http://www.cherokeephoenix.orgCherokee Nation citizen Annetta Neal and her husband Don stand in front of a stainless steel tank in their winery in Stroud, Okla. The couple owns and operates StableRidge Vineyards, which is a CN Tribal Employment Rights Office-certified business. TRAVIS SNELL/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Cherokee Nation citizen Annetta Neal and her husband Don stand in front of a stainless steel tank in their winery in Stroud, Okla. The couple owns and operates StableRidge Vineyards, which is a CN Tribal Employment Rights Office-certified business. TRAVIS SNELL/CHEROKEE PHOENIX

Movie inspires Oklahoma couple to open winery

Don Neal, left, talks to two taste-testing customers as his wife Annetta laughs at the couple’s StableRidge Vineyards in Stroud, Okla. Annette is a Cherokee Nation citizen. TRAVIS SNELL/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Don Neal, left, talks to two taste-testing customers as his wife Annetta laughs at the couple’s StableRidge Vineyards in Stroud, Okla. Annette is a Cherokee Nation citizen. TRAVIS SNELL/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
02/20/2014 07:46 AM
STROUD, Okla. (AP) – Every morning when Annetta Neal wakes up, she can peer out the window at her workplace.

While some people may not want to get up and immediately be reminded of how they are about to leave their cozy home and head to work, Neal doesn’t mind.

Her office is surrounded by rolling hills and rows of grapevines. Her desk sits behind an area where a priest once taught lessons of Jesus Christ turning water into wine, or using wine to teach His disciples about his life.

The words of wine have been echoing within the walls of the former Catholic church on Route 66 in Stroud for nearly 10 years as the home of StableRidge Vineyards, founded and owned by Neal and her husband, Don Neal.

The two entered the wine business after spending most of their lives in other careers, Annetta as a teacher and Don in the banking industry.

Annetta came from a family of teachers, with her mother and sister working in classrooms, and her grandmother teaching elocution.

“I was told it was the perfect occupation for a mother because you could be home at summer,” she said. “It was an occupation for women that was wide open.”

She received her teaching degree at East Central University, where she met Don. The two were married in 1970 and have been embarking on adventures together ever since. Annetta’s first teaching assignment was helping students improve their reading skills. Then the couple moved to Louisiana, where Annetta had her own pottery studio.

When they moved back to Oklahoma in 1981, she returned to the classroom. For more than 20 years, she taught first and second grade in Milfay. She loved teaching, but she always thought there was something more out there to life.

That’s when she and Don sat down one night to watch the movie “A Walk in the Clouds.”

“I remember thinking, ‘What a wonderful romantic movie, just walking through the vineyard,’“ she said. “Don saw it and thought growing grapes sounds like fun.”

The idea of starting a winery was born.

If Annetta was going to start on this new journey in life, she was going to do it right. She headed off to classes to learn about the science of making wine. For the next two years, she went to Texas and California for classes while continuing to teach her beloved students.

Then fate intervened in their lives when a 1999 tornado that hit Moore also made its way northeast and did a lot of damage to the property down the hill from them, where a Catholic church sat next to a home.

“We decided this was the opportunity to acquire the property next to us,” she said.

The property wasn’t in the best condition. They had to remove a lot of old steel and tear down chicken coops and other old buildings. Once it was cleaned up, they planted their first crop of grapes in 2000.

“It takes several years to get a good crop,” she said. “You have to pinch them off and throw them away the first few years to get them stronger.”

Despite the challenges, they never turned away from their dream to build a winery.

“It was always move ahead, move ahead,” Don said. “I always tell people, ‘We’re pioneers. Where we are today, no one’s been before. We never thought we made a mistake by doing this.’“

Being in the agriculture business comes with aggravation, he said.

“We get some very good crops,” Don said. “Some years, we don’t. Overall, it’s worth it. Some people did plant their vineyards in the wrong location.”

While Don was learning how to grow the grapes, Annette was perfecting her craft.

In 2004, she retired from the classroom and the next day, the vineyard and winery officially opened. In 2007, after he realized he was spending more time at the vineyard than at his job in the banking industry, Don started working there full time. When he’s not planting grapes, Don can be found in his art studio using different textiles and materials to create three-dimensional hearts and other mixed-media works.

