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Wiederkehr Wine Cellars is the oldest operational winery in the state, having been continually in business from 1880 to present. During Prohibition, when wine was outlawed, Wiederkehr was allowed by the state to produce sacramental wine for use in religious services. This winery was founded in the late nineteenth century by Johann Adreas Wiederkehr, an immigrant from Switzerland who settled in Altus (Franklin County), which he found similar to his own homeland and ideal for growing grapes; it is now one of the largest wineries in the region and is well regarded throughout the nation for the quality of its wines.
One of the first things that Johann Wiederkehr did after he arrived in Altus was to start construction on a wine cellar into the hillside of his farm, following that with a log cabin over the cellars as a home for his family. Like many other Swiss and German immigrants, he came to Arkansas looking for work; winemaking was simply part of the skill set he brought with him, but he soon found himself making wine for other people. Wild fruit and blackberries in the area provided the fruit for the first wines. Johann soon planted a small vineyard and did some testing with different grapes to find a better wine grape. Widely recognized as one of the leading winemakers in the region, he received a patent on his Campbell Early mutation grape and, soon enough, was planting even more grapes.
He taught his son, Herman “J. B.” Wiederkehr, to carry on the tradition. Two of Herman’s sons, Leo and Alcuin, built the small family winery into the largest in the Southwest by the mid-1980s.
The winery is known also for its wine festival and for its Weinkeller Restaurant.The wine fest was started in 1963 and is the largest and oldest such festival in the area. One of the features is the German Waterloo Band, which draws thousands of visitors from many states. In 1967, the original cellars of the winery were converted into the current restaurant, known for its fine Swiss-German cuisine.
This winery was the first in Arkansas to win honors in Europe for its wine. Wiederkehr’s Di Tanta Maria, a sweet dessert wine, has won many awards in national and international competitions.
This winery was one of the first to work with Dr. Justin Morris of the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) in the study and development of wine grapes for the state, including French hybrids and vinifera. The winemakers were the first vintners east of the Rockies to produce Vitis Vinifera grapes for wine production. Alcuin Wiederkehr, who currently oversees operations, was awarded the Supreme Knight of the Vine Gold Cup by the Brotherhood of the Knights of the Vine for his leadership in promoting premium classic wines. Wiederkehr is among the top 100 wineries in the country and one of the top two in the state.
In 1975, the land around the winery and a strip of land all the way north to interstate 40 was incorporated into a second-class city named Wiederkehr Village, which features an RV park, a restaurant, liquor store, and more.
For additional information:Arkansas Historic Wine Museum. Paris, Arkansas.
Webb, Roger A. “Wiederkehr Wines: Progress with the Whites and a Wonderful Cabernet.” Arkansan, April 1979, pp. 17–20.
Robert G. CowieArkansas Historic Wine Museum
Last Updated 6/21/2011
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