Wiederkehr Wine Cellars and Vineyard
Wiederkehr Wine Cellars and Vineyard is located on St. Mary's Mountain near Altus, Arkansas. The winery is still family owned and operated by the third and fourth generations. A huge initiator of Arkansas wine culture, Wiederkehr has remained a top producer of fine wines for over a century. The Wiederkehr Winery is a US Bonded Winery, No. 8. The original wine cellar carved into the hillside is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is now home to the Weinkeller Restaurant.
Swiss emigrants Johann Andreas Wiederkehr and family founded Wiederkehr Wine Cellars in 1880. Wiederkehr chose Altus specifically for the surrounding area's climate and soil, as they resembled the grape growing climates and soils of Europe. Upon arrival in Altus, Wiederkehr quickly began carving a large wine cellar from the hillside. Wiederkehr initially made his wines from wild fruits, including persimmons and blackberries, but soon planted a small vineyard and began experimenting with grape varieties. He developed and patented the Campbell Early mutation grape. Johann passed his wine-making knowledge on to his son, Herman "J.B." Wiederkehr. Herman in turn taught his sons Leo and Alcuin, who built the small family business into the largest winery in the middle part of the country by the 1980s. Wiederkehr Wine Cellars was the first winery in Arkansas to win honors in Europe for its wines. The winery was the one of the first to partner with the University of Arkansas in developing hybrid wine grapes specifically for cultivation in Arkansas, and was the first winery east of the Rockies to produce vitis vinifera grapes. Presently, the winery is one of the top one hundred in the country and one of the top two in the state, producing over thirty varieties of wine, including several made from native Arkansas grapes.
The Winemaking Process
Altus's unique environment of mountains and valleys helps create a variety of different microclimates, leading to the growth of a variety of grapes, which in turn leads to the production of a variety of wines. The Wiederkehr family has chosen the locations of their vineyards through the years by carefully researching how each location affects the growth of each variety of grape. When harvest time comes, the Wiederkehr's viticulturists and wine master monitor the grapes carefully in order to harvest them at the perfect time for production. Samples of the grapes are analyzed at a lab to ensure the grapes are harvested at their peak. When it is time to harvest the grapes, they are picked and quickly taken to the winery to be crushed into the fermentation juice or "must." This must is monitored and controlled carefully by the wine master to produce the desired characteristics in the final product. The juice is then aged in casks and then later bottled and sold.
Wiederkehr Wine Cellars hosts an annual wine festival (2010 was their 47th annual festival). Admission is free, however tickets must be purchased to view the Evening Show and attend the Festival Banquet in the Festhall. There are numerous activities at these festivals: tours of the historic wine cellars, the championship grape stomp, conga line dancing through the cellars, sing-a-longs (in German and English), free wine tastings, polka lessons, and many more live entertainment acts.