Wineries and the wine making process are becoming more and more popular in Oklahoma. Dewayne Cooley, originally from Hollis, is finding his niche and making his mark in the industry.
Cooley, who has been growing grapes for seven years, said he took on the grape growing challenge because he was looking for a way to make money on only a small amount of land. Cooley named his three-acre vineyard, part of his fifteen-acre homestead, Vision Vineyards.
Located five miles south of Dibble, Cooley said there is not much to see in the way of tourist-type sights, but he is more than willing to show visitors his vineyards, answer questions and tell them about the growing process "in as much detail as someone wants."
He stays busy with a variety of tasks, depending on the time of year. Among his duties are caring for the plants, pruning, spraying and thinning. "Then there's harvest," he said.
Cooley said his least favorite task is thinning the grapes. He explained that thinning is essential because the vines sometimes produce more bunches of grapes than they can bring to ripeness.
One of the reasons Cooley stays so busy is that he runs the entire operation by himself. However, during harvest season, he does hire local clubs or groups to help. In the past, a local band class and a cheerleading squad have lent a helping hand.
"I will take all the help I can get at harvest," he said, adding that work begins at 6:30 a.m. and continues until "all the buckets I can haul are full."
Cooley grows three kinds of grapes at Vision Vineyards-Merlot, Zinfandel, and Muscat Canelli.
"I grow red and white grapes so between them you can make just about any style of wine," he said.
Cooley participated in an international wine judging competition in January. Eleven countries were represented and 1,500 wines were entered. While Cooley admits he did not win the competition for his grapes, he is proud of the fact that the Merlot, which took the silver medal, was made from them.
Cooley sells his grapes to Canadian River Vineyards and Winery in Slaughterville, ten miles south of Norman. He said he moves them "as quick as possible" (after the harvest) because the grapes will start to ferment in the picking containers due to the heat."
Gene Clifton, one of the owners of Canadian River, said his wines are available in at least 150 liquor stores. In Edmond, Canadian River wines can be purchased at The Liquor Station, Edmond Wine Shop, and Smithcott Liquors.
Clifton is proud of what he does and said what makes his winery unique is that he purchases all of the grapes used in the wine making process from Oklahoma vineyards. Eighty percent of those grapes come from Vision Vineyards.
"They're the best grapes we get-even including our own," he said, referring to the twenty acres of mature vines at Canadian River.
"I guess what makes them good is I try to pay attention to the details," Cooley said.
Clifton said the Merlot grapes he purchases from Vision Vineyards are aged for a full year in oak barrels before being made into the award winning and most popular wine they offer. On the other hand, the Muscat and Zinfandel grapes must only undergo a 90 to 120 day process before being ready to sell.
When asked about the recent surge in popularity of Oklahoma wineries, Cooley admitted it may have started as a phase but now seems to be here to stay.
"I think people really enjoy the atmosphere of a winery, tasting different wines and sitting out on the deck," he said. "At first it may have been a novelty thing but as the vines get older some of the wineries are starting to make some very good wines."
For more information, contact Vision Vineyards at (405) 344-6456 or [email protected] Canadian River Vineyards and Winery may be reached at (405) 872-5565 or at their website at www.canadianriverwinery.com.