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American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) were established in 1979 and are “official” grape-growing areas in the United States. They are designated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) as recognized and defined in federal regulations. About 200 AVAs exist, with new areas approved yearly. AVAs are geographic areas defined on maps that have similar climate, geology, soils, physical features, or elevation. They are established through petition to the TTB by growers and wineries. There are no limits to an area’s size, grape cultivars grown, viticultural practices, or winemaking procedures, and one AVA may exist within another. When an AVA designation appears on a wine label, at least eighty-five percent of the juice from which the wine was produced must come from the designated AVA.
Three AVAs exist in Arkansas. Ozark Mountain AVA, established in 1986, is the seventh-largest in the United States at 3,520,000 acres and extends into Oklahoma and Missouri. Arkansas Mountain AVA, also established in 1986, is 2,880,000 acres, while Altus AVA, established in 1984, is 46,000 acres.
The Boston Mountains, which run east-west, block arctic cold fronts; this provides a measure of winter protection to grapevines in the Arkansas Mountain and Altus AVAs, allowing less winter-hardy grape varieties to be grown. The Altus AVA in Franklin and Johnson counties is an excellent site for vineyards due to its climate, its well-drained sandy soils, and the elevation of its hilltop plateau. This is the only area in the state where all of the major grape species (Vitis vinifera, V. labrusca, V. rotundifolia, V. aestivalis) and interspecific hybrids are commercially grown side by side. The Altus AVA is generally rectangular in shape and extends east-west from Hartman (Johnson County) to Ozark (Franklin County) and north-south from Highway 352 to the railroad tracks by the Arkansas River. The hilltop plateau at Pond Creek Mountain (also known as St. Mary’s Mountain), rises 400–500 feet above the Arkansas River and provides some of the best vineyard sites with thermal inversions and good frost-protecting air drainage to the valley floor. There are several wineries located in the Altus AVA, and grapes have been commercially grown in the area since the 1870s.
The Arkansas Mountain AVA incorporates the Altus AVA and runs along the Arkansas River Valley, including the southern slopes of the Boston Mountain range. This area is generally bordered by Highway 16 on the north, the Petit Jean River on the south, Highway 65 on the east, and Interstate 49 on the west. The best vineyard sites on the slopes of the Boston Mountains have cooler nighttime temperatures in summer than the valley floor, allowing high-quality grapes to be grown, while the deep alluvial soils along the Arkansas River allow a higher tonnage of grapes to be produced.
The Ozark Mountain AVA incorporates the Altus and Arkansas Mountain AVAs and includes portions of Oklahoma and Missouri. In Arkansas, it generally runs north of the Petit Jean River and east along the Arkansas River to Cadron Creek and then northeast along Highway 67 to the state line. Grapes grown in land areas outside of the Altus and Arkansas Mountain AVAs are generally limited to grape varieties that are more winter hardy. The Ozark Mountain AVA stretches from Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, to St. Louis, Missouri, and incorporates an area where hundreds of vineyards and wineries were located before Prohibition.
For additional information:“American Viticultural Areas.” Wine Institute. http://www.wineinstitute.org/resources/avas (accessed September 29, 2011).
“American Viticultural Areas in Arkansas.” Uncorking Arkansas’s Wine Country. http://www.uark.edu/depts/ifse/grapeprog/winetrail/viticultural%20areas.htm (accessed September 29, 2011).
“Wine Appellations of Origin.” Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. http://www.ttb.gov/appellation/index.shtml (accessed September 29, 2011).
Gary MainHarrison, Arkansas
Last Updated 2/6/2019
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