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
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
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.”

News

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
04/28/2017 04:00 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — One of North America's most prominent powwows is set to begin in New Mexico in the wake of pipeline protests in North Dakota that became a historic display of Native American solidarity. The Gathering of Nations is one of the world's largest gatherings of indigenous people. Last year's event attracted about 3,000 dancers from hundreds of tribes in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. It routinely draws at least 80,000 visitors. The event that opens Thursday in Albuquerque is intended to be nonpolitical, but Larry Yazzie, its official announcer, said people will be reminded why they are coming together, and that the "water protectors" — those who joined the pipeline protests — will be acknowledged. "There will be plenty of people there who have been to North Dakota," Yazzie said. "The spirit will be there." The protests were staged after the Standing Rock Sioux and other tribes said the pipeline threatened their sovereignty, religious rights and water supply. The Crow tribe — a traditional foe of the Sioux — joined the demonstrations. In August, authorities arrested about 750 demonstrators, including actress Shailene Woodley and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. In February, authorities dispersed the last remaining holdouts in advance of spring flooding season. The Gathering of Nations will be held at Expo New Mexico after the organization parted ways in a public spat with its longtime host — the University of New Mexico and its basketball arena. The new venue also hosts the New Mexico State Fair and will give powwow vendors more space while providing visitors with a more intimate feeling amid a smaller powwow arena. "It's going to have its growing pains. It's a change," Yazzie said. "But I think a lot of people are excited to see the new place, and we will have a lot of dancers ready to compete." The Gathering of Nations began in 1983 in a gym at present-day St. Pius X High School and moved to Expo New Mexico soon after. The event then relocated to the University of New Mexico. A character in the 1998 movie "Smoke Signals" said the Gathering of Nations was such a powerful pan-Indian event that it would have kept Columbus away had it been around in 1492. Dan Mourning, general manager of Expo New Mexico, said officials have been working for a year to prepare for the revamped Gathering of Nations. Mourning expects attendees to embrace a new indoor Indian trading market and live entertainment at "Stage 49." For the first time, a medical marijuana developer and dispensary will help sponsor the event. Representatives of Ultra Health will pass out pamphlets and brochures about medical marijuana and ways attendees can apply to the program.
BY STAFF REPORTS
04/27/2017 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Six Cherokee Nation citizens, five of whom are CN citizens, recently formed an AAPC chapter in Tahlequah. The AAPC is the nation’s largest training and credentialing association for the business side of medicine. Those forming the chapter are CN citizens Melinda Mefford, Janice Horton, Jaycie Robbins-Bogart, Barbara Weavel and Deanna Chandler, as well as CN employee Gina Fletcher. Fletcher serves as the chapter president while Mefford is vice president. Horton is secretary, and Robbins-Boggart is treasurer. Weavel serves as the education officer, while Chandler covers new member development. “The new chapter was requested because local residents who are members of AAPC had to drive to Tulsa, Fayetteville (Arkansas) or Fort Smith (Arkansas) for monthly meetings,” Fletcher said. “These meetings provide not only networking with other coders and billers, but also provide continuing education units at no cost. These CEUs are necessary to maintain AAPC certification. We’re so excited to be able to offer these opportunities to our local membership.” According to a press release from the new chapter, local chapters provide an opportunity for health care professionals to share common interests, questions, information and concerns. Local chapters also provide AAPC with feedback on programs, trainings and current trends facing the health care community, it states. “AAPC local chapters are crucial for our industry; they’re at the grass roots where true networking and education take place,” AAPC CEO Jason VandenAdkker said. “Our members receive assistance and encouragement from those who have ‘done it’ before them. We’re very proud of our local chapters officers who volunteer to promote the profession and give back to others because someone gave to them.” AAPC has more than 500 chapters across the county. In addition, the chapters provide an education forum, offer networking opportunities and establish an environment where less-experienced members may interact, learn and be mentored by those with more experience. For more information about AAPC certification and local chapters, visit <a href="http://www.aapc.com" target="_blank">www.aapc.com</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