The couple grows some grapes on the property in Stroud. The rest of the grapes are grown around the state, allowing the couple to endure the ranges of Oklahoma weather and have diversity in their product. Grapes are grown in Stillwater, Norman, Newcastle, Jay, Duncan and other more rural areas.

“(The industry) is so diverse,” she said. “You’re in agriculture. You’re in science. There’s sales. Marketing. There’s never a dull moment.”

The winery is a Certified Indian Business since Annetta is a Cherokee Nation citizen. The wine is available in the CN’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa in Catoosa, WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Artesian Hotel in Sulphur and River Spirit Casino in Tulsa.

The wine is sold through a distributor, which helps put the product out across the state.

Because they have a winery in Oklahoma, Don said, they must disprove a perception about their products.

“Not everyone is created equal,” he said. “We are the grown-up winery. We didn’t dumb it down either.”

They could have used grapes from out of state, he said, but they wanted to stick to making an Oklahoma product with Oklahoma produce. Oklahoma-grown grapes are now harder to come by since fewer wineries in the state are using them, he said.

Using Oklahoma grapes has also helped set their product apart and made StableRidge an attraction on Route 66. Oklahoma grapes have helped make their product a recognized name in competitions. The couple took home a gold medal in the 2006 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. They competed against 4,000 different wines from 20 different countries.

Now StableRidge is even an agritourism destination, meaning it’s a place that the state would want to show people from outside the country. There is a state-produced sign pointing visitors in the direction of the vineyards in Stroud.

“They have a huge amount of people that stop and go through to tour the winery,” Tim Schook, city manager for Stroud, said. “They also attract a lot of people from the city both ways. They are bringing people into the community. They have a good volume on their wine sales. Every bit of sales tax revenue is good for any city. They’re good for us in many ways.”

Stroud Chamber of Commerce President Rick Craig said Don points people back to Stroud through his product.

“We need everything we can get to point people to our town,” he said. “They bring a constant line of people into our community to taste their wine and see what Stroud has to offer.”


