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April 3, 2013

Simply Italy expected to begin offering winetasting and tours over summer

DUNCAN — Central High Resident Randy Miller will soon be breaking ground to bring a piece of Italy to Stephens County.

Since 2006, Miller has been cultivating vineyards in preparation for Simply Italy, which is now only months away from opening. The nearly 10 acres of vineyards will soon be the stage for a tasting room and vineyard tours with construction tentatively planned to begin in May.

Miller is a graduate of Oklahoma State University but his interest in wine stemmed from the time he spent working in California. He has been back in Oklahoma for about eight years building his vineyards, which take about five years to reach full production.

“I started as a nursery so I put in like 200 varieties, which when it comes to management and trying to make wine is kind of a nightmare,” he said. “I am starting to thin them out. USDA has a program where they give them out for research and demonstration. As I see which ones have done well and which ones are not, I am replacing them.”

With the extremes of the area weather, winemaking in Oklahoma is especially difficult.

“We have a continental climate,”  Miller said. “It gets warm and cold. That is really hard on it as well as the late freezes. In the summer, it may get hot in California and in other places but it also cools down at night.”

Nighttime cooling is one thing that fosters the taste of a quality wines, particularly a good red wine. However, there are some improvements that can be made to the vineyards to combat some of the problems that come with the Oklahoma weather.

 “There are some minor things to including the way you orient your rows east to west versus north to south,”  Miller said. “They are looking at making some stuff like micro sprinklers that cool the canopy.”

Miller said he plans to have at least 10 varieties of wines with a focus on sweet wines.

“Oklahoma and Texas are traditionally beer states,” he said. “In those types of states, sweet wines sell much better.”

Miller said the there will be a couple dry wines with his high quality dry wine being shipped in from California.

“I try do to everything Oklahoma-grown but it is not always feasible,”  he said.

In addition to a variety of Italian wines including Moscato and Black Moscato, Miller will also his variety of mead, a honey wine flavored with hops to give it a beer like flavor.

At the beginning, Simply Italy will consist of a tasting room, winery tours and a vineyard tours but Miller does have plans to expand it should the winery do well.

“Eventually, I want to put in a cellar for banquets,” he said. “With our climate as hot it is, that would save huge costs on cooling the wine.”

While the vineyards are currently in the off-season, Miller said the grapes will begin budding at anytime now with harvest coming during late July to the beginning of August and lasting until the first freeze of fall. While much of the winemaking process is mechanized, Miller and his staff still harvest and prune the grapes by hand.

Situated between Lawton and Duncan, Miller’s winery could bring in customers that have been missing tasting wines from the Medicine Park winery since it closed.

“There was a winery in Medicine Park,” he said. “It closed. Other than that, there is one in Lindsey, one in Anadarko and one in Paul’s Valley.”

Should additional wineries pop up in the area over the years, Miller said they would not be competing but could instead collaborate for tours and wine trails.

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