Okie evangelist

Snyder is an educator, winemaker, winery owner, lobbyist, evangelist
and marketer. He spends a good deal of his time at the Darlington campus
of Redlands Community College, where he oversees the school’s associate
degree program in viticulture and enology.

office looks like ground zero of a wine paraphernalia bomb. Magazines,
books, wine bottles, wine keys, tutorials, knickknacks, photos and
objets d’art extend outward from his desk in erratic circles. There are
three clear spots in the office: his chair and two guest chairs. It is a
reflection of the amount of diverse information and responsibility in
his life.

Snyder is
also president of the Oklahoma Grape Growers and Winemakers
Association, a position he has used to lobby for legislation that helps
Oklahoma’s wineries. He doesn’t want to discuss politics, however. He
wants to talk about a passion of his: the Norton grape.

Hill Vineyards, Snyder’s winery just outside Calumet, produces Norton, a
grape indigenous to North America. The grape was first cultivated in
Virginia by Daniel Norton. It produces a bone dry, tannic red that is
difficult to control.

Sand Hill’s Norton won a gold medal in this year’s Dallas Morning News Wine Competition.

Norton is not exactly a household name in wine varietals, but Snyder believes the grape has potential in Oklahoma.

an incredibly difficult grape to work with,” he said. “Many winemakers
won’t work with it, but if you can harness the grape and have the
patience and willingness to invest in some good oak, it’s an experience
unto itself.”

he knew the wine won a gold, one of the judges, Doug Frost, a wine
writer who holds titles as a master sommelier and master of wine, sent
Snyder a note.

one of the judges at the Dallas Morning News Competition,” Frost wrote,
“I had an opportunity to taste your Norton the other day. Excellent
work! While I don’t know what score the group gave your wine, I was
mightily impressed with it nonetheless.”

imports the grapes from Missouri, but he’s started growing his own.
Like most winemakers in Oklahoma, he’s experimented to see what will
work in Oklahoma.

varietals like Tempranillo and Albariño seem to do well,” he said.
“Other varieties like Norton that are cold-hardy are performing well,
including Riesling. We’re just going to have to find out what works best
in our climate. We’re at a crossroads in the industry. Many wineries
are bulking in juice from California. It’s legal, but it prevents us from showing Oklahoma’s true terroir.”

vineyard at Redlands is a research vineyard, according to Snyder, so
the students are exposed to as many varietals as possible. The acreage
now contains 46 distinct varietals, but no hybrids or North American
native grapes. Sand Hill bottles 25 varieties of wine. Snyder is also
the winemaker for Tidal School, the state’s largest production winery.

deep involvement with the wine industry in Oklahoma means he has a vast
store of information about varietals, winemaking, viticulture and the
politics of wine. And part of what he does at Redlands is pass that
information along. To date, 125 students have taken coursework in the
Redlands program. His students scored a Best of Show at the State Fair
of Oklahoma’s 2010 wine competition for their Chapel Creek Ozark
Mountain Norton.

flow of students has slowed since the program started in 2006. Snyder
believes it’s because some students realize that winemaking and vineyard
management are hard work and science-heavy work. Still, he’s hopeful
that some of them will go on to make Oklahoma wines.

summer, Oklahoma had 50 tons of grapes that weren’t harvested,” Snyder
said. He’s hoping his current and former students will begin to use
those grapes, rather than California juice, to create wines that reflect
Oklahoma’s native soil and climate.

The Sand Hill Norton is available at Pancho’s Liquortown, 6801 N. Meridian, and Joe’s Place Fine Wines, 1330 Alameda in Norman.

Greg Horton

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