Becoming The Grape Lady

By Jamie Aussieker Karasek / Photography By Jamie Aussieker Karasek | June 25, 2018

Often during market I hear one of the most endearing titles my mom has been given: the Grape Lady. Usually it is heard from a newer customer and as time rolls by we exchange names. We’ve known many of our customers for 20 years or more. Every year, when our selling season begins, the familiar faces appear at our table. We hug, share stories, laugh and sometimes cry. For us, it’s like a reunion. However, many do not know the road that has earned my mom this standing.

It started in 1990 with the purchase of 24 mostly wooded acres. The idea was to plant a vineyard, something that, as far as we are aware, had not been done before in Oklahoma. We hoped it would provide a second income. Twelve hundred plants were spaced over three acres on the side of a hill with high hopes there would be a harvest in the next four years. Tirelessly, our family of three worked together to hand-weed, water and tend to the fragile vines. During the summer, a hard drought hit. Despite constant hand-watering, all plants, except 50, were lost.

A pond was dug and another 1,200 vines were planted. The twine, which was meant to guide the young vines as they grew, had unknowingly been tied around the trunks and most plants were girdled (strangled). Again, all but 50 vines were lost. The news was disheartening. With renewed determination, another 1,200 plants were ordered. Years passed, the vision became a reality and in 1996 we had our first harvest.

Still, after our first harvest the struggles continued. No one knew who we were. Most people were wary. It was unbelievable that grapes could grow in Oklahoma. Driving from produce stand to produce stand, we would try to sell our grapes. It was slow going. Eventually, we found our home in the local farmers’ markets and thrived. Even now, people are surprised when we say our grapes are local.

Now, 28 years later, the third generation works the vineyard. Bringing in the harvest is a family event. Relationships have been intertwined on the road of grape season. As for the Grape Lady, she would say it was hard, but it was worth it.