Jill M. Rohrbach
Where It Started
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.
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.
Four wineries – 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.
But Arkansas Wine Country is no longer exclusive to the river valley. In the Ozark Mountains in northwest Arkansas, Keels Creek Winery opened in 2006 in Eureka Springs. The retail wine sales and tasting room are located in a Spanish-style building that is shared with Keels Creek Art Gallery. In addition to its own label, Keels Creek offers one of the largest selections of Arkansas wines in the state.
The vineyards are located in the hills of Keels Creek about 3 miles from the city limits of Eureka Springs. The ten acres of their land which was initially planted in 2004 and 2005 now contains more than 10 varieties of grape that will come in full production in another three years. 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.
To the southwest, The Winery in Hot Springs (Garland County) opened in 2005, selling the wines it produces and featuring a branch of the Arkansas Historic Wine Museum.
Arkansas’s newest small farm winery, Raimondo Family Wines, operates its tasting room and produces its wines at Blue Lady Resort in Gamaliel in the north central Ozarks. The Raimondo Family Winery has been producing wine in California for more than two decades.