Tulsa Winery Expands

The winner of the Oklahoma State Wine Championship will be the newest label in the Tulsa Deco line of wines from Tulsa’s urban winery, Girouard Vines.
The labels are at the printer and prices are posted for the wine, dubbed Westhope. It’s slated for release Oct. 1, said Chris Girouard, president of Girouard Vines LLC.
Westhope is a 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with 25 percent of the same Petit Sirah that stars in the first wine of the Tulsa Deco series, Fire Alarm Red. Its label sports an image from the facade of the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Tulsa.
The acclaimed Westhope is the latest chapter in the story of Girouard Vines, nearly 45 years in the making. The venture that has culminated into what Girouard wanted to be Tulsa’s own wine started in 1965 when his father, George Girouard, a Tulsa native and petroleum engineer, began a quest to breed wild Oklahoma grapes with those of vinifera species. The result was four plants with genetic growing characteristics naturally adapted to this region, including a resistance to fungus and disease and a tolerance of Oklahoma heat, that produced a highly acidic grape, perfect for blending with the blue-bloods of the grape world.
By the fall of 2003, Chris Girouard found someone willing to take on the risk of growing his father’s hybrids. He partnered with long-time family friend Christy Rawlings of Dunkin Family Farms, a 2,200-acre farm three miles east of Wagoner, to plant the Oklahoma grapes on an experimental three-quarter-acre plot, along with a few heat-hardy vinifera vines. Girouard made the first batch of wine from that first harvest in 2006 in the basement of his midtown Tulsa home, and licensed and bonded the winery in January 2007 with the intent of hosting wine-centered events in his new space, at 817 E. Third St.
The transition from moonlighting grape grower to full-time vintner was gradual, but by the end of last year, Girouard decided not to wait on his dad’s hybrids – or on any other fruit from Oklahoma – and went to making wine from grapes grown outside the state.
To start the blending process, Girouard gathered input from everyone from local wine bar owners and chefs to local liquor store purveyors, talking as a community about everything from nose and body to marketing and price point.
“It’s just like how an oil and gas drilling prospect requires input from a lot of people with a lot of different expertise,” he said. “Someone has the idea, someone has to keep the vineyard and someone has to know what they’re doing in the cellar. Plus there’s the sales and marketing people, label design and the bottle. Drilling and winemaking are surprisingly similar.”
Brought up on his parents’ memories of what they called the magic of downtown Tulsa in its heyday, Girouard looked to incorporate Tulsa history in the labels for his new wines. The legacy of Tulsa art deco architecture serves as the emblem of that time on the Girouard Vines bottles of wine in what he calls the Tulsa Deco line.
“It occurred to me that Tulsa didn’t have a wine. You couldn’t sit a bottle on the shelf that said Tulsa on the label. I decided that that was what I had to do,” he said.
The first edition of the Tulsa Deco series is Fire Alarm Red, a Petit Sirah blend with 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, both grapes from Napa Valley. It was released April 15 of this year. The bottles, which sport collectible glass stoppers, retail for $18-20. Label designs are by Chris Phillips of Tulsa-based Phillips Design Group.
“I’m not a historian or an architect or any kind of art deco expert,” he said. “I decided to get some people in town who are to help me out with the label, to get their feedback.”
Enter none other than Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor. After Girouard treated her to a tour of his winery, she sent him to Lee Anne Zeigler, Tulsa Foundation for Architecture executive director. Back-of-the-bottle blurbs about the Tulsa deco icons depicted on the front of the labels are by TFA.
“The mayor was excited, and she was very encouraging,” Girouard said. “Of course, I took her advice. The alliance with TFA has been neat. I provided the wine for their Downtown Living Tour this summer, and they plan to provide some elements that were preserved from of the demolished Tulsa Fire Alarm garage to build into our new space.”
Girouard used those words, “expansion” and “new space,” to allude to news that not only is he growing the Tulsa Deco line, but he is also expanding the winery, in East End developer Micha Alexander’s Maverick Building.
Sales are flourishing, too. From its release date last spring, Girouard has sold 121 cases of Fire Alarm Red through distributor Jarboe Sales to retail liquor stores and local restaurants and wine bars, with 29 more cases at the winery during events – strong numbers against Girouard’s initial forecasts.
Girouard’s wine is retailed at nearly a dozen liquor stores in the Tulsa area, including Parkhill Liquor & Wines, Grand Vin Bottle Shop and B&B Liquor Warehouse. It can also be found on the menus of a score of Tulsa’s best-loved independent restaurants and wine bars, from In the Raw and Michael Fusco’s Riverside Grille, to Vintage 1740 and Sonoma Bistro & Wine Bar.
Unlike what sometimes seems to be the popular consensus in T-Town, Girouard’s idea of moving up does not mean moving out of Tulsa.
“It’d be great if other towns in Oklahoma picked up Tulsa Deco,” he said, “but the focus, really, is here. There’s still a huge market share to be captured here. If I can continue to put out really good wines, I believe that between existing customers increasing their volume and new customers picking up Tulsa Deco at local restaurants and liquor stores, there’s a lot of room for growth for this product.”
Girouard looks for the Tulsa Deco line to grow to include about a half-dozen other blends, featuring Petit Sirah, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and others. He is already at work on the third wine, a private label for Brookside-based sushi haven In the Raw, a Monterey County Sauvignon Blanc. The wine might eventually be released as the third wine in the Tulsa Deco collection. ?

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