04/27/2017 12:15 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa recently joined the ranks of the best hospitality establishments in the country when the American Automobile Association honored it with its Four Diamond Rating. Cherokee Nation Entertainment’s largest entertainment property is now recognized as one of North America’s select accommodations. Fewer than 6 percent of the 28,000 AAA-approved and diamond-rated establishments in the nation receive the prestigious distinction. “This honor affirms our commitment to remain a premier entertainment destination,” Martin Madewell, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa senior director of hospitality services, said. “We are proud to see the dedicated efforts of our staff be nationally recognized and ranked alongside the most elite establishments in the U.S.” According to AAA, a Four Diamond property is one that is “refined, stylish with upscale physical attributes, extensive amenities and high degree of hospitality, service and attention to detail.” AAA, the world’s largest publisher of travel information and one of the world’s largest leisure travel agencies, rates more properties than any other rating entity. Lodging establishments and restaurants receive a rating of one to five diamonds. AAA uses full-time, professionally trained evaluators to inspect each property annually. Diamond ratings appear in online travel guides, on the club’s website and via the AAA Mobile app as well as the printed Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri & Oklahoma TourBook® guide. For more information about AAA and Diamond Ratings, visit <a href="https://www.ok.aaa.com" target="_blank">https://www.ok.aaa.com</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
04/26/2017 04:00 PM
CATOOSA, Okla. – Restoring Identities after Sexual Exploitation, RISE, will have its second annual “Rise to Freedom Gala” on June 2 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. The event begins at 6 p.m. and will host guest speakers Kylla Lanier, “Truckers Against Trafficking” deputy director, and sex traffic survivor Dr. Amanda Reed. Tickets for the event are $100 and can be purchased at <a href="https://squareup.com/store/rise-corp/" target="_blank">https://squareup.com/store/rise-corp/</a>. RISE was created after Cherokee Nation citizen Keri Spencer’s daughter asked her if they could help those who have been sex trafficked so they created a church program to educate children and parents on what to look for regarding sex trafficking. From that, Spencer spearheaded RISE. “RISE is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. I actually am the founder…and serve as the executive director,” she said. “RISE exists to open a long-term residential facility for girls in Oklahoma that are ages 12 to 18 who have been sex trafficked or commercially sexually exploited.” For more information about RISE or to donate, visit <a href="http://www.riseshelter.org" target="_blank">www.riseshelter.org</a>. For more information about the event, call 918-822-3539 or email <a href="mailto: kerispencer.rise@gmail.com">kerispencer.rise@gmail.com</a>.
BY STAFF REPORTS
04/25/2017 03:00 PM
LONGMONT, Colo. – First Nations Development Institute on April 20 published a report that clears up a longstanding “urban legend” that has had a negative impact on Native communities. The report “Twice Invisible: Understanding Rural Native America” challenges the commonly held belief that the majority of American Indians and Alaska Natives live in cities and urban areas. The report looks closely at U.S. Census data and uses a definition of “rural” areas developed by the Housing Assistance Council that is calculated with a formula that takes into account population and housing density. Using this definition, First Nations’ researchers found that 54 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native people live in rural and small-town areas on or near reservations, contrary to common belief. “An outdated measure of ‘urban’ areas has been used by the Census Bureau for a long time,” First Nations President and CEO Michael E. Roberts sad. “Their definition of ‘urban’ includes small towns of less than 4,000 people. We felt the need to clear up some misconceptions and, in doing so, hopefully improve the distribution of resources to these rural and small-town areas. This is part of our longstanding work of elevating the Native voice and working to change the narrative about American Indian and Alaska Native people. We don’t want rural communities to be left out.”?? First Nations Associate Director of Development Eileen Egan said the institute kept hearing from different foundations that they were using the statistic that 72 percent of Native Americans live in urban areas, which is often reported by researchers. “That didn’t sound right to us. We felt a responsibility to dig deeper since it impacts the distribution of resources. We know that most of our grantees and many of our partners reside and work in remote, small-town areas that we, or anyone, would never define as ‘urban,’” she said. Raymond Foxworth, First Nations vice president of Grantmaking, Development and Communications, said First Nations’ mission has always been to work with rural American Indian and Alaska Native communities, which are often left out of mainstream funders’ program areas. “The erroneous 72 percent statistic was being widely used to direct money away from these rural areas, where the populations often struggle with higher poverty rates and many other economic and social disparities,” Foxworth said. “We felt it was important to understand where this number was coming from and how accurate it was. We feel it is much more accurate to say that 54 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives, or a majority, live in rural and small-town areas.” ?? In addition, the report found that the majority of American Indians and Alaska Natives, or 68 percent, live on or near their home reservations. “We understand the challenges associated with using Census data to understand rural Native America, but we believe that only with carefully analyzed data can we have an accurate understanding of rural Native America, and make rural Native America visible again,” Sarah Dewees, First Nations senior director of Research, Policy and Asset-Building Programs, said. “We hope this report will be useful to funders and nonprofit staff who are designing programs to effectively serve Native American people.”?? The full report can be downloaded at <a href="http://www.firstnations.org/knowledge-center/strengthening-nonprofits" target="_blank">http://www.firstnations.org/knowledge-center/strengthening-nonprofits</a>.
BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
04/25/2017 08:15 AM
CATOOSA, Okla. – According to an economic impact study, the Cherokee Nation’s financial influence on Oklahoma exceeded $2.03 billon in 2016, growing from $1.5 billion in 2014. Dr. Russell Evans, an Economic Impact Group principal and Oklahoma City University assistant professor of economics, conducted the review. He released his findings during an April 21 forum at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa. “What we find is that the Cherokee Nation operations here in northeast Oklahoma in 2016 had an over $2 billon impact on northeastern Oklahoma. Supporting nearly 18,000 jobs, just under $800 million dollars in income here in northeast Oklahoma,” he said. “It’s a tremendous source…and perhaps even more valuable given the general state of the state’s economy last year.” The study shows the tribe employs more than 11,000 direct and contract employees across the United States, with a majority being in Oklahoma. “$500 million is being paid out in northeastern Oklahoma to workers of Cherokee Nation Businesses and Cherokee Nation government offices. They’re taking back to their communities and spending in their local communities,” Evans said. “The Cherokee Nation directly produces or directly buys from local vendors almost $1.5 billon worth of goods. These are the revenues that are generated by this operation, the Cherokee Nation as well as purchases being made by the businesses and government operations of local vendors. So nearly $1.5 billon in direct economic activity in this area of Oklahoma we can trace back to the Cherokee Nation.” Evans said the “significance” of the tribe’s economic impact might affect economic development patterns “well into the future.” “I want to kind of keep in the back of your mind as you think about the true significance of the economic impact of the Cherokee Nation operations, it’s not just what the Cherokee Nation is doing today from who they employee and what they buy, but it’s also what I suspect we’ll see is that it’s also going to affect patterns of economic development well into the future,” he said. During the forum, Principal Chief Bill John Baker said it’s “amazing” to see the impact the tribe is generating in the state. He added that approximately 40 years ago, when the tribe re-organized as a government, the CN was producing an impact of $0 compared to the approximately $2 billon it produced in 2016. “Five short years ago we rolled out an economic impact on Oklahoma of the Cherokee Nation of almost $1 billon. How amazing that in 40 short years we went from $0 economic impact to a billon dollars. Today you have an economic impact statement…that says the Cherokee Nation had an economic impact last year of over $2 billon,” he said. According to a CN press release, studies of tribe’s economic impact have been conducted every two years since 2010. Reports from 2010, 2012 and 2014 showed the tribe’s economic impact as $1 billion, $1.3 billion and $1.55 billion, respectively. For more information, visit <a href="http://www.cherokeenationimpact.com" target="_blank">www.cherokeenationimpact.com</a>. <strong>Total compact for 14-county jurisdiction, according to <a href="http://www.cherokeenationimpact.com" target="_blank">www.cherokeenationimpact.com</a>.</strong> County Output Jobs Income Adair $67.9 million 902 $37.1 million Cherokee $275.9 million 5,910 $220.9 million Craig $14.3 million 273 $10.5 million Delaware $186 million 1,371 $56 million Mayes $163 million 781 $24.8 million McIntosh $1.8 million 13 $696,672 Muskogee $113 million 952 $40.3 million Nowata $26.4 million 263 $10.2 million Ottawa $3.2 million 53 $989,474 Rogers $386.3 million 2,923 $135 million Sequoyah $152.1 million 1,200 $49.8 million Tulsa $592.8 million 2,626 $181.1 million Wagoner $6.6 million 48 $1.2 million Washington $48.8 million 475 $16.8 million