After years of telling me that they were going to retire to Arkansas, my parents have finally done so. Kevin and I tried to talk them into moving to Oregon, but they weren’t going for it.
So, Arkansas it is. In the middle of the Walmartian capitol.
Luckily, like almost every place in the country, there is wine nearby. Yup. wine. Located in three American Viticultural Areas. Twenty-four wineries.
California it is not. But that isn’t a bad thing. After all, variety is the spice of life. So what’s the deal with Arkansas wine?
Officially, viticulture began in Arkansas in the 1870s when German and Swiss immigrants settled in Altus, Arkansas. Unofficially, there was wine in Arkansas before that. In A Journal of Travels into the Arkansa Territory During the Year 1819 With Occasional Observation on the Manners of the Aborigines by Thomas Nuttall, F.L.S. (I have no idea what F.L.S. means), the author describes the vineyards and wine encountered along the way. Tales of wine being produced at local taverns like the Hinderliter Grog Shop in Little Rock circa 1827 are likely to be true. And prior to American settlement? Well, Arkansas was once officially part of France after all.
In addition to the Altus wineries, Italian immigrants have made their mark in Arkansas’s wine history. The city of Tontitown was founded by the followers of Father Pietro Bandini in 1898. The residents, mostly from northern Italy brought their traditions with them including wine making. Even today, the sign welcoming you to town features grape vines. Unfortunately, for most American’s the town is more commonly known as the home as the Duggar family.
What kinds of wines are being produced? Well, a lot of sweet wines. Muscadine grapes grow naturally in the state and have long been used to produce. Muscadine is a type of grape known as Vitis rotundifolia that is native to the United States. But Muscadine doesn’t have to produce a sweet wine and there are dry options as well.Other grapes producing wine in Arkansas include Niagara, Concord and Delaware which are park of the Vitis labrusca family. French-American Hybrids such as Chambourcin and Vidal are common as is Cynthiana, a Norton clone is thought to be created in the Arkansas. There are even folks producing Chardonnay and Merlot… though most of them get that fruit from California.
There are three viticultural areas in the Arkansas. Altus is located around the German Swiss town of the same name in the Boston Mountains. Altus is the only appellation found completely within the state. Altus is also located within the Arkansas Mountain appellation but extends in the area from Fort Smith to Conway (another place my folks thought about moving to… but thought better of as the town is dry). Ozark Mountain contains the Altus and Arkansas Mountain regions and is crosses into Missouri and Oklahoma as well.
Getting your hands on Arkansas wine is tricky. The state does not play well with others, i.e. does not allow direct shipping and because of that can’t ship out of state either. So you kinda have to go there and taste it there.
But since I am about to be spending more time in the Ozarks, I guess I will have time to explore.