Proposed law could benefit Oklahoma wineries' growth
Kyven Zhao, The Oklahoma Daily
AT A GLANCE
Other notable Oklahoma wineries
When someone mentions Oklahoma, there are many images that could come to mind. One might think of football, Native Americans and oil.
The Oklahoma wine industry is on the rise and could rise more quickly if the state passes pending legislation to allow wine sales in grocery stores. Even despite the somewhat unfavorable laws, there are increasing numbers of wineries and vineyards popping up around the state, said Tom Knotts, who heads up Redbud Ridge Vineyard and Winery just outside of Norman.
Wine runs in the blood of the Knotts family. Tom Knotts' father, Max, cofounded the experimental winery, Dos Okies. He also was involved in the formation of Association of Grape Growers and Winemakers.
Tom Knotts began his wine career working at Dos Okies with his father. He later founded Redbud Ridge Vineyard and Winery after retiring.
Redbud Ridge is situated near the picturesque Lake Thunderbird. It welcomes visitors to tour the grounds and participate in wine tastings.
While some people may feel overwhelmed with the idea of talking shop at a winery, the foundation of Redbud Ridge is to remain low-key and personable — it’s about the wine, not the image, Knotts said.
Unfortunately for wineries like Redbud Ridge, this is only part of the story.
Even though more wineries in Oklahoma are having a taste of success, it hasn’t always been easy. Alcohol still can be a problematic issue in a conservative state like this. In fact, Oklahoma has some of the strictest liquor laws in the entire country.
According to Okie Brew Review, prohibition was included in the state constitution in 1907, when Oklahoma was granted statehood and 13 years before federal Prohibition. Though the federal amendment was repealed in 1933, prohibition did not end in Oklahoma until 1959.
There were some attempts by the state to promote wine-making after the repeal, but the efforts were ultimately disastrous, which set the industry back for years.
Slowly, things started to pick back up for the industry in recent years. Oklahoma State University developed an entire department dedicated to researching grapes and conditions conducive for growing grapes within Oklahoma. OSU created grapes that led to successful harvests.
In 2000, there were only four wineries in Oklahoma, Knotts said. The state passed Question 688 in all 77 counties, enabling the distribution of wine to liquor stores and restaurants, which bolstered the industry. By 2006, there were 50 wineries facing opposition from distributors and wholesalers, Knotts said.
The question was amended so wineries could only sell through distributors that added 25 percent to the cost. Knotts said this caused about 20 percent of the wineries to go out of business.
In 2008, wineries were allowed to self-distribute directly to liquor stores, but there were problems with the wording of the law that affected smaller wineries, Knotts said.
There has been some controversy with a proposed change to the state liquor laws. If successful, Oklahomans could vote to pass a motion that allows grocery stores in highly populated counties that have more than 25,000 square feet to sell wine.
For businessmen like Knotts, the change could be huge. The benefits also could extend to the state, he said. States, such as Texas and California, have laws that are friendly toward their wine industries. The industry generates tax revenues and thousands of jobs.