Nestled in the fertile hills beneath the Ozark Mountains lies one of my favorite places on earth. Deep down a curvy road completely shaded by overhanging trees lies the community of Altus. Altus is known for one thing and one thing only: it’s the home of Arkansas’ wineries. The two biggest and oldest wineries make their home here (Post Familie and Wiederkehr) as well as several smaller wineries (Mount Bethel, St. James) and the newest and most elaborate (Chateaux Aux Arc pronounced “Ozark”…get it?). I make a pilgrimage here each fall to amble through the wineries, visit the Subiaco Academy Monastery and hike around Mt. Magazine. It’s always a wonderful way to welcome autumn. Unfortunately, harvest time at the wineries is long gone by that time of year and I’ve never got to see them in full glory so I decided to change that.
The last weekend of July is Grapefest in Altus. It’s the epitome of a small town festival. It boasts a street dance, flea market, live music, grape stomping, grape pie eating contests and the blessing of the harvest. Work conflicts made me miss the street dance and then I was broken hearted on Saturday to learn all the spots for the grape stomping had been taken. I had dreamed of stomping grapes for nearly a month and the news that I couldn’t nearly made me cry…so I plied myself with wine samples to ease the pain.
Fruit wines are exceptionally common here but finding a good one is near impossible. Post Familie was debuting a new summer vintage called Strawberry Fields. I had bad visions of Boone’s Strawberry Hill high school days but they quickly passed once I tasted this light, sweet wine. For someone who doesn’t like wine, it was a great find to stumble across. I let the boys have a taste and they took to it too well and I quickly steered them to the snow cone stand instead. We took our treats and settled on the shaded wood benches to listen to the band and cool off for a little bit.
Sufficiently refueled and over my sadness about the grape stomping, we began to browse through all the market stalls. There were lots of food items (we came home with a to die for Strawberry Jalapeño Jelly and some Cajun seasoning mix), and knickknacks (mostly sports themed), a ton of booths selling stinky bath salts and scrubs. Nothing really stood out of the mix and the winery booths were much more fun to be at anyway.
No trip to Altus could be completely without stopping by my favorite pub in the whole world. A small, cramped spot just across the main street from the park, Kelt’s is what I imagine real Irish pubs to be like. With well worn tables, mismatched plates and utensils, and a “take it or leave it” attitude, it’s a place I could spend hours in. I’m not a fan of Guinness but I ordered one because it’s the thing to do and then quickly switched over to my normal hard pear cider.
On the way out of town, we stopped at Chateaux Aux Arc winery. It doesn’t have my favorite local wines but it is, by far, the prettiest and most accessible of all the vineyards. The tasting room is composed of a gorgeous rock and stone pattern and it’s outdoor patio is the perfect place to sit and let the world go by. We traipsed through the fields for a little while (Dragonfly Ranch!!!), surveying the grapes that were threatened to shrivel in the heat and then finally began our journey home.