The Oklahoma Grape Industry Council is partnering with the Oklahoma Restaurant Association to get more local wines onto local restaurant tables.
Even though that synergistic business relationship would seem to be good for both industries, it's only potentially positive for the consumer, some wine connoisseurs said. Many of Oklahoma's wines simply aren't ready for market, at least not yet.
"This can be a good thing if it's all done the right way," said Clayton Bahr, a broker for Putnam Wines Ltd. in Oklahoma City. "There's a lot of potential out there. There was a Gewurztraminer made locally and a Riesling this year that were fantastic, and I can't think of any restaurant that wouldn't want to put those wines on their list.
"But too many others only think they're doing it right," Bahr said. "Experts in the industry know what wine flaws are; they're obvious problems in the process that can be fixed if they would just take the time to fix them. A lot of our Oklahoma wineries seem to have a lot of those flaws."
The collaborative market promotion will take the shape of a postcard campaign, enabling diners to leave notes at favorite restaurants to prod them into adding local wines to the menu, said Gene Clifton, president of the Oklahoma Grape Industry Council. The campaign has a political aspect to it as well. Some Oklahoma wineries do not distribute their product to retail liquor stores and restaurants because of the annual licensing fee. Mike Greenfield of Greenfield Vineyards and Winery in Chandler said the grape industry association hopes increased consumer demand will lead to legislative change.
"With a rich history in grape vineyards and wine, Oklahoma is poised to become a grape and wine leader in the south central U.S.," Clifton said.
Bahr and others in the industry agree, but add that Oklahoma's success depends on the state's overall vintner skill level - putting bad wine on restaurant tables leads to badly trained palates, at best, and potentially turns consumers away entirely.
Bruce Rinehart at Rococo restaurant in Oklahoma City cited a Shiraz blend, the Impressao, from Tidal School Vineyards in Drumright as a particularly worthy example of wine done right, and said he wished similar success for other Oklahoma vintners. The Impressao won a gold medal at the Lone Star International Wine competition.
"We want to support Oklahoma wines," Rinehart said. "And when we can, we do."
Other restaurant operators said they were reluctant to publicly criticize their colleagues. One manager who asked to not be identified said it would be political suicide to discuss the industry's faults. …