03/24/2018 02:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A tribe in Oklahoma has filed a lawsuit accusing 26 drug manufacturers and distributors of contributing to the tribe's opioid epidemic by fraudulently misrepresenting the risks and benefits of addictive painkillers. The lawsuit filed by the Ponca Tribe Tuesday is similar to a number of other lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors nationwide, The Oklahoman reported. The lawsuit alleges that opioid manufacturers and distributors "flooded the market with false declarations designed to convince doctors, patients and government entities that prescription opioids posed a low risk of addiction." It alleges those false claims have resulted in an opioid epidemic, with 1 in 10 Native Americans over the age of 12 using prescription pain medicine for nonprescriptive purposes. "Virtually every tribal member has been adversely impacted by the opioid epidemic," the tribe said. "This epidemic has been growing for years and the effects of this crisis have only been exacerbated by defendants' efforts to conceal and minimize the risks of opioid addiction." The tribe is seeking a jury trial and an injunction that prohibits drug manufacturers and distributors from engaging in "unfair or deceptive practices." Drug manufacturers listed as defendants said opioid abuse is a serious health issue, but deny wrongdoing. "Our actions in the marketing and promotion of these medicines were appropriate and responsible," said Jessica Castles Smith, spokeswoman for Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. "The labels for our prescription opioid pain medicines provide information about their risks and benefits, and the allegations made against our company are baseless and unsubstantiated." John Puskar, director of public affairs for Purdue Pharma LP, said his company also denies the allegations made against it and looks forward to presenting its defense. "As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge," Puskar said.
03/23/2018 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation is celebrating the start of construction on a new Cherokee Casino Tahlequah with a groundbreaking at 1 p.m. on March 26. The tribe is building the casino at Cherokee Springs Plaza and bringing more entertainment, dining and convention options to Tahlequah. The 92,000-square-foot facility will feature 525 electronic games, a restaurant, a grab-and-go cafe, a live music venue, a full-service bar and complimentary nonalcoholic beverage stations. The property will also offer more than 33,000 square feet of convention and meeting space. Cherokee Nation Entertainment is the wholly owned gaming, hospitality, retail and tourism entity of the CN. The company currently operates Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, nine Cherokee Casinos, a horse racing track, three hotels, three golf courses and other retail operations. The new location is replacing the existing Cherokee Casino Tahlequah located a few miles south of Tahlequah. For more information, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>.
03/22/2018 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation recently allocated $37,500 to four Adair County law enforcement agencies as part of its motor vehicle tag compact with the state. Each year the tribe allocates 20 percent of car tag sales revenue to local law enforcement agencies. Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Tribal Councilor Frankie Hargis presented the checks to law enforcement officials. “Our law enforcement agencies are such a vital part of every community that we serve, and it’s important that we show our support,” Hoskin said. “I am proud that we can help fill the funding gap and work together in communities where Cherokee Nation citizens live, work and raise their families.” The Adair County Sheriff’s Department received $15,000 and the Stilwell, Watts and Westville police departments each received $7,500. The allocations help ensure the safety of both Cherokee and non-Cherokee citizens, officials said. “One of the most rewarding parts of my role as Tribal Councilor is providing assistance to organizations that are vital to our communities,” Hargis said. “As with most sectors in the state, law enforcement agencies have experienced recent budget cuts, and I am glad the tribe can step up and help alleviate some of that financial strain.” For Stilwell Police Chief Chad Smith, partnerships with CN are an important resource. “It is always wonderful to partner with the Cherokee Nation,” Smith said. “This funding helps supply equipment and other needs and really benefits our community as a whole.”
03/22/2018 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH – The regularly scheduled meeting of the Indian Territory Genealogical and Historical Society will be held at 7 p.m. on March 26 in Northeastern State University’s John Vaughn Library in the Ballenger Genealogy Room. Ashley Thirsty-Vann, Cherokee Heritage Center associate genealogist, will speak about the Cherokee Orphan Asylum and searchable genealogy records. Vann was raised in the Cherokee community of Rocky Mountain in Adair County. She attended Sequoyah High School to honor her grandfather, George Cameron-Campbell, who attended Sequoyah Orphan’s Training School and authored a book about his experiences there. She earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts from Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies, as well as three minors in Cherokee Indians, history and social science from Northeastern University. She said she began delving into genealogy at her grandmother’s request to preserve the family’s history. She is a member of several organizations, including the Oklahoma Chapter of the National Trail of Tears Association, Genealogical Speaker’s Guild, the Goingsnake District Heritage Association and the Cherokee National Historical Society. There is no charge to attend and the public is welcome. Those wishing to pursue their own family genealogies can find the Ballenger Genealogy Room open from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday. Much work and many additions to the library have expanded the amount of information readily available for individual research and includes the availability of, Fold 3 for Native American and military records purchased by the Genealogy Society, as well as the addition of For more information about the ITGHS meeting, call Anita Dieter at 918-207-9023.
Multimedia Producer – @cp_rgraham
03/20/2018 02:30 PM
