It’s awesome when you discover something about a place that you totally don’t expect, like Arkansas’ Wine Country Trail. We know that America’s wine industry reaches way beyond California these days, but Arkansas?
Yes, it’s true.
We love camping in the Ozarks and floating its wild and scenic rivers, but Arkansas has a few more layers. In fact, it continues to surprise with all it has to offer. The fresh and vibrant wine scene there is one reason it’s becoming one of our favorite destinations. Let’s take a trip along the Arkansas Wine Country Trail.
Does Arkansas Have a Wine Country?
California has its Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, and Central Coast. Wine lovers around the world know those locations and the wines they produce well. Washington and Oregon are also on wine lovers’ radars. They’re producing incredible wines as well.
Arkansas is seldom mentioned in the same breath as those top-shelf wine states, but maybe it should be. The wine country of northwestern Arkansas is in the hilly areas of the Fort Smith metro area, a couple of hours’ drive from Little Rock.
At its center is the community of Altus. Once a coal-mining town, Altus has a growing identity as the epicenter for winemaking in Arkansas.
About Arkansas’ Native Wines
While there are many other wine-making places in the South, Arkansas was one of the first. Winemaking in this area goes back a century and a half when a handful of European families brought their craft from Europe.
The weather, terrain, and even the sandy soil itself reminded them of the productive lands back home in Germany and Switzerland. When they decided to plant some grapes, they experimented with a few different kinds. After a bit of trial and error, they found two varieties that thrived the best in these particular conditions.
These hardy bluish-purple grapes produce a full-bodied, inky, and spicy wine with lots of character. In fact, cynthiana grapes are sometimes called “the cabernet of the South.” Also called norton, the cynthiana grape is so closely identified with Arkansas’ wine industry that it’s the official state grape.
Also called scuppernongs, these native grapes have unusually thick skins and are especially round and plump. Muscadines, which are farmed and also grow wild in these parts, get their name from a distinctively “musky” flavor. Enterprising vintners rely on them for a wide range of wines as well as jams, jellies, and juices.
What Is the Arkansas Wine Country Trail (a.k.a. Altus Wine Trail)?
The Arkansas River Valley had long drawn in tourists for its incredible scenic beauty. More and more of them are visiting specifically to tour the Arkansas Wine Country Trail in recent years. It runs right through Altus and a few of its surrounding communities.
Following all or parts of the wine trail is a convenient and enjoyable way to find out more about Arkansas wines. Of course, the best way to learn is by having a taste. Along the Arkansas Wine Country Trail, you can meet winemakers and see how they produce their products. You can also enjoy samples to decide which ones you want to take home with you.
Wineries on the Arkansas Wine Country Trail
At last count, Arkansas has about 20 wineries, and a dozen of them are on the Arkansas Wine Country Trail. If you don’t have time to hit them all, focus on these favorites. They all have their own distinct personalities. The chances are good that you’ll be charmed.
Location: 1700 Saint Mary’s Mountain Road, Altus, AR 72821
About: You might call this winery the great-great-great grandparent of them all. The Post family was one of the area’s original winemakers back in the 1870s.
Today, a sixth generation produces more wine from muscadines and other grapes than anyone on the Arkansas Wine Country Trail. The historic property includes a gift shop and a kitchen that serves up lunches like you’d find in a Southern tea room.
Mount Bethel Winery
Location: 5014 Mt Bethel Dr, Altus, AR 72821
About: This winery also has direct ties to the Post family, and they’re happy to share their unique family history. Winemaking is about constant experimentation; here, they’re making wines from less conventional fruits and berries.
Mount Bethel produces wines from cabernet, merlot, and chardonnay grapes but also from native fruits like blueberries, peaches, and plums. Even sweeter than its dessert wines are the people who run the tours.
Chateau Aux Arc
Location: 8045 AR-186, Altus, AR 72821
About: Those Arkansas grapes we told you about, the cynthianas? Chateau Aux Arc plants more of them than any other vineyard. Another claim to fame is being one of the largest planters of chardonnay grapes outside California.
Aubrey House, the owner, and operator, also cultivates classic grapes like pinot noir and primitivo. The winery’s French name (similar to the Americanized “Ozark,” get it?) translates to “at the river bend.”
Dionysus Wine & Brew
Location: 9017 AR-186, Wiederkehr Village, AR 72821
About: The name of this smaller, boutique winery on the Arkansas Wine Country Trail honors the Greek god of wine and fertility. The last part of it suggests that something more is brewing. That would be the craft beers that owners Sharla and Dennis Wiederkehr make.
The enterprising business also has a yurt and primitive campsites for rent. They tend to follow California conventions with their wines.
Wiederkehr Wine Cellar
Location: 3324 Swiss Family Dr, Wiederkehr Village, AR 72821
About: The last name Wiederkehr was one of the very first names in Arkansas wine. They’re one of the original Swiss families that bottled its wines as far back as 1880. This is a true heritage spot, where you can visit the original wine cellars that their forebears dug by hand.
The winery offers tours of the vineyards and a tasting room, and a wine and spirits shop. The family’s highly acclaimed continental-style cuisine may keep you in this comfortable, historic space even longer.
Cowie Wine Cellars and Vineyards
Location: 101 N Carbon City Rd, Paris, AR 72855
About: Welcome to Paris! It seems the reach of the Arkansas Wine Country Trail knows no bounds. Robert Cowie’s family winery turns out classic varietals, as well fruit wines, ports, sherries, and even a line of meads. Also on the grounds are a bed-and-breakfast and an adjacent wine museum. Oh, they have a bell collection, too.
Traveler’s Tip: There’s more unexpected wine in the southeast to explore! Check out these 5 wineries in central Florida that are sure to delight.
Is a Visit to the Arkansas Wine Country Trail Worth It?
A sip of an exquisitely crafted wine can reveal unexpected layers. Maybe there’s a tart aftertaste, a slight cinnamon flavor, or notes of citrus that catch you by surprise.
This is kind of the way we feel about visiting Arkansas’ wine country. We already loved the Ozarks for its stunning natural features and friendly people, and now we embrace its wine culture, too.
At the risk of sounding like a sommelier, this additional component gives the area even more depth and complexity. It’s one more wonderful reason to spend time in northwestern Arkansas.
Have you ever had Arkansas wine?