Stoller, co-founder of Oklahoma City-based Express Employment Professionals, has been an eyewitness to the growth of Oklahoma’s wine culture for nearly 20 years, both as a customer and as an ambassador for his critically acclaimed wines, including those from Chehalem, an Oregon winery in which he is a partner. In that time, Stoller said he’s seen a more complex, more cosmopolitan restaurant and wine scene emerge.
“You can’t have a great wine scene without a great restaurant scene,” he said. “Since I’ve been coming to Oklahoma, the state has outpaced the rest of the country, getting from where they were to where they are. Additionally, the collaborative nature of the restaurant scene here makes it easier to sell wine.”
Stoller credits restaurateurs, chefs and wine professionals for the growth of wine culture in the state. “The changes have been dramatic,” he said. “That they are willing to work together and cooperate with tastings and education has been very helpful.”
Wayne Hirst founded Hirst Imports (now Glazer’s) in 1976. Stoller talked about Hirst’s importance to the state. “Wayne was one of the pioneers in the wine business, and he gets much of the credit,” Stoller said. “Wayne was passionate about the business, and he spawned some great people who continued his work. I think Aubrey McClendon has been important in improving the culture, as well. He’s certainly helped with educating Oklahoma.”
Chehalem and Stoller Vineyards wines, including the JV Chardonnay and JV Pinot Noir that were featured at the forum, are widely available in the metro. JV is the abbreviation for junior vines. Stoller also has an SV (senior vines) line. His wines are available at Beau’s Wine Bin, 2810 W. Country Club; Stella Modern Italian Cuisine, 1201 N. Walker; and Sophabella’s Chicago Grill, 7628 N. May.
Being a secondary market made it difficult to get certain wines into Oklahoma for many years. Stoller said that since the economic downturn, wineries have been looking to secondary markets like Oklahoma City to move wines that are no longer selling in markets like Chicago and New York. These allotments of what Stoller called “the best wines in the world” have impacted the business of wineries that have long histories in the state, including Napa-based Titus Vineyards.
Eric Titus comes to Oklahoma at least once a year — and sometimes twice — to visit what he calls “one of our best markets.” The influx of new, quality wines has had an unexpected impact on his business.
“I don’t think we’ve seen a loss of sales in Oklahoma,” Titus said, “but we haven’t seen growth where we expected to, either. The market is solid here, but still a little soft nationwide. However, for the first time ever, Titus has used all the fruit it produced to make its own wines.”
Thanks in part to Titus’ personal visits to the state, his wines have sold well in Oklahoma. They are widely distributed across the metro, both in restaurants and liquor stores. His Cabernet Franc and Zinfandel are available at Express Liquor, 9200 N. Council. Titus also makes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Reserve Cabernet. His Sauvignon Blanc, the only white the winery produces, is now available in the metro.
“I got tired of sitting down to wine dinners featuring my wines, and watching someone pour another winery’s Sauvignon Blanc,” Titus said. “We started producing our own.”
Titus wines are available at Redrock Canyon Grill, 9221 Hefner Parkway; Benvenuti’s Ristorante, 105 W. Main in Norman; Flip’s Wine Bar & Trattoria, 5810 N. Western; and Signature Grill, 1317 E. Danforth in Edmond. The Cabernet is available by the glass at Saii Bistro, 6900 N. May.