The Altus region in the Arkansas River Valley has long been the prime locale for visitors to savor Arkansas’s award-winning wines, tour its wineries and soak up the history of Arkansas Wine Country.
New wineries in Wiederkehr Village as well as northwest and central Arkansas have expanded the state’s viticultural offerings. You can read about these new Arkansas wineries by clicking here. But for this One Tank Travel, let’s stick to original wine country.
Drawn by the Benedictine of Subiaco Abbey, a colony of German-Swiss immigrants settled in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains and began growing grapes in the 1870s at Altus in Franklin County. These early viticulturalists found great potential for grape production in this Arkansas River Valley region with mountains and valleys, and well-draining sandy soil that closely resembled the microclimates that had for centuries nurtured Europe’s great wines.
The history of the area is as rich as the soil the grapevines thrive in. The pastoral landscape of the region, boasts more than 120 years of viticultural history with some historic vineyards run by the fourth and fifth generation descendants of the original wine families. Arkansas is the oldest and largest grape juice and wine producing state in the southern United States.
Post Familie Vineyard and Winery, Wiederkehr Wine Cellars, Mount Bethel Winery, and Chateau Aux Arc operate in the Altus area and Cowie Wine Cellars operates in nearby Paris. Each offers free tours and operates tasting rooms. Some offer extra amenities such as a gift shop, a restaurant, an RV park, or a bed and breakfast inn.
Preserving the viticultural past of The Natural State is the Arkansas Historic Wine Museum at Cowie Wine Cellars in Paris through winemaking artifacts and biographical histories of winemakers. It is the only wine museum in the nation dedicated to the wine history of a state.
For added value and fun, plan a tour to the Altus region during one of the annual wine festivals that offers more than a taste of delicious wine in a celebratory atmosphere, but also an experience of family heritage and tradition. The annual Altus Grape Festival is coming up July 27-28.
Visitors to the area can dine at several restaurants on Altus’s historic downtown square. At Wiederkehr Wine Cellars, the original hand-dug wine cellar, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the site of the Weinkeller Restaurant and features Swiss and Continental cuisine. The winery opened a Swiss Family Bistro and Gift Shop just off of I-40 at the Altus exit. The Grapevine in Paris has been a popular eating establishment for years, while the Skycrest Restaurant at the new 60-room lodge at Mount Magazine State Park is now a major draw.
In addition to the restaurants that surround Altus’s centerpiece – a beautiful city park containing a coal mining memorial – are shops full of antiques, collectibles and crafts.
About 25 minutes away, today’s Benedictine of Subiaco and Romanesque-style Abbey Church still draws visitors to the beauty and solitude of its grounds. Other prime areas for exploring within an hour’s drive are Mt. Magazine State Park, Lake Dardanelle State Park, the Ozark National Forest, and the Mulberry River.
Altus is five miles south of Interstate 40, exit 41, on Ark. 186. Fort Smith is about one hour west, Fayetteville is about one hour north, and Little Rock is about two hours east.