By Molly Fleming
The Associated Press
STROUD — Every morning when Annetta Neal wakes up, she can peer out the window at her workplace.
While some people may not want to get up and immediately be reminded of how they are about to leave their cozy home and head to work, Neal doesn’t mind.
Her office is surrounded by rolling hills and rows of grapevines. Her desk sits behind an area where a priest once taught lessons of Jesus Christ turning water into wine, or using wine to teach His disciples about his life.
The words of wine have been echoing within the walls of the former Catholic church on Route 66 in Stroud for nearly 10 years as the home of StableRidge Vineyards, founded and owned by Neal and her husband, Don Neal.
The two entered the wine business after spending most of their lives in other careers, Annetta as a teacher and Don in the banking industry.
Annetta came from a family of teachers, with her mother and sister working in classrooms, and her grandmother teaching elocution.
“I was told it was the perfect occupation for a mother because you could be home at summer,” she said. “It was an occupation for women that was wide open.”
She received her teaching degree at East Central University, where she met Don. The two were married in 1970 and have been embarking on adventures together ever since. Annetta’s first teaching assignment was helping students improve their reading skills. Then the couple moved to Louisiana, where Annetta had her own pottery studio.
When they moved back to Oklahoma in 1981, she returned to the classroom. For more than 20 years, Neal taught first and second grade in Milfay. She loved teaching, but she always thought there was something more out there to life.
That’s when she and Don sat down one night to watch the movie A Walk in the Clouds.
“I remember thinking, ‘What a wonderful romantic movie, just walking through the vineyard,”’ she said. “Don saw it and thought growing grapes sounds like fun.”
The idea of starting a winery was born.
If Annetta was going to start on this new journey in life, she was going to do it right. She headed off to classes to learn about the science of making wine. For the next two years, she went to Texas and California for classes while continuing to teach her beloved students.
Then fate intervened in their lives when a 1999 tornado that hit Moore also made its way northeast and did a lot of damage to the property down the hill from them, where a Catholic church sat next to a home.
“We decided this was the opportunity to acquire the property next to us,” she told The Journal Record (http://bit.ly/K8YgQN ).
The property wasn’t in the best condition. They had to remove a lot of old steel and tear down chicken coops and other old buildings. Once it was cleaned up, they planted their first crop of grapes in 2000.
“It takes several years to get a good crop,” she said. “You have to pinch them off and throw them away the first few years to get them stronger.”
Despite the challenges, they never turned away from their dream to build a winery.
“It was always move ahead, move ahead,” Don said. “I always tell people, ‘We’re pioneers. Where we are today, no one’s been before. We never thought we made a mistake by doing this.”’
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