Adding to the rich culture of Arkansas are a growing number of wineries, where you’ll find outstanding vintages as well as that homegrown hospitality for which our state is known.
[dropcap]To[/dropcap] find the best Arkansas wine, you’ve got to go to the source — and the 52nd annual Wiederkehr Village Weinfest, Oct. 10 at Wiederkehr Village near Altus, is as good an excuse as any to make the trip.
There’s been a rebirth of small-batch winemaking in Arkansas in the last decade or so, and the current count of wineries is nearly 30, scattered across the state but the heart and soul of Arkansas viticulture remains in Altus, a small town on the slopes of St. Mary’s Mountain in Franklin County. The patriarchs of the Post Familie Vineyards & Winery and Wiederkehr families — names synonymous with Arkansas wine — settled among its cool hillsides late in the 19th century, planting vineyards and establishing the winemaking traditions they brought with them mainly from Germany and Switzerland. Prohibition destroyed most of what they built, but descendants of the two families own three of the town’s six wineries and have a connection to a fourth.
Many of the wineries have tasting rooms where you can try a wide variety of wines not easily found in retail stores — those made from grapes with unfamiliar names, like chambourcin and seyval and cynthiana, that thrive in Arkansas’ hot, humid climate. Some wineries offer tours as well, so you can get an up-close look at how your favorite beverage is coaxed into existence.
The Wiederkehr family has made wine on St. Mary’s Mountain since 1880; its Weinfest is a long-standing tradition. The free, daylong event features food, German music, children’s activities, and a grape stomp.
The winery’s tasting room and retail store are open daily, as is the winery’s Weinkeller Restaurant, which features Swiss and other European specialty foods. For more information, log on to wiederkehrwines.com.
The state’s largest winery is Post Familie Vineyards & Winery, founded in 1951 by James and Mathew Post, grandson and great-grandson of family patriarch Jacob Post. Today, Mathew’s 12 children continue the family tradition. The winery’s new retail store is located at 1700 St. Mary’s Mountain Road. You’ll find details on their website at postfamilie.com.
The nearby Mount Bethel Winery was founded in 1956 by Eugene Post, another of Jacob Post’s grandsons. Its tasting room, in a century-old Post family wine cellar, is a don’t-miss on the Altus tour. You can try wines made from both traditional and Arkansas varieties, as well as wines made from Arkansas-grown blueberries, strawberries and other fruit. The winery is located at 5014 Mount Bethel Road. For more information, log on to mountbethel.com.
On state Highway 186, you’ll find Chateau Aux Arc, a smaller winery founded in 2001 by Audrey House. For more information, log on to chateauauxarc.com.
The two newest entrants to the Altus wine scene are the Neumeier Winery at 3406 Hwy. 186, which is best known for its muscadine wine and custom pottery formed and fired on-site, and Dionysus Wine and Brew at 9017 Hwy. 186, which opened its tasting room in May. Detailed information is available at dionysuswineandbrew.my-free.website.
Another winery calls the Arkansas River Valley region home — the Cowie Wine Cellars and Vineyards, just off state Highway 22 west of Paris — and it’s well worth the half-hour detour from Altus. Owner Bob Cowie is a legend in Arkansas for his winemaking prowess, but the wine isn’t the only attraction. A small museum features the “Gallery of Barrels,” a collection of barrel lids painted with scenes related to wine and the history of winemaking. Cowie also built a small family chapel complete with bell towers that is open to visitors. You can even spend the night in one of two bed-and-breakfast suites. For reservations, photographs and more, log on to cowiewinecellars.com.
Log on to keelscreek.com for information about the Eureka Springs-based Keels Creek Winery. While there, peruse and purchase artwork found in its shared space, the Keels Creek Art Gallery, located at 3185 E. Van Buren Street.
Getting to the Railway Winery and Vineyards north of Eureka Springs is half the fun: You’ll want to snap a photo as you cross the “Little Golden Gate Bridge” in the historic town of Beaver on state Highway 187. The winery, about two miles further down the road, features artisan wines and other local products, such as jellies and coffees. Planning for this adventure can be done at railwaywinery.com.
The Ranalli family of Tontitown has made wine for almost a century, and a few years ago it opened the Tontitown Winery in the historic Taldo House at 335 N. Barrington Road. Wines are made on-site from the family’s own grapes. The winery is open daily for tastings, and there’s live music on the patio Wednesday and Friday nights. Want more information? Log on to tontitownwinery.com for details.
The winery at Sassafras Springs Vineyard in Springdale began producing its own wine earlier this year. Hours vary, so log on to their website, sassafrasspringsvineyard.com, for detailed information.
If you live in or are planning a visit to the central Arkansas area, check out the newest wineries in cities like:
Movie House Winery opened in 2011 in the renovated 1930s-era Petit Jean Movie Theatre at 112 E. Commerce Street. The winery makes and sells small-batch wines, in addition to winemaking supplies.
The Winery of Hot Springs is owned by the Roberts family, which also owns the city’s wax museum, gambling museum, a bowling alley, go-kart track, mini-golf and Duck tours. It’s located at 1503 Central Ave.
An Enchanting Evening Winery, Wedding Venue and Luxury Cabin is located on state Hwy. 300 in the Little Italy community west of Little Rock. You can sample wines made from Arkansas grapes and better-known varietals in a wine-tasting yurt with a deck overlooking Lake Maumelle and Pinnacle Mountain.
BoBrook Farms is well known in central Arkansas for its you-pick berry fields and fall pumpkin patch. The on-site River Bottom Winery creates wines made from fruit grown on the farm.
THE HAPPIEST HOURS
We polled a few happy hour fans and asked: “Where’s your favorite happy hour?” Here are the results.
6820 Cantrell road • (501) 280-9888
They serve great margaritas at an even better price.
605 Beechwood St. • (501) 603-0238
This Little Rock restaurant has one of the best patios in the city. They’re a great pour, and you’ll love the happy hour specials.
Another Round Pub
12111 W. Markham St. • (501) 313-2612
It’s a haven for live music and sports fans, and the drink prices can’t be beat.
109 & Co.
109 Main St. • (501) 374-3710
This modern speakeasy serves great signature and classic cocktails, and the staff knows its stuff.
The Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa
239 Central Ave. • (501) 623-7771
This historic hotel’s ambiance is classic. They’re a good pour, and the patio is a great place to people-watch.
Smylys Crab Shack
4916 Central Ave. • (501) 525-3442
Smylys has a lovely lake view and live music several nights per week.
Tusk & Trotter
110 SE A St., Bentonville • (479) 268-4494
They feature delicious drinks, crafted well by an award-winning bartender.
Bordinos Italian Restaurant
310 W. Dickson St., Fayetteville • (479) 527-6795
Bordinos serves $5 glasses of wine and has all-day happy hours on Friday and Saturday … need we say more?
205 N. Main St. • (870) 275-6264
Happy hour begins at 3 p.m. weekdays and on Saturdays starts at 11 a.m., offering beer and wine at $5 or less.
Cregeen’s Irish Pub
201 S. Main St. • (870) 972-9200
This Irish pub is home of great whiskey flights and the Guinness stout perfect pour.