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
06/25/2017 02:00 PM
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A federal judge won't decide until later this year whether to shut down the disputed Dakota Access oil pipeline while federal officials conduct a more thorough environmental review. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg on Wednesday approved a schedule under which both sides in a lawsuit over the pipeline will submit written arguments on the matter in July and August. "We would expect a decision sometime after that, probably September," said Jan Hasselman, an attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux, which filed the lawsuit last summer that was later joined by three other Sioux tribes. The Standing Rock tribe sued because it believes the $3.8 billion pipeline built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners threatens cultural sites and its water supply. The company disputes that and maintains the pipeline is safe. The long-delayed project was finished earlier this year after President Donald Trump took office and called for its completion. On June 1, the pipeline began moving North Dakota oil to a distribution point in Illinois, from which it's shipped to the Gulf Coast. But Boasberg last week ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which permitted the pipeline, didn't adequately consider how an oil spill might affect the tribe. He ordered the agency to reconsider parts of its environmental analysis. About 50 anti-pipeline protesters rallied outside the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., during Wednesday's hearing. They sang, chanted, held signs with messages such as "water is life" and gave speeches in support of the tribe. "If that (pipeline) spills, it means game over," said the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus activist group. "It means they can't wash, they can't clean, they can't feed their children. It means their way of life ends."
BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
06/24/2017 02:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — State environmental officials say elevated mercury levels in fish have been found in 14 more lakes in Oklahoma than last year. The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality plans a public meeting for Tuesday to discuss the mercury levels. The agency says a total of 54 lakes have mercury advisories — which is up 14 since the last advisory in 2016. The advisories deal with mercury levels in fish and do not affect drinking water safety or lake recreational activities like swimming or boating. The 14 new lakes added to the advisory are: Arcadia Lake, Birch Reservoir, Boomer Lake, Copan Reservoir, El Reno Lake, Greenleaf Reservoir, Lone Chimney Lake, Lake McMurtry, Lake Murray, Pawnee Lake, Lake Ponca, Lake Raymond Gary, Shell Lake and Waurika Reservoir.
BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
06/24/2017 11:00 AM
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BY STAFF REPORTS
06/23/2017 04:00 PM
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BY STAFF REPORTS
06/23/2017 12:00 PM
ROLAND, Okla. – A SWAT team sniper with the Cherokee Nation Marshal Service shot and killed a 57-year-old man on June 8 during a standoff in Roland, according to the Sequoyah County Sheriff's Office. According to a sheriff’s office statement on Facebook, the sheriff’s office received a call around 4 p.m. about a possible suicidal man who had barricaded himself inside an area residence. The post states that when county deputies and Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers arrived at the residence they found 57-year-old Paul Eugene Mashburn. It also states that as deputies approached the residence Mashburn yelled out the window that he had guns and gasoline and would shoot any officers that came near the house. The statement reads that Mashburn was sending texts messages to family members stating he had gasoline and guns, and that he had poured the gasoline on the carpet and would throw a torch on it if officers tried to enter the home. Mashburn was wanted on an outstanding felony warrant for a kidnapping case in Sequoyah County, the post states. It also states because of Mashburn’s threats and his prior criminal history, Sequoyah County Sheriff Larry Lane contacted the CNMS requesting assistance from its SWAT team. The statement reads that county deputies and OHP troopers maintained perimeter security at the residence as well as constant communication with Mashburn until the SWAT team arrived around 7 p.m. According to the post, the SWAT team negotiator communicated with Mashburn for several hours, trying to get him to exit the residence before Mashburn began breaking windows and threatening officers. “Mr. Mashburn then started a fire inside the residence and continued breaking out windows and eventually opened a window on the east side of the house, yelled again and pointed a pistol out the window at officers,” the statement reads. It was then, according to the statement, that a SWAT team sniper fired a shot that killed Mashburn. The Roland Fire Department then extinguished the fire before the home was completely destroyed. According to the statement, Mashburn was a convicted sex offender and had previous criminal history of robbery, domestic violence and sexual battery. He also had an outstanding warrant from Van Buren (Arkansas) Police Department for domestic battery. “I would like to recognize and thank Detective Christian Goode for staying calm and truly trying to end the standoff peacefully, by staying in constant communication with Mr. Mashburn for several hours,” Sheriff Lane stated. “This was a very stressful situation for everyone involved, and unfortunately ended with a man losing his life.” CNMS Capt. Danny Tanner said the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the officer-related shooting and would not release the officer’s name.
BY STACIE GUTHRIE
Reporter – @cp_sguthrie
06/23/2017 09:32 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – After approximately three weeks and 950 miles, the 2017 “Remember the Removal” cyclists formed bonds that will last a lifetime. After seeing sites such as New Echota and Red Clay in Georgia, Mantle Rock in Kentucky and other locations where Cherokees traveled the Trail of Tears’ northern route, they ended their journey on June 22 at the Cherokee Nation Courthouse Square. The ride began June 4 in New Echota and took cyclists through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Mentor cyclist and CN citizen Will Chavez, who participated in the first “RTR” ride in 1984, said coming into Tahlequah and seeing familiar sites and family was “emotional.” “It’s really emotional coming in today, seeing all of the familiar streets and roads, knowing finally I was almost home. Went through a lot of unfamiliar territory for three weeks, so it’s good to be home,” the Cherokee Phoenix assistant editor said. In 1984 he was 17. Now at age 50, he saw the journey with “different eyes” and “new perspective.” “It really was something else. I wanted to learn more, and this time I wasn’t a kid, so I really paid attention more and took in more of the sights and the stories that we heard,” he said. As for those Chavez rode with, he said he watched them “grow” and is “proud” of their accomplishment. “I watched them grow during the weeks and especially the days we’ve endured some tough terrain and heat. They didn’t complain. Everybody stayed together and helped each other, and it was just like quiet resolve,” he said. “I’m proud of them because they really showed a lot of grit and determination.” Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians cyclist Chavella Taylor said she considers the cyclists “family.” “I feel like they are my family now, especially with my EBCI riders. I spent more time with them than my own family,” she said. “It probably took us a week to get close with Cherokee Nation, but they’re my family now. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them.” Taylor said being separated from her children was tough, but knowing why she took the journey kept her going. “There were times where I just wanted to quit. I just wanted to go home, and I had the ability to go home. I had every means to go home and quit, but I’m on this ride for a reason,” she said. “I just feel like it was something that I had to do, and everyday I got through it. I’m just glad to be home, and I’m glad that my ancestors sacrificed what they did so that I’m able to be here with my kids.” Taylor said she wants to tell her children that Cherokees have a purpose. “Something that I want to take back is to let my kids know that we have a purpose, that we’re still here, that there have been things that have been done to erase everything about us, but we’re still here.” During the return ceremony, EBCI cyclist Renissa McLaughlin reminded the riders that they are from “one blood.” “’Remember the Removal’ riders, I said this to you once before. We came from the same place, Kituwah. We existed together for thousands of years prior to the removal, and although we are miles apart, we are the same people – one blood,” she said. She said for her “RTR” is “everyone who actively contributes either by work or words.” “If not for the compassion of non-Natives, much of our history would have been lost to us. These past three weeks I’ve felt more love coming from complete strangers than I see among our own people, and we need to fix that,” McLaughlin said. “Without all of these compassionate people across the seven states we visited, there would be no trails marked for us to see. They are all out there telling our story when we cannot, and for that we owe them our deepest gratitude.”