine storage facility after seeing a similar concept in Dallas while he was in college. The first facility was popular, and each additional facility the company opened was filled just as fast.
“I thought it was a decent signal for success if they sold out of space at each facility,” Merritt said. “Why not here?” Opening a wine storage facility in Oklahoma isn’t a new idea, but Merritt said previous entrepreneurs made the concept too complicated, envisioning multi-million dollar medieval-type cellars that were not cost-effective to the customer.
“Ours includes small storage for small collectors to custom walk-in lockers,” Merritt said. “There are lots of young wine enthusiasts that may only have 40 or so bottles. We wanted something for everyone, not just the big collectors with 500 bottles.” The storage room is kept at a perfect and steady 55 degrees. A backup generator ensures that Oklahoma’s ice storms or thunderstorms that knock out power do not ruin a fine collection.
“You don’t have to be old or rich to have a collection of wine,” Merritt said. “I think everyone is trying harder with wine these days. Oklahoma City is in the middle of a renaissance, and wine is very popular with both the old and the young.”
Merritt said 19 clients currently store their collection at OKC Cellar with room for roughly 40 more clients. Some clients only store a handful of bottles. Others are looking for a place to keep more than 1,000 bottles. Rates range from $33 a month for a small cubby to $198 a month for a full locker.
“We’d love to open a facility in Tulsa, Santa Fe and places like that,” Merritt said. “It’s fun to be a part of the renaissance going on here.”
Prairie Wolf Spirits
OKC Cellar is just one of Merritt’s endeavors. He’s also the co-founder of one of a few Oklahoma distilleries, Prairie Wolf Spirits. The distillery is owned and operated solely by the Merritt family.
“It’s named after the Prairie Wolf Ranch in Loyal,” Merritt said. “Our first release was vodka, and it’s in 1,200 places now and 95 percent of liquor stores carry the brand.”
In addition to vodka, Prairie Wolf also offers a coffee liqueur called Dark. Unlike other coffee liqueurs, Dark uses beans grown in America and Kona Valley certified with only all-natural ingredients with no flavorings or colorings. The Prairie Wolf Loyal Gin is one of the distillery’s highest-rated products.
“Tastings.com rated 400 gin products, and Loyal Gin was number 2 in taste,” Merritt said. “We get our botanicals for the gin from Savory Spice here in Oklahoma City and our green tea from Urban Teahouse. We really want to keep it local.”
The distillery also offers special releases like the “M” Whiskey, which debuted Oct. 1 and a barrel-finished gin that’s 114-proof—considered navy-strength. “The M Whiskey will be a blend of bourbon and rye whiskeys,” Merritt said. “Every drop is sold already. Our whiskey stayed in the barrels for two years and six months.”
When Prairie Wolf first opened three years ago, Merritt’s biggest challenge was educating the public. Today, its popularity is flowing.
“I think, again, it’s part of the renaissance of Oklahoma,” he said. “People want to support local. The craft breweries paved the road for us, and we just rode their coattails. We’re still breaking through. Even though our sales are huge, there’s still 90 percent of Oklahomans who have never heard of us. I think we’ll keep growing.”