‘In wine, there’s reality’: Tasting the Arkansas River Valley terroir

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In France, the idea of terroir is a celebrated one. The phrase interprets actually to “territory,” however means way more. It speaks to the slope of the land, its mineral composition, the currents of air that stir it, and the degrees of rain and solar that permeate it. When the phrase is used, it signifies not solely the qualities of a microclimate but additionally a sure form of symbiosis with the soil via which these qualities are drawn out and savored. Artisanal finesse — most notably within the discipline of winemaking — is the means via which a terroir might be tasted. 

Winemakers have many variables at their disposal when expressing the terroir of their winery: strategies of harvesting, maceration (how lengthy the grape juice stays with the skins — a defining issue within the distinction between crimson and white-hued wine), fermentation and filtration, to call a number of. A private cadence develops with the winemaker’s method to every step in that course of, known as vinification. When wine is completed nicely, it may possibly seize the singularity of the panorama from which it got here. 

Vineyards at Chateau Aux Arc

Alongside the Arkansas River Valley in Altus, there’s a wine path wealthy in historical past, rooted in household and eclectic in presentation. A fifth-generation winemaker of Submit Familie Vineyard and vp of gross sales, Joseph Submit, described his microclimate on the prime of St. Mary’s Mountain as one the place warm-air reservoirs and a sandy loam plateau nourish over 60 sorts of grapes — Vitis vinifera, the acquainted European varietals, and people native to our local weather. He defined how viticulture got here to be in Altus: “Our household initially got here to this nation in 1872 by means of Ellis Island and labored their method down into Arkansas with the Benedictine monks of Subiaco. … My great-great-grandfather, Jacob, was a well-educated horticulturist, and he really helped folks choose what to develop … wine is what we shined the brightest at.” It was, he mentioned, a melange of Swiss and German savoir faire that catalyzed wine manufacturing in Altus.

Brian Chilson
Submit Familie Vineyard

Standing inside a cabin his ancestors in-built 1880 that adjoins his restaurant designed within the “Swiss Alpine” type, Dennis Wiederkehr of Wiederkehr Wine Cellars described the Altus of the late nineteenth century: “The monks from Subiaco Abbey had been writing again house telling folks how the railroad had offered land to the Catholic Church,” Wiederkehr mentioned. “The land reminded them of the foothills of the Alps, and the costs had been laborious to show down. They had been winemakers, millers, farmers, and they also did a whole lot of the identical issues once they got here right here. … There have been about 17,000 folks within the space again in these days for coal mines. That was a target-rich setting for folks from Europe who had wine as a pure a part of their weight loss program. The very first thing they made wine with right here was persimmon; there have been muscadines, wild grapes, and different fruits rising within the space that they took benefit of.”

Brian Chilson
Cynthia grapevines at Chateau Aux Arc

Whereas the Nationwide Prohibition Act of 1919 wrought havoc on the native financial system of Altus, to not point out the ripening artistry of American wine manufacturing, some vintners in Altus saved their vineyards and stayed afloat by making “medicinal,” or fortified wines and sacramental wines for native church buildings. Katherine Submit, whose former house is the present location of Mount Bethel Vineyard, was a kind of resilient winemakers within the space who cleared her personal path to survival. She’d landed in Altus as a mail-order bride from Switzerland to marry Tobias Submit; as soon as arrived, she selected one other brother, Joseph, they usually had 13 kids. Eugene Submit, her great-grandson and present winery supervisor of Mount Bethel, shared the story of her incarceration throughout Prohibition, throughout which she was ostensibly producing “mass wine”: “She finally bought caught. … She pled responsible to promoting two jars of moonshine. She instructed them there was a crop failure and he or she was simply attempting to feed her children. She went to West Virginia to a federal jail, however public sympathy was on her facet and he or she didn’t keep lengthy. In my youthful days, I’d come throughout old-timers — not that sometimes — who’d say, ‘Oh yeah, I keep in mind the primary time I bought drunk,’ and their story was at all times fairly comparable: ‘I got here within the entrance door and sat at this huge spherical oak desk. She’d carry out this quart jar of wine or moonshine, and he or she’d normally have a slab of meat and home made bread, and you possibly can eat a sandwich and drink that jar of wine she’d simply introduced out.’ It turns on the market had been secret locations underneath the home, and likewise within the salesroom there was a faux wall, legend has it. … After the Prohibition, she known as her enterprise Ma Submit Vineyard.” 

Brian Chilson
Mount Bethel Vineyard

Ma Submit Vineyard turned Mount Bethel Vineyard in 1956, and in its tasting room you’ll be able to view pictures of Katherine Submit whereas being served wine by her great-granddaughter, Peggy