Wine, food, music, dancing – yep, it’s time for Weinfest 2012 at Wiederkehr Wine Cellars. Head to Wiederkehr Village on Oct. 12 for the Early Bird Party. It takes place from noon until 9 p.m. in the Wiederkehr Weingarten, where you’ll find music, a full bar and dancing.
Enjoy one of the most authentic Alpine-style festivals in the United States on Oct. 13 when Weinfest kicks off at 8:30 a.m. with tours of the historic cellar. The tasting room, where visitors can sample award-winning Wiederkehr wines at no charge, is always a popular place.
Show bands provide continuous entertainment throughout the day. And then, there’s the food! Concessions will serve a variety of international a la carte cuisine, such as Quiche Lorraine, Old world Potato Soup, Smoked Bratwurst with Sauerkraut, Smoked Barbeque Pork and many other delicacies. The famous Weinkeller Restaurant and Swiss Family Bistro will be open for lunch and dinner, including patio dining. Plus, you can restock your cellar at Wiederkehr Village wine & Spirits located at the I-40 exit.
During Weinfest you can also take a free polka lesson and an open tram tour of the vineyards, browse the arts and crafts, and tour beautiful St. Mary’s Church. The church was built by immigrants who volunteered their labor and is decorated with murals for the area’s early residents posed as models.
Chairman and CEO Al Wiederkehr, grandson of Johann and an acknowledged expert viticulturist & enologist in his own right, sent me some information on the history of his family and the winery. Here it is in his words:
“When Johann Andreas Wiederkehr arrived in the Arkansas River Valley with his bride, Katherina, in 1880 it wasn’t with the intention of founding the winery that today is the oldest commercial “Vitis Vinifera” (European-type) vineyard-grower east of the Rockies.
“He planned to farm, to raise crops, cattle and make wine for himself and his neighbors. Like most Swiss farmers of his era, Johann was amazingly self-sufficient, able to produce almost everything he and his family needed by growing or making it. Cheese, sausage, wine and furniture were all made by the resourceful Swiss farmer. Trained as a shoemaker, Johann also made and repaired shoes and boots. The Swiss are known for their quality workmanship whether it be doing leatherwork or Swiss watches and Johann, a quality conscious man did everything well. He had brought his young family to America to build a new life on the frontier.
“Like many Swiss and German immigrants who settled in the fertile valley, the Wiederkehrs were drawn by railroad advertising extolling the area as ideal for horticultural farming. The railroad sought to create new markets for their services by drawing farmers to the area, who would then contract to ship the produce they grew to market by rail.
“The first Wiederkehr wines were sacramental wines produced according to the church’s exacting standards for use in the Mass, but the enterprising farmer soon found a ready market for the sausage, wine and other goods they grew or manufactured among the coal miners employed in the area’s booming industry.
“Following the discovery in 1880 in Spadra, Arkansas of smokeless anthracite coal (highly sought after as fuel for the steel mills of Pittsburg), coal mining was a principle industry for the Altus-Denning- Alix area. Alix (near Altus) once boasted a train yard 30 tracks wide, with one mine alone shipping out over 100 cars of coal per day.
“Many of the miners were German and Swiss immigrants who planted vineyards and grew grapes to sell to the Wiederkehr’s growing winery.
“Al Wiederkehr says he can remember his father loading as many cases of wine as possible on his truck to peddle to surrounding areas as he started sales again after prohibition. Eventually the wine distributing chores were turned over to beer and wine wholesalers so the Wiederkehrs could concentrate on what they did best, which was to make quality wine.”