INOLA – Cherokee Nation leaders joined Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, along with state, county and civic leaders, in welcoming Sofidel CEO and President Luigi Lazzareschi for a March 16 groundbreaking of the Italian-based paper company’s $360-million-dollar plant. The plant is expected to support 300 jobs initially. “This is going to be a big investment with a lot of technology,” Lazzareschi said. “For those who don’t know, this is a family only dedicated to tissues. We have never been in any other business than tissue for more than 50 years.” He said when completed the plant would be about 2 million square feet, which is 5 percent larger than the largest Sofidel plant in Ohio. Fallin called the announcement and groundbreaking a great day in Oklahoma. She said she traveled to Sofidel’s Italian headquarters two years ago. Once there, Fallin said she knew she had found a great opportunity for, Inola, Rogers County, Tulsa and the northeast region of the state. Principal Chief Bill John Baker said he would normally welcome everyone to the CN, but the groundbreaking was held in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s jurisdiction. He said the CN was “within shooting distance” from where he was standing. He also informed Lazzareschi that assistance would be coming from CN Career Services Executive Director Diane Kelly. As for Cherokee Nation’s involvement with the Sofidel plant, much is still in the planning phase, CN officials said. Although after the groundbreaking, CN Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the Sofidel plant site is significant. Sofidel will build on the same site where 40 years ago Public Service Company of Oklahoma proposed building a nuclear energy facility. One of the reasons it was never built is because Native American activists, including many Cherokees, protested against it, he said. PSO has retained ownership of the property, which has remained vacant and undeveloped despite its location on the Kerr Navigation Channel and proximity to the Port of Catoosa, the furthest inland port and one of the busiest ports in the United States. “We routinely work with our state, regional and local partners to find opportunities that best suit all involved, and this was a location that worked best for everyone. About 40,000 Cherokee Nation citizens live within 20 miles of this facility, and when you look at a 25-mile radius, the number of Cherokee Nation citizens grows to more than 57,000,” Hoskin said. “The location is just a couple of miles outside of our (CN) boundaries, and our own Career Services department will help recruit the workforce for Sofidel. Because of that we believe Cherokee Nation citizens will be among the first hired.” Sofidel is one of the leading makers of hygienic tissue paper with locations in 13 countries. It places an emphasis on sustainability and reducing carbon emissions. “We believe our mission alignment and the number of jobs and opportunities they will provide make them an extremely valuable partner in our economic development goals, which are to help make northeast Oklahoma an attractive place to live, work and raise a family,” Hoskin said.
03/20/2018 08:00 AM
MUSKOGEE – To kick off Season 4 of “Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People,” three public screening events were held featuring highlights from the upcoming season. The screenings were March 13 in Muskogee, March 14 in Tulsa and March 15 in Oklahoma City. “We felt like since we took the time off and we have been showing reruns, and since everyone has kind of been subject to these reruns, and we have had a lot of people say ‘when are you going to have new stuff?’ we wanted to make a splash and kind of reward everyone for that time they had to sit and wait for a new episode, and we wanted to let everyone know Season 4 is here,” Jennifer Loren, host and executive producer, said. At the screenings, guests had the opportunity to meet with Loren, Cherokee Nation dignitaries and the show’s creators, directors and producers. The directors and producers also held Q&A sessions. In the screenings, guests could view a director’s cut episode featuring CN citizens Brad Eubanks, Martha Berry and Crosslin Smith, as well as the Cherokee significance to “Where the Red Fern Grows” and a segment on the state of Sequoyah. Eubanks, also known as “Fuel,” is the co-owner and star of United Wrestling Entertainment, a nonprofit entertainment wrestling company based in Tahlequah. He said having OsiyoTV tell his story behind UWE and what it does was an honor. “They highlight Cherokee Nation and all of our people, and for them to think of me and to see what we do was amazing,” he said. “They were really interested in it (UWE) and how it ties into my life, as well as learning about the history of the company and learning about me and what drove this Cherokee kid from Tahlequah to become a pro wrestler. After watching that, it drove me to tears, good tears, it was amazing how they put it together, and it was an amazing tribute to my life and a tribute to my grandma.” Loren said this season viewers would see a change. Instead of hosting the show in various places, Loren will host the show in a historical site that will be featured in the “Almanac” segment in that episode with the significance to that site explained. She said the language lesson segment “Let’s Talk Cherokee” would be geared toward basic-level Cherokee for beginning speakers. The show will also be introducing the Cherokee syllabary and teaching words that begin with each syllable. “We are always looking back at seasons past, and we try to improve upon every aspect of the show. But overall I feel like people are going to see a difference in the amount of time we were able to spend with everybody and tell their stories more completely than we have,” she said. Loren said another goal is to become better storytellers for elders. “We do have a good mix of stories on elders in every season, but I think the more we do those stories, the more we realize exactly how important it is to be getting those stories and to be sharing those stories.” The show was slated to premier March 25. For more information, visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. <strong>OsiyoTV Show Times</strong> <strong>Oklahoma (Statewide):</strong> OETA (PBS) at 3:30 p.m. on Sundays <strong>Tulsa:</strong> RSU-TV at 7 p.m. on Thursdays, at 10:30 a.m. on Saturdays and at 9 a.m. on Sundays <strong>Fayetteville and Fort Smith (Arkansas):</strong> KHBS/KHOG (ABC) at 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays and at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays <strong>Joplin (Missouri):</strong> KSN (NBC) at 12:30 p.m. on Mondays KODE (ABC) at 9 a.m. on Sundays