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Seminole Nation hopes winery will bring money to tribe

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SEMINOLE, Okla. (AP) — Seminole Nation Principal Chief Leonard Harjo wants to be able to tell his tribe’s story, but developing a tourism industry takes money.

That’s why the tribe has turned to a winery and vineyard venture, he said. The operation also gives Seminole Nation citizens an opportunity to use their land.

“The winery and vineyard offers a source of economic diversity,” Harjo said. “We have a lot of individuals with small acreages within the Seminole Nation, and we were looking for a way for them to earn some income.”

The Journal Record (http://bit.ly/1SIXaKR ) reports that the tribe has at least 20 citizens embarking on grape growing, with more considering it, said Chad Ainsworth, managing director for Seminole Nation Winery and Vineyard LLC. Ten citizens will plant their first set of grapes this spring after taking a yearlong training class. A second class of 10 growers is being trained and will plant in spring 2017.

It will be four years before the tribe has any grapes it can use, Ainsworth said. In the meantime, it is getting juice and grapes from Arkansas and California to make the wine. Ainsworth didn’t want to give exact details on where they are getting the juice.

“In the wine industry, when you find a good source, it’s kind of proprietary secrets,” he said. “We don’t like to give out certain information. If we get a good source for grapes or juice, we don’t want someone else stepping in.”

The tribe can sell the wine only at festivals, as it did on April 21 in Seminole. It is selling at the Kolache Festival in Prague on May 7. It is waiting on its license to sell at the Grisso Mansion, where it will operate a tasting venue, said Stephaney Lambert, development officer at the Seminole Nation.

The tribe started on the winery and vineyard in 2015. It received a $320,000 loan from REI Business Lending and a grant from the Administration for Native Americans. The ANA grant will fund 40 growers over the next five years, reaching up to 62 acres. The grant is for $400,000 to $500,000 each year during the five-year span.

The tourism site has been in development since the tribe purchased the Grisso Mansion in Seminole in 2012. The mansion and accompanying land had a small vineyard, but the grapes won’t work in the wine because of their acidity, Lambert said.

The tribe purchased 10 acres with three small buildings north of Seminole. The buildings serve as the production facility, and grapes will be grown on the surrounding land.

Grapes are being grown around the Seminole Nation, which is along Interstate 40. The tribe still needs three more groups of 10 growers for the next three years, Ainsworth said. Participants do not have to be Seminole, and they do not have to have a certain type of land. They need about half an acre at least to participate. The tribe pays for the infrastructure and materials, which is about $5,000 per person, he said.

“We match the root stock to the soil,” he said. “(Grapes) are a permanent thing. We want to make sure we’ve done our homework. We want to put the right grape in the right soil.”


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