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.”


05/22/2017 04:45 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A new Oklahoma law cracks down on protesters who trespass and anyone who financially supports them. The Journal Record reports Republican Gov. Mary Fallin has signed legislation that will punish any person or organization affiliated with protests that result in property damage. Fallin approved a similar bill earlier this month that imposes steep fines or prison time against people convicted of trespassing at a critical infrastructure facility to impede operations. The author of the bills, Rep. Mark McBride, says the idea came after the protests along the Dakota Access Pipeline. The American Civil Liberties Union in Oklahoma voiced concerns of such laws, noting property damage is already illegal and further legislation would likely serve as intimidators. The Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association supported the measure, saying those who damage property should be held accountable.
05/22/2017 11:45 AM
CLAREMORE, Okla. – Construction crews have finished renovations of Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs as the casino and race track welcomes gaming and horse racing fans alike for a better entertainment experience. According to a Cherokee Nation press release, renovations include an upgraded dance floor and entertainment venue, an improved bar, new gaming floor and simulcast area, as well as redone banquet space. Approximatley$5 million was invested to make 43,000 square feet of renovations, the release states. According to a 2016 story, the renovation was slated for completion by April 2017 and was estimated to cost $3.5 million. “The feedback we’ve received from our guests made the investment worth it,” WRD General Manager Rusty Stamps said. “The upgrades offer a high-quality experience for new guests, while our loyal customer base is overjoyed with the improvements to their favorite horse racing facility.” It also states the gaming floor offers 250 electronic games in a new location on the casino’s south side. The new layout offers a more cohesive gaming experience for guests and has created the opportunity to introduce some game variety, the release states. The simulcast viewing area has also been relocated to the casino’s northwest corner and features large screen TVs and seating for more than 100 racing fans, the release states. The Horseshoe banquet space can accommodate 150 additional race fans during major events such as the recent Kentucky Derby, the release states. It adds that the indoor paddock observation area is just off the new simulcast room and offers a VIP view to the paddock area. The Dog Iron Grill also now features two seating areas with room for nearly 90 patrons near the casino’s main entrance, according to the release. “At Cherokee Nation Entertainment, we always strive to uphold our position as the market leader for gaming and entertainment,” Cherokee Nation Businesses CEO Shawn Slaton said. “We feel this upgrade streamlines our racing facility with our other casinos and gives it the look and experience our guests have come to appreciate from our brand.” Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs, located 3 miles east of Claremore on Highway 20, opened in 2005. It features six months of live horse racing with spring thoroughbred and fall quarter horse meets. Simulcast racing from around the world is broadcast year round inside the casino.
05/19/2017 12:45 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation officials on May 15 donated $195,000 to eight Boys & Girls Club programs throughout northeastern Oklahoma. Funding recipients included clubs in Washington, Delaware, Sequoyah, Rogers, Nowata, Cherokee, Mayes and Adair counties. Funding was based on the number of Native American students in each program. The eight area programs serve more than 11,000 students, with nearly 60 percent being Native American. According to a press release, the CN donated to the following Boys & Girls Clubs: • Bartlesville with a 1,021 enrollment at $5,299.09, • Delaware County with a 746 enrollment at $14,348.49, • Sequoyah County with a 1,746 enrollment at $20,789.10, • Chelsea with a 402 enrollment at $7,363.84, • Nowata with a 912 enrollment at $18,098.15, • Tahlequah with a 4,194 enrollment at $80,666.98, • Green Country-Pryor with a 376 enrollment at $4,591.71, and • Adair County with a 1,751 enrollment at $43,835.58. “Investing in the Boys & Girls Club is a collaboration that benefits Cherokee Nation’s most precious resource, our youth. We proudly support the work of local clubs within our communities because it benefits kids, families, local schools and overall community health," Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “This is an opportunity to provide mentors and create positive, lifelong influences for Cherokees. Our youth deserve everything we can do for them, so they can fully grow into their God-given potential.” Since 2008, the CN has given more than $2 million to help Boys & Girls Club programs in the tribe’s jurisdiction. “The Boys & Girls Club units in the 14 counties of the Cherokee Nation provide a service beyond measure,” Tribal Councilor Joe Byrd said. “These clubs help so many Cherokee kids who otherwise might not have any solid direction or activity after school. I'm proud we're able to contribute to such a worthy cause. The clubs are often a godsend to our working parents, as they help youth with tutoring, as well as involving them in organized sports, art and cultural pursuits.” Adair County’s program oversees clubs at Stilwell, Rocky Mountain, Maryetta and Zion schools. More than 80 percent of Boys & Girls Club participants from the four schools are Native American. “To be honest, it would be hard for us to keep our doors open without the assistance of Cherokee Nation,” Dan Collins, Adair County Boys & Girls Club board president, said. “This is going to help tremendously.” Kristal Diver, Adair County Boys & Girls Club chief professional officer, said the Nation’s donation would be used to cover overhead costs of the program, including the purchase of supplies for summer school activities, which aren’t covered by other funding sources. The Boys & Girls Clubs of America serves more than 4 million youth in the United States and on military bases across the world.
