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Vineyards of the South
Drink in the bounty of the South at these verdant vineyards and wineries

Published: May/Jun 2002
By Margaret Dornaus

Grapes on the vine at the Becker Vineyards near Fredericksburg, Texas. /Jim Fox, Fredericksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau photo
It takes more than sunshine to produce the kind of crop that turns an ordinary grape into an extraordinary vintage. But for travelers looking for an extraordinary outing, warm weather adds a sun-ripened patina to the pleasure of exploring the South’s palatable wineries.

What better way to investigate the region’s bounty than to head for the open road, roll down the windows and let your nose–and our suggested stops–be your guide to some memorable vineyards?

Heading down the Altus Wine Trail

Late spring and early summer find the foothills of the Ozarks steeped in roadside color. Nowhere is that color richer than in the small Arkansas river valley town of Altus, where a bouquet of wineries lays claim to award-winning vintages that compete on an international–not just a local–level. At the heart of this bacchanalian landscape is Wiederkehr Wine Cellars, where the Wiederkehr family has been producing wine for more than a century.

Johann Andreas Wiederkehr migrated from Switzerland in 1880. He settled on St. Mary’s Mountain, following the footsteps of his countrymen, including Swiss monks who founded nearby Subiaco Academy.

When Wiederkehr discovered that his new land was ripe for wine making, he dug out a cellar to store the varieties he began producing from native grapes, blackberries and persimmons.

Wiederkehr’s wine-making knowledge has been passed down to and perfected by subsequent generations. Today, it is third-generation vintner and patriarch Al Wiederkehr (one of only 48 vintners worldwide to hold the title of “Supreme Knight of the Vine”) who oversees the production of a large variety of wines ranging from rieslings to rosés to tawny ports. Many of the grape varieties produced here once were thought to be impossible to grow east of the Rockies.

In addition to daily tastings, Wiederkehr Village offers tours from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. of its historic native stone cellars. The Weinkeller Restaurant serves specialties like knackwurst and schnitzel, and is open for lunch and dinner. The restaurant’s log-timbered building, located on the site of the winery’s first cellar, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Each July, Altus is the site of a Grape Fest. In late September, Wiederkehr’s comes alive with a Swiss Alpine-style celebration of the harvest that includes traditional music, dancing and food.

Most of Wiederkehr’s wines are moderately priced, with many sold in the winery’s gift shop for less than $7 a bottle. The most expensive--at $25.35 a bottle--is a semi-dry red wine with oak undertones called Cynthiana but is otherwise known, says fourth-generation vintner Dennis Wiederkehr, as “a little taste of heaven.” Call 1-800-622-WINE (1-800-622-9463).

Other Altus headliners

The well-known Post Familie Vineyards and Winery (1-800-275-8423) also dates to the 1880s when Jacob Post arrived in America and established a vineyard on St. Mary’s Mountain. Today, its fifth-generation winemakers continue the tradition and offer tastings and tours year-round.

Eugene Post and his wife, Peggy established Mount Bethel Winery (479-468-2444), in 1956. The native stone cellar that Eugene’s great-grandfather built now serves as Mount Bethel’s tasting room. Tours also are offered year-round.

Chateau Aux Arc (1-800-558-9463) is the fourth jewel in the string of pearls that comprises the Altus Wine Trail. Specializing in chardonnays and Altus champagne, the winery is open every day for tours.

Another Arkansas entry

Cowie Wine Cellars (479-963-3990), located three miles west of Paris, Ark., is a labor of love for Robert G. Cowie, who founded the winery in 1967. A wine enthusiast since his teens, Cowie offers tastings of such fancifully named wines as Katherine’s Delight and Mount Magazine Mist. In the Gallery of Barrels, see a collection of oak barrels that are hand-painted with scenes depicting wine-making history. The state’s wine-making story unfolds through a variety of engaging exhibits inside the Arkansas Historic Wine Museum that’s on site.

Outside, the grape arbor offers visitors a chance to soak up the sun while tasting some of the vintner’s blends and a sampling of cheeses. Tours and tastings are offered, and The Winery B&B welcomes guests. Paris is about 30 minutes south of Altus.

Texas Hill Country Wine Trail

Arkansas’s southwestern neighbor sports one of the region’s largest collections of wineries. In all, Texas boasts five major wine-producing areas. A spring tour of one–the Hill Country Wine Trail–should be more than enough to whet any wine lover’s whistle. Included on this trail are 16 different wineries, bordered in the north by Alamosa Wine Cellars near Bend; New Braunfels Dry Corral Creek Vineyards & Winery in the south; Cana Cellars Winery & Vineyard in the east; and Fredericksburg’s Chisholm Trail Winery in the west.

The picturesque German settlement of Fredericksburg is home to two of the trail’s wineries, including Fredericksburg Winery (830-990-8747), which bottled a cabernet labeled First Second at its after-the-stroke-of-midnight inauguration on Dec. 31, 1999.

Two other wineries–Grape Creek Vineyard (1-800-950-7392) and Becker Vineyards (830-644-2681)–in nearby Stonewall lie within 10 miles east of Fredericksburg. Both also offer bed-and-breakfast accommodations.

Each October, Fredericksburg’s historic Marktplatz is the site of a Food & Wine Fest celebrating Texas viticulture and cuisine. Funds raised from the festival benefit continued efforts to beautify and maintain Frederickburg’s market square. A wine and hors d’oeuvres buffet will be Oct. 26 ($20 for adults); a gourmet brunch will be Oct. 27 ($50 for adults). For more details on the festival, call 1-866-TEX-FEST (866-839-3378).

Deep South Wine Trail

Designated last October, the Deep South Wine Trail begins in Natchez, Miss., and travels into Louisiana.

Founded in 1979, the Old South Winery (601-445-9924) in Natchez, Miss., was the dream of owner Dr. Scott O. Galbreath, Jr., who remembers picking wild muscadines as a boy with his grandmother. Years later, he and his wife Edeen opened their winery, specializing in muscadine wines.

Casa de Sue Winery (1-800-683-5937), in Clinton, La., shares space with a Cajun art gallery and wine-related gift shop. Louisiana’s first licensed winery, Casa de Sue specializes in blueberry and muscadine wines. Tours and tastings ($3) are available year-round. Owners Mac and Joann Cazedessus recommend calling for an appointment.

Pontchartrain Vineyards (985-892-9742) located 15 minutes north of Covington, La., on state Highway 1082 offers tours for a fee and tastings ($3). An extensive calendar of events includes Jazz’n the Vines, featuring live music on most Saturdays from May 12 through Oct. 27.

Margaret Dornaus is a contributor from Springdale, Ark.

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