by Mary Wolf
With names such as Blackberry Dream, Pineapple Pearadise, and Midnight Cherry, the libations crafted by Wildhorse Canyon Farms suggest something decadent—and delicious. The specialty wines are a few of some 20 varieties bottled by local vintners Margaret and Andy Shaben. The couple’s home north of Luther overlooks an impressive vineyard where they grow 3,000 various cultivars of wine grapes, table grapes, and hybrids.
Shoppers today will find Wild Horse Canyon Farms specialty wines at most Homeland Stores. Their merlots, cabernets, chardonnays, pinot noirs, and other assorted wines are available at most farmers markets, as well as various liquor stores around town.
“When we bought the land years ago, never in our wildest dreams would we have thought this would be our path,” says Margaret. “But Andy, with his green thumb, thought it would be a challenge he wanted to take on.”
With a balance of skills that makes for an effective team, Margaret oversees the winemaking process, marketing, distribution, and administrative tasks; the care and feeding of the vineyard falls to Andy. “He could make a cardboard box grow,” Margaret says. “Me? I’d kill a fake plant.”
It was Andy who cleared and flattened the land, tested the soil, and spent countless hours researching different grape varieties and their growing needs. “Andy did so much research. He read all the grape bibles of the world and studied harvesting guides to make sure the soil and growing conditions were spot on,” Margaret recalls. “There’s a lot that goes into this.”
Eventually, Andy ordered several types of grapes to determine which types would grow best. With help from their son, Brandon, he planted 3,000 grape seedlings in 2006, each variety carefully selected from a West Coast supplier with similar climate and growing conditions.
It was the first of many trials in a strategy of trial and error salted with hard work and careful attention to detail. Soil conditions, heat, rainfall, the timing of the harvest, grape selection, crushing, pressing, filtering, fermentation, and clarifying, each stage of the process will have a bearing on the wines’ flavor. And it takes time. Depending on the variety, wines must ferment from six months to a year before they’re ready for bottling.
Today, the couple laugh when they think about how they’re business has blossomed. Margaret, a registered nurse by trade, and Andy, a PGA professional, never dreamed they’d be in the wine industry. “What’s more surprising is we enjoy the hell out of doing it—and drinking it, as well,” she adds.
Sample Wildhorse Canyon Farms wines, gourmet fruit spreads, syrups, and wine jellies at the Luther Pecan Festival. To shop their products online, visit www.wildhorsecanyonfarms.com, or call 405-898-7979 or 405-740-3891.