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Oklahoma-Made cheeses and wines with family fun this weekend

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WATONGA, Okla. — Downtown Watonga will be filled with the smells of Cheddar, Swiss and now, merlots on Oct. 11 and 12, as the Watonga Cheese Festival expands its popular food-based event to include a new addition … wine.

Now called the Watonga Cheese and Wine Festival, the newly-renamed event will host the first statewide wine competition, featuring an esteemed panel of judges from throughout Oklahoma. Judges for the event include Clayton Bahr, Premium Wines representative and host of Oklahoma’s only wine radio show, Tasting Notes; Amie Hendrickson, general manager and sommelier at Edmond Wine Shop; Greg Horton, food writer for the Oklahoma Gazette; and William McGlynn, Ph.D., horticultural products processing specialist at Oklahoma State University.

The event has already garnered support from the Oklahoma Grape Industry Council (OGIC), an organization made up of members from professional wineries and vineyards throughout Oklahoma.

“Over the years, Oklahoma wine has grown from a few small wineries, into a blossoming industry and we are thrilled to celebrate that growth with the first statewide competition,” event coordinator Andy Barrett said. “What a better way to kick off our first wine competition than with an incredible panel of judges. We are grateful to each of them for dedicating their time and expertise to support Oklahoma-made wines.”

Wines entered in the competition will be judged by class and division. The top entries will be awarded medals, and Best in Show will merit a trophy. This year’s festival will also feature a People’s Pairing wine competition in which the general public can vote for its favorite wine. Interested winemakers can find the entry form at WatongaCheeseFestival.com. Cost to enter is $25 per wine submitted.

The two-day Cheese festival features live entertainment, crafts, an art show, and, of course, a wide-range of cheese-related activities, including tastings and cooking contests throughout the downtown area. In addition to the bevy of foodie favorites, the renowned festival will once again highlight a downtown parade and family friendly events that have made it an Oklahoma must-see for 37 years.

This year, the Devon Energy Stage and Main Street Stages will feature musical acts to get toes tapping, including Chad Slagle and Yesterday’s Wine band, Tulsa/Nashville recording artist Kinsey Sadler, local artists Katie Bellew and Brandon Johnson, and crowd favorite, Buck Goucher.

Also returning to the Watonga Cheese Festival this year is the Fourth Annual Race the Rail, a 32-mile bicycle race against the AT&L Railroad from Watonga to Geary and back. Registration and more information about the race can be found at http://www.racetherail.com. This year also marks the 33rd annual running of the Rat Race — a 1K fun run, 5K and sanctioned 10K run. For more information and entry forms for the Rat Race, visit http://www.watongacheesefestival.com/rat_race.htm

The Watonga Cheese and Wine Festival was founded in 1976 to showcase the northwest Oklahoma town’s cheese industry. Although the local cheese factory closed their Watonga location in 2007, the original recipe cheeses are still sold in Watonga. Meanwhile, the festival survives and thrives with great family entertainment, fine art shows and shopping, in addition to cheese tasting and cooking contests. Add to that the numerous vineyards and wineries that have sprung up in the area over the last decade and it is a natural pairing to expand the festival.

The 2013 Watonga Cheese and Wine Festival will be held 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Oct. 11-12 on Main Street and at the Watonga Armory, located at Leach and Main in downtown Watonga. To learn more about the annual event, visit here or visit them on Facebook.