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Ferment to Be

Chris and Vonnetta Allenbaugh have been not-so-quietly taking the local wine-making scene by storm with the stunning Blind Luck brand of wines that appeal to the eye and to the soul.

Michele Chiappetta
Valerie Grant
June 29, 2017

You’ve probably seen it around town, perhaps listed on a drink menu, among the booths at the Blue Dome Festival, or on the wine racks at your favorite alcohol retail spot. The stunning Blind Luck brand of wines appeals to the eye and tastes so good, you’ll want to pour it liberally during fun times with friends. But did you know the Blind Luck brand is produced right here in Green Country, in a town near Lake Tenkiller known as Cookson?

Chris and Vonnetta Allenbaugh, together with their son Adam, have been not-so-quietly taking the local wine-making scene by storm with their highly successful “fun wines.” These semi-sweet, flavored wines are crafted to appeal to a broad audience, not just connoisseurs, and are sold in over 130 locations in Oklahoma so far. And they’re only growing in popularity every day.

To say Deep Branch Winery, the maker of Blind Luck, is a quick-growing success is an understatement. The winery has grown by leaps and bounds since it began selling to the public in 2014. “We started out with the capacity for making 720 bottles a month,” says Chris. “And now we have the capacity of doing 5,800 bottles a month. This is in a three-year period.”

The burgeoning business started with Chris’s love for wine and his need to find something to do in his retirement years. “It started out as kind of a joke in a way,” says Vonnetta. “I said [to Chris], we’re looking at retirement, and you need to get a hobby that makes money instead of golf that’s so expensive.”

During a business trip for Vonnetta, Chris went with her and participated in the spouses’ activities, which included a visit to a winery. After that experience, it wasn’t hard for Chris to decide what his new, money-making hobby was going to be. Soon, he was learning the process of wine-making in his home.

“I was making wine in the closet and giving it away, which was expensive,” says Chris. “Vonnetta came home one day, and I said, ‘We’re going to start a winery.’ I don’t know what she thought about that.”

The Allenbaughs laugh as they recall that moment. “He’s always been the dreamer,” Vonnetta says with a smile, “and I’m the conservative one. So, I said, if you will do the paperwork and you get it approved by the feds, I will do it. And he did.”

After they received approval to start the winery, Deep Branch hit the ground running.

To avoid going into debt, the Allenbaughs moved their production out of the closet and converted Vonnetta’s 12-foot by 18- foot storage building into their first official production center. They bought two tanks and produced two wines for sale in the fall of 2014. Since then, they have expanded to six wines — Wild Blue, a blueberry pinot noir; Royal Red, a merlot sangria; Southern Charm, a peach chardonnay; Black Night, a blackberry cabernet; Berried Treasure, a strawberry-raspberry shiraz; and Perfect Pair, a pear sauvignon blanc. All are made and bottled in Cookson. And there are plans to add a few full-bodied wines to their label for those who don’t enjoy sweet or semi-sweet wines.

With such rapid growth, Chris and Vonnetta brought in their son, Adam, to help. “We were literally bottling everything ourselves,” says Vonnetta. “We thought, there is no way for us to do this. So, Adam and I took over the operations and winery while Chris was overseeing construction of our new building. It was amazing timing.” Adam is also helping with automation and keeping the winery’s production environmentally green.

It’s clear from talking with the Allenbaughs that wine-making is not, well, blind luck. It takes dedication and continual learning, though it’s clear they also love the process, no matter how demanding it may be. “Wine is not for sissies,” says Vonnetta.

Taste-testing is an important part of the process, and for that, the Allenbaughs rely on friends to give them honest input. “We would make the wines and basically take a bottle with us to let our friends try them,” says Chris. “That was a big thing, if our friends liked them. They’re honest, and they would tell us whether it was going to work or not going to work.” The feedback helped them hone their recipes.

Of course, having a mentor always helps too. The Allenbaughs’ wine-making guru is John Burwell of Put a Cork in It, a small family-owned winery in Bricktown, Oklahoma City. “He was my mentor, and he’s still to this day someone I can go to. He taught me a lot, a whole lot,” says Chris.

In true community spirit, the Allenbaughs give as much as they receive. “We try to pay that forward,” adds Vonnetta. “We’ve helped a small winery when they needed help because we thought, where would we be if somebody hadn’t helped us? So we tried to help someone else.”

“It means a lot to us to be able to share our knowledge and our spirit,” says Chris. “We’re just that type of people.”

When thinking about success, the Allenbaughs are in it for the long haul and are looking forward to continued growth. “Wine is actually a really thriving industry,” says Chris. “And I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere. It’s still there. It’s going to continue the same way, on the same course it has been forever.” In other words, you can expect to see Blind Luck on the shelves for a long time.

You can find the Blind Luck brand of wines at local wine retail venues (like Tulsa Hills Wine Cellar, Collins Midtown Liquor and others), area restaurants such as Jimmy Hula’s and The Deck at Lake Tenkiller, wine festivals such as the POSTOAK Wine & Jazz Festival, and other places where wines and spirits are sold. You can also follow Deep Branch Winery on Facebook to see where they will be throughout the year.