Westhope Remembered with a Namesake Wine

History Editor

CLASSIC STOCK: The Westhope namesake wine is available in stores in greater Tulsa. Above, Mark Fairchild, left, and Tom Williams of Three Palms Wine display bottles of the special product, named after the famous house in Tulsa designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Three Palms Wine is located in the Plaza Del Sol center at 101st Street and Mingo Rd. in south Tulsa.

DANIEL C. CAMERON for GTR Newspapers

Westhope is a winner again, but it has nothing to do with architecture. Westhope is the name of the house built for former Tulsa Tribune publisher Richard Lloyd Jones by his cousin Frank Lloyd Wright. The mere fact that it is a Wright house has ensured its inclusion in a host of books on 20th century architecture and made it a Tulsa icon. So how did wine get into the picture?

It all started with Chris Girouard, or maybe it started with his father George. As a young man, a recent graduate from the University of Tulsa, George found himself serving in occupied Austria in the years just following World War II. While on a train trip through France, he took advantage of a short stop at a railroad station to buy a bottle of wine. Despite Oklahoma being a dry state, bootleggers kept customers liberally supplied with liquor. However those same bootleggers weren’t known for a wide selection of fine wines. George had no idea what he had purchased, but it was love at first taste.

After his military service, George went into the oil and gas business, moved to Oklahoma City, and started a family. He also started a hobby. He began dabbling in making wine from grapes he grew in his backyard. “He specialized in red wines,” says his son. “Most red wines come from grapes known as the vinifera species. They didn’t like Oklahoma.” They would bud when a treacherous March stretch of warmer than usual weather came along and then succumb to the cold snap that often followed. So George went looking for grapes that were more used to our climate. Then he would cross-breed the grapes to try to come up with a wine grape that could withstand Oklahoma’s quirky weather.

As Chris grew up, he became intrigued by his father’s hobby and joined in, but he too had joined the oil and gas business and wine-making never reached above the hobby stage. Still, he thought his father had bred some interesting grapes and was anxious to try them. “Around the year 2000, Oklahoma law changed and made it easier for wineries to get started in Oklahoma. I would take the grape vine cuttings around and try to get some of the new producers to give them a try but I couldn’t get anyone interested. I couldn’t blame them. It takes some five or six years between the time of the first planting in the ground before the first bottle of wine can be sold. The grapes were unproven. It was frustrating.”

He was expressing this frustration to his friends the Rawlings in 2003 when the wife, Christy, came up with a solution. She had just taken over the management duties of a 2,200-acre farm west of Wagoner and would donate a small portion of it for an experimental vineyard. Mixing his father’s American grapes, which have a high acid content, with the low-acid vinifera made, Chris says, for an appealing blend. Still, it was a hobby and might have remained so had not the firm that Chris and his business partners had helped build found a buyer in 2006. Suddenly, he had funds and no ongoing business. He decided to delve more deeply into wines. But the first five acres planted wouldn’t produce its first bottle until 2012 so what was he to do until then? He had an idea. He didn’t have to grow the grapes himself, he could buy bulk wine from California. With the help of master sommelier Randa Warren he started buying wines from California wineries and blending and finishing them in Tulsa.

What to call the blended final wine? He wanted something that pointed to Tulsa but what would that be? How about art deco? Tulsa has a number of houses and businesses that feature the art deco architectural style (the most famous probably being Boston Avenue Methodist Church). Girouard decided to honor them. His first blended wine was Petite Sirah, which he named Fire Alarm Red with a picture of the fire station just west of Peoria Avenue on Eighth Street on the label. He produced his second wine just in time for a state-wide wine contest. It was a Cabernet Sauvignon and it won the Oklahoma State Wine Championship. Now he had an anonymous prize-winner. He called Lee Anne Zeigler of the Tulsa Foundation of Architecture for a name. “It was obvious,” she says. “Westhope is the only Frank Lloyd Wright building in Tulsa and a masterpiece of art deco.” Thus Westhope is not only the name of an iconic building but a prize-winning wine. One suspects somewhere Frank Lloyd Wright is pleased.

Updated 03-04-2010

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