You might not think of Arkansas when you think of wine, but my home state is actually one of the oldest and largest wine producers in the South. The groundwork for this started millions of years ago with the formation of the Ozark Mountains in the upper northwest corner of the state. These ancient mountains help create a beautiful sandy loam that has proven to be an exquisite terroir for growing wine grapes.
Bacchus blessed us again in the 19th century when German-Swiss immigrants began flowing into the area to work in the coal mines. The European transplants found that the conditions were perfect for planting vineyards like those they grew back home. Many of these vineyards are still in production today and touring them is a fun way to take in the beauty of the region.
Visiting the heart of Arkansas wine country is an easy day trip to the town of Altus, where it’s possible to taste over 100 different wines in just a five mile stretch. I recommend making the trip in spring when the dogwoods are in bloom or fall as the leaves turn and the grapes are ready for harvest.
There are about a dozen wineries in Arkansas, but for this post I’m focusing on three – Post Familie Vineyard (www.PostFamilie.com), Wiederkehr Wine Cellars
(www.WiederkehrWines.com) and Chateau aux Arc (www.ChateauAuxArc.com).
Post Familie Vineyard
Open daily for tours and tastings.
1700 St. Mary’s Mountain Rd
Altus, AR 72821
The Post Familie Vineyard specializes in wine made from the muscadine, a native of the southeastern United States. Because they are a native grape they are easy to care for with no spraying necessary. This quality also makes muscadines a great choice for homeowners. And if you select a self-pollinating variety such as ‘Noble’ you don’t have to plant both a male and female vine.
At Post you’ll find 100 acres in cultivation. Northwest Arkansas is the northern boundary of where this grape will grow so Post plants the most cold hardy varieties. The most coveted in the red is ‘Noble’ and in the white, ‘Carlos’. The winery processes in excess of 1,000 tons each year, which makes them the leading grower and buyer in the central U.S.
Wiederkehr Wine Cellars
Open daily except Sunday.
3324 Swiss Family Drive
Wiederkehr Village, AR 72821
If you want to learn more about the German-Swiss immigrants who settled in Altus Wiederkehr Wine Cellars is a must see. Established in 1880 by Johann Andreas Wiederkehr it is the oldest winery in continuous operation in central United States.
The Champagne Cellar is a beautiful example of 19th century stone work. All the stones are dry laid with a mix of lime and sand for mortar. It was the first wine cellar on the property and now houses a restaurant where you can dine on dishes from the French, German and Italian regions of Switzerland. Even the tables and chairs were handmade on the property in the style of the Swiss Alps.
If you are a festival-goer head over to Wiederkehr in October for their annual weinfest. Flowing wine, great food and beautiful scenery; it’s a party you won’t want to miss.
Chateau aux Arc
Tasting Room open Monday – Saturday, Sunday noon to 5 p.m.
8045 Champagne Drive-HWY 186
Altus, Arkansas 72821
If you’re into sustainability practices like I am, then you’ll love the Chateau aux Arc vineyard and winery. The owner, Audrey House, is doing everything she can to produce an extraordinary glass of wine while reducing her carbon footprint on the planet.
Audrey set her sights on viniculture after a 1997 tour of a California winery. It just took ten minutes for her to realize that growing grapes and producing wine was her life’s ambition. Less than a year later she bought ten acres of Chardonnay grapes in Arkansas.
Her philosophy of working with the land is evident from the vineyards to the tasting room. She built a series of ponds that take advantage of a natural spring. Fish in the ponds fertilize the irrigation water so there isn’t any need for chemical fertilizers. Cover crops are planted to attract beneficial insects and return nitrogen to the soil.
It’s a beautiful place with a beautiful tasting room.