When it comes to winemaking, Arkansas might not make most people’s list of states that have a reputation for excellent wine. However, the state has fertile areas with beautiful vineyards and rich soil for growing grapes, especially near Ozark National Forest. Check out the following roundup of two of the best wineries in the Natural State.
Chateau Aux Arc Vineyards and Winery
Located in Altus in northwest Arkansas, Chateau aux Arc Vineyards and Winery produces a number of excellent wines, all of which are made exclusively with grapes grown in state. Pronounced “Ozark,” the winery’s name is fitting for its proximity to Ozark National Forest and the Ozark Mountains. Chateau aux Arc is also notable for being the largest propagator of the Cynthiana grape cultivar in the US, and for having the largest Chardonnay and Zinfandel vineyards in the state.
The winery’s selection of dry wines includes the 2015 Platinum Zin, a pure, dry white Zinfandel with no additives; and the 2014 Cynthia Gold Cap. Named after the Cynthiana cultivar of Vitis aestivalis, Arkansas’ state grape, the Cynthia Gold Cap was aged in French oak barrels for 12 months.
Another aptly named dry wine at Chateau aux Arc Vineyards and Winery is the 2014 Dragonfly Red. Named after the dozens of types of dragonflies in the Ozarks, this wine is a blend of numerous varietals, from Malbec and Sangiovese to Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo.
Visitors looking for sweet wines should try the 2015 Altage, which derives its name from the city of Altus. This wine comes in a blue bottle and contains a blend of White Zinfandel, Vignoles, Stueben, Niagara, and Jupiter, a new varietal in Arkansas. The winery’s sweet wines also include the 2015 Smashed G.R.A.C.E., a blend that features wild Muscadine grapes.
Visitors can try these and other wines in the winery’s tasting room atop St. Mary’s Mountain. The tasting room offers excellent views of the vineyard and the beautiful Arkansas River Valley below.
Cowie Wine Cellars and Vineyards
Located just west of the town of Paris, Cowie Wine Cellars and Vineyards is a family winery nestled between the Ouachita and Ozark Mountains. The winery has won a number of awards over the years for its exceptional wines. Its current award-winning wines include Elizabeth’s Blush, a Gold Medal-winning semisweet wine that is named after the winemaker’s wife. Other award-winning wines include Mt. Magazine Sunset, a Gold Medal-winning sweet wine; and Katherine’s Delight, a multiple award-winning sweet wine made from Arkansas grapes.
Cowie Wine Cellars and Vineyards also features two award-winning dry wines: Anne’s Elegance and Arkansas Queen, the latter of which is an earthy wine made from Cynthiana grapes. The winery also produces meads in five different award-winning flavors: cherry, blueberry, apricot, peach, and traditional.
In keeping with Southern tradition, Cowie Wine Cellars and Vineyards also produces a selection of Muscadine wines, including Southern Prince, Southern Princess, and Southern Rose. Finally, the winery has three award-winning dessert wines, including Sherry and Robert’s Port. The latter is the winery’s signature wine and was aged for six years in oak barrels. Finally, the Robert’s Reserve Port was aged in Missouri oak barrels for 12 years.
Visitors to Cowie Wine Cellars and Vineyards can sample the diverse array of wines and see how they are made on-site. The winery is also home to the Arkansas Historic Wine Museum, which stands out as the only museum in the country dedicated to the history of winemaking in an entire state. Visitors to the museum can learn about Arkansas’ rich winemaking tradition, which dates back to the time of the first European settlers. In fact, since the end of Prohibition, Arkansas has had 150 wineries bonded by the federal government, and over 1,000 winemaking permits have been issued.
Visitors can also learn about the role of prominent winemakers, such as Professor Joseph Bachman, a Swiss immigrant who was famous for his work with grapes in Arkansas. In addition, the museum features a variety of historic equipment used for winemaking in the past, including pumps, filters, fermentation tanks, testing instruments, and bottling equipment.
Every year, Cowie Wine Cellars and Vineyards hosts several events on the second Saturday of September. These include Arkansas Heritage Wine Day, which the museum celebrates according to a yearly theme. The festivities also include the Annual Cowie Wine Fest and Arkansas Championship Grape Stomp. This annual family event includes a blessing of the wine and an awards presentation to honor participants in the Cowie International Amateur Wine Competition. In addition, a live band plays songs so people can crush the grapes to the beat of the music.
The above two wineries offer a great introduction to viticulture and winemaking in Arkansas, specifically in the Ozark region. Before visiting, be sure to check their websites for updates on vintages and special events. Moreover, don’t be afraid to wander off the beaten path to explore other excellent wineries in this fertile region of the Natural State.