POSTED ON MAY 5, 2010:
Local vintner puts Tulsa on the map -- and on label -- with wine series
Picked Thoroughly. Vintner Chris Girouard, above, has grouped his wines under the Tulsa Deco series, a line of wines that feature architecturally significant Tulsa buildings on their labels and in their names, such as the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.
When Chris Girouard made the decision to open a small winery in downtown Tulsa in 2007, he did so because he wanted it to have an urban, sophisticated feel, and because he saw it as something that could contribute something unique to the revitalization of the area.
But just opening his headquarters at 817 E. Third St. in the East Village wasn't enough for Girouard, who realized he needed a somewhat different approach if his goal of operating a successful winery in a downtown setting using out-of-state grapes was to be successful.
"That led to the question of 'how can we produce a wine using our local urban setting as an advantage?'" he said. "In examining all that, it occurred to me that Tulsa did not have a wine -- that is, a wine with the word 'Tulsa' in it that Tulsans could sit on their shelf or share with an out-of-town friend. I realized that is what we had to do."
Having grown up listening to his parents' stories about downtown Tulsa's glory days, Girouard concluded he wanted to do a label that honored the city's past.
"We kicked around a number of ideas, but it didn't take long to settle on Tulsa's impressive collection of art deco, considered to be among the top four cities in the United States," he said. "Art and wine have for ages been celebrated together. Tulsa has art on the streets. We are going to honor that art and further the recognition of that art by putting it on our labels. So that became our goal: to produce a very cool wine that honors Tulsa's historic art deco collection, and -- surprise! -- the wine inside is really fantastic, something to be proud of."
Girouard has grouped the wines under the Tulsa Deco series, a line of wines that feature architecturally significant Tulsa buildings on their labels and in their names. Girouard rolled out the first wine in the series, a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, in April 2009, naming it after Westhope the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed structure in the city.
A 2007 Sauvignon Blanc depicting the Warehouse Market at Elgin Avenue and E. 11th Street was second. He followed that with Fire Alarm Red, a 2008 Petite Sirah that showcases the historic Fire Alarm Building just west of Peoria Avenue and E. Eighth Street.
Each of the labels is designed by Chris Phillips of Tulsa's Phillips Design Group.
Next month, Girouard will introduce the latest wine in the series, a 2008 California Chardonnay that will feature Tulsa's historic Atlas Life Building, now being renovated into a Courtyard concept by Marriott hotel.
Unlike with other wines in the series, Girouard said, this label is being created in a partnership. Girouard Vines is teaming up with SJS Hospitality LLC, the company that is renovating the building and operating the hotel.
Girouard said he met SJS owner and operator Jeff Hartman at a tasting, and the two began talking about the Tulsa Deco series. Hartman told Girouard about his plans to remodel the Atlas Life Building, and the two quickly agreed that the notable structure would be a good fit for the Tulsa Deco series.
"The SJS group seems very excited about the Atlas Life wine," Girouard said. "I know I am, and I am honored to be working with them on the label. We are also brainstorming fun ways that, through the Atlas Life wine, we can promote one another, downtown Tulsa and Tulsa's impressive architectural history. I just love these unanticipated partnerships that come to life from just getting out there and networking."
Girouard has plans to continue the series further, adding that he is in discussions with the owners of two other historic Tulsa buildings to develop labels for release later in 2010.
An unveiling of the new Tulsa Deco wine will be held in June, he said, an event that also will be used to celebrate the success of the label's wines at a recent competition in upstate New York. Girouard Vines entered three wines from the label in the 2010 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition in March, and all three medaled -- the Westhope earned a gold, the Fire Alarm Red received a silver and the Warehouse Market earned a bronze. A total of 666 wineries from 15 countries participated in the competition, which drew more than 3,000 entries.
That marked only the second time Girouard had entered his wines in an out-of-state competition, he said. Girouard Vines participated earlier this year in a competition sponsored by The Dallas Morning News and didn't fare well, failing to earn a medal for any of its entries.
Girouard was disappointed but undeterred. He said he immediately began searching for the next major national wine competition and settled on the Finger Lakes event because of its size, the pedigree of its judges and for various other reasons.
His persistence was rewarded with the impressive showing by the Tulsa Deco series. Girouard was particularly pleased by the reception his Westhope got at the event, noting that only approximately 8 percent of the wines entered earned a gold or double gold medal. Girouard Vines was up against such notable wineries as Merryvale, Napa Station, Robert Mondavi-Private Select and Toasted Head at the event.
For those who have yet to sample his products, Girouard continues to work to make them more accessible. His Fire Alarm Red is served on tap at Yokozuna, the contemporary Asian restaurant located in the Blue Dome district, through a process that allows the wine to remain fresh without spritziness, he said. A wine tasting and pairing dinner of Tulsa Deco wines is planned for the restaurant sometime in May, he said.
Girouard said he also is in discussions with the owner of a new downtown restaurant that hopes to offer two Tulsa Deco wines -- a red and a white -- on tap. The wines probably would be the only ones the restaurant serves, he said.
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