Arkansas is the home of three AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas); all located in the northwestern portion of the state—the large OZARK MOUNTAIN AVA (which Arkansas shares with MISSOURI and OKLAHOMA) and the smaller AVAs of ALTUS and Arkansas Mountain, both subzones of the Ozark Mountain AVA. In the early 1900s, Arkansas enjoyed abundant vineyards, mostly of CONCORD grapes, an indigenous American variety of the VITIS LABRUSCA species. Unfortunately, wines from these grapes don’t have the popular appeal of VITIS VINIFERA species (the basic European varieties like CABERNET SAUVIGNON and CHARDONNAY). Today, Arkansas winemaking is mostly from HYBRIDS and Vitis vinifera grapes. Area wineries produce a variety of STILL WINES from Cynthiana (NORTON) grapes or hybrids (like NIAGRA and SEYVAL BLANC), as well as from Cabernet Sauvignon, MERLOT, and Chardonnay grapes. Arkansas also produces SPARKLING WINES. The Wiederkehr Winery, which was started in the late 1800s, is in operation today by the founder’s descendants. It has shifted from American varieties and hybrids to grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, RIESLING, and MUSCAT.
Back in 1880, two European families settled in the Arkansas River Valley, attracted by its fertile sandy soil and moderate climate. The two pioneers of the American wine industry were Jacob Post, who came to America in 1872, and Johann Wiederkehr, who immigrated to Altus from Switzerland in 1880. (*Check out this short 6 minute video of an interview at Post Familie Vineyards in Altus). Area conditions reminded them so much of the fine wine-making regions of Germany and Switzerland that they each established vineyards, which was the beginning of a wine heritage and viticulture in Arkansas. Wine was made from grapes, berries and fruit native to their new homeland. Since those early years, each added new grape varieties, and cultivated, improved and expanded their vineyards. Today, fourth and fifth generations of these two families, plus Robert Cowie and Audrey House, have contributed to making Arkansas the largest and oldest wine producing state in the South. Paris, Ozark and Altus are located in Arkansas Wine Country, just off Interstate 40 northwest of Little Rock and east of Ft. Smith, near where the Arkansas River winds between the Ozark Mountains and the Ouachita Mountains.
Several area wineries that offer free tours, wine tastings and special events are: Chateau Aux Arc, (pronounced “ozark”) established in 1998 by Audrey House, is known for chardonnay and cynthiana grapes; tasting room open daily 479-468-4400 or 800-558-WINE.
Mount Bethel Winery, owned and operated for more than 100 years by a Post family member, produces a wide variety of locally-grown fruit wines: sip some blueberry, strawberry, blackberry, elderberry, peach, wild plum and, of course, grape! 479-468-2444.
Post Familie Vineyards & Winery, Taste some wine, shop for gifts and local wine, juice, jelly and vinegar; tours available by request. Established in 1880. Open daily. 479-468-2741
Wiederkehr Wine Cellars and Vineyard Tour the original wine cellar (listed on the National Register of Historic Places), which has been converted into the Weinkeller Restaurant, which serves Swiss and European specialties, and wine. Closed major holidays. 800-622-9463.
In Paris, Cowie Wine Cellars Vintner Robert Cowie began making wine in 1955; free wine tastings following tours of the cellars; wine making supplies for sale; amateur wine making competition held in April; home to the Arkansas Historic Wine Museum. 479-963-3990. Visitors to the area can also learn more about the region’s coal mining history at the Altus Heritage House Museum 479-468-4684.
Keels Creek Winery opened in 2006 in Eureka Springs in the Northwest Arkansas Ozark Mountains. In addition to its own label, Keels Creek offers one of the largest selections of Arkansas wines in the state. The 10-acre vineyard contains more than 10 varieties of grapes. Co-owners Doug Hausler and Edwige Denyszyn estimate that the optimal production from the vineyard will be about 40 tons of grapes which will make about 5,000 gallons of wine. The retail wine sales and tasting room are located in a Spanish-style building that is shared with Keels Creek Art Gallery. 3185 East Van Buren. 479-253-WINE (9463)
Arkansas’s newest small farm winery, Raimondo Family Winery, operates its tasting room and produces its wines at Blue Lady Resort in Gamaliel. The Raimondo Family Winery has been producing wine in California for more than two decades.
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