05/18/2017 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The next meeting of the Tahlequah Writers group is 2 p.m., May 20 at the Cherokee Arts Center multi-purpose room at 212 S. Water St. Monthly Tahlequah Writers meetings are casual and involve news of interest to writers and updates on what attendees are writing. Attendees include poets, fiction writers, historians, essayists, humorists, playwrights and scriptwriters. Participants discuss the art of writing as well as the business of publishing and promotion. The public is invited. Area writers are encouraged to bring their works to the meeting to be critiqued. Tahlequah Writers organizer Karen Cooper is asking members to bring ideas about structuring the group so that it continues after she moves to Florida soon. Cooper also announced some Tahlequah Writers members would be reading poetry at 11 a.m., May 27 at the Wagoner Arts Alliance in Wagoner. For more information about the Tahlequah Writers group, call Cooper at 918-207-0093 or email <a href="mailto:"></a>. People can also visit Tahlequah Writers on Facebook.
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05/17/2017 02:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation’s Indian Child Welfare on May 16 hosted a “Carry On Foster Care Walk” at One Fire Field west of the Tribal Complex to raise awareness for foster care and the need for foster care homes in the CN. Bags and backpacks also were gathered for children to allow them to have a proper way to carry their clothing as they move from home to foster care and possibly back home. “We appreciate everyone coming out to this walk. The bags will go to our children. Once they come into our care...if they return home or if they have to change foster homes for any reason we want them to be able to move with a bag of their own with their name so they’re not using a trash bag,” CN ICW Executive Director Nikki Baker Limore said. She said during Foster Care Awareness Month in May the focus was on foster care families and the Cherokee children in need of foster care homes. “We need to instill in these children that they are important and that we love and care for them, and I think that bags are the first way to show them, ‘we’re going to get you from place to place, and we’re going to take good care of you.’ And ‘we’re going to try to fix your home life, and if we can’t, we’re going to find a home for you,’” Baker Limore said. She added that ICW is 120 employees “strong,” has five office locations within the CN and has child welfare cases in nearly every state in the United States. There are currently about 80 children in ICW’s care, she said. ICW Assistant Sally Wilson said ICW has about 45 foster care homes and is working on the cases of about 1,400 children throughout the United States. “We have about 700 (children) here in the state of Oklahoma. The rest are out of state. We have a great need for homes,” Wilson said. Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the measure of a nation is how it cares for the most vulnerable of its citizens. For the CN that includes what is done by ICW for Cherokee children and foster families, he said. “If you measure a nation by what we do in Indian Child Welfare and our commitment of foster care, then the Cherokee Nation is a strong nation, and we’re getting stronger,” Hoskin said. Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden read a proclamation at the event for Foster Care Awareness Month that stated, in part, “within the Cherokee Nation and throughout the United States, there are more than 1,600 Cherokee children and youth in temporary care...and deserve a safe, secure and stable home along with the compassion and nurture of a permanent family and home.” The proclamation also states in the past two years the number of foster homes for Cherokee children has grown from 17 homes to 46, however, the need for more Cherokee foster families is still significant. If interested in becoming a foster parent, call 918-458-6900.
05/16/2017 04:00 PM
PARK HILL, Okla. – Spend the afternoon outdoors enjoying live gospel performances at the 18th annual Gospel Sing on May 20 at Cherokee Heritage Center. Performances from families, friends, churches and gospel groups will begin at 1 p.m. The free event is open to the public, and guests are encouraged to bring chairs. The Gospel Sing concludes at 6 p.m. with a hog fry dinner sponsored by Ron and Vivian Cottrell, Sequoyah Trails and the Oklahoma Pork Council. For more information, call Becky Adair at 918-456-6007 ext. 6160. The CHC is located at 21192 S. Keeler Drive.