Monday, June 2, 2014

The Arkansas Wine Trail...

seems something of an overstatement but I realized the need to suspend my Northwest wine country expectations as we set out on this adventure.  We chose the Memorial Day weekend to begin our first-ever exploration of Arkansas wine country.  Did you know wineries in Arkansas were creating wine before Oregon was even a state?  Neither did I.  I was surprised and impressed by that little factoid.  In fact, direct from the website, a bit of history:

Back in 1880, two European families settled in the Arkansas River Valley, attracted by its fertile sandy soil and moderate climate. The two pioneers of the American wine industry were Jacob Post, who came to America in 1872, and Johann Wiederkehr, who immigrated to Altus from Switzerland in 1880. Area conditions reminded them so much of the fine wine-making regions of Germany and Switzerland that they each established vineyards, which was the beginning of a wine heritage and viticulture in Arkansas.

We headed north and west from Little Rock, stopping first in Morrilton, AR.  There we were to find Movie House Winery in the recently restored Petit Jean Theatre.  Alas, they were closed for the holiday weekend (really? Apparently Memorial Day weekend is nothing in the Arkansas wine world.) but we did have the opportunity to look around charming little Morrilton.  Best find in Morrilton?
Harp's Market; THE grocery store in Morrilton.  MY Harp(er)'s mother asked if they sold items other than Harps. Cute.  You can't market three year olds, can you?

Disappointed, we left Morrilton continuing our journey to Arkansas wine.  Choosing the exit on
I-40 labeled "Arkansas Wine Trail" we found ourselves wandering through very pretty country.  Scenery in Arkansas is very different for us.  First, the trees.  The forest is so dense and much of the state so flat, it's hard to have any sort of view.  We DID take an exit labeled "Viewpoint".  Apparently the Viewpoint is on the OTHER side of the freeway.  We'll catch it next time. 

We entered Altus with measured expectations.  We're not wine snobs (well, maybe Art is) but we ARE from the premiere Pinot grape growing region in America.  First stop was Mount Bethel with it's very humble cellar/tasting room.  The winemaker's sister was in charge that day; very friendly and welcoming.  The offerings at Mount Bethel were impressive if only by their number; there were something like 15 tastes available.  There was another couple in the tasting room with us, they are frequent visitors and visited to replenish their stash of the wine they like most from Mount Bethel, strawberry wine.  Yup. Strawberry.  Second-best they felt was the Blueberry Muscadine. They left with a mixed case of both.

With tentative steps we approached the wine bar.  Explaining we don't like sweet wine we passed over the sweet wines, going directly to the dry side of the list.  Surprisingly, the Sauvignon Blanc was delightful.  Dry and crisp with a hint of minerality on the finish.  Encouraged, we moved on to the Syrah and Cynthiana.  I was most interested in the Cynthiana as I'd read it's comparable to a cross between Cabernet and Zinfandel.  Alas, I found it muddy and flat.  The Syrah was, again, surprisingly appealing. At $9/bottle we walked out with three bottles of the Sauv Blanc and two bottles of the Syrah.  (Sidebar: I opened a bottle of the syrah last night when a friend stopped by.  Blech. We'll see what happens with the next bottle.)

Next was Post Winery.  Along with the folks at Mount Bethel, the family Post is directly descended from the two founding families of the region.  Post has a brand-new tasting room/production facility that looked to us, like the tasting room at Patricia Green.  Again, we passed over the sweet whites and reds and headed to the dry wines.  I didn't care for any of the wines at Post but Art liked the locally-grown Chambourcin.  Again, less than $10/bottle, so we picked up several bottles.  

On next to the oldest winery in Arkansas; Weiderkehr Cellars.  As I look at their website now, I wish they had been pouring the wines listed instead of the Niagara, Blush Niagara, Beau Noir (a proprietary blend) and Blush Muscadine.  Perhaps we might have been more favorably impressed. I was intrigued by the notion of their restaurant, a Chalet Suisse Weinkeller, housed in the original, hand-dug cellar of Josef Weiderkehr.  (Try to ignore the tragically hip young woman wearing the requisite uniform as she waits for diners. At 4:30 on that Sunday there was nary a car in sight.  Sigh.  A long night for her, I'm sure.)

Last stop was the winery I was most eager to try if only for its fetching name, The Chateau Aux Ark, pronounced 'Ozark'. Clever no?
Lifting, again, directly from their website: 
 "...this winery is the world's largest planter of Cynthiana grapes, the largest U.S. Chardonnay vineyard outside California and the largest Zinfandel planter in Arkansas..." 

alas, in our experience, merely planting great quantities of grapes does not make a great winemaker.  I'm  fairly certain we'll return once - at least - but I wasn't impressed. Again, review of the wines on their website cause me to wonder why those wines were not available for tasting.

Home later than we expected, what to have for dinner became the conumdrum.  As we're not militant in re: vegetarian-all-the-way, we had BLT's.  Yes, bacon is plant-based, isn't it? I mean, pigs eat vegetables, don't they?  BLT's on the patio with a Arkansas beer.  Prost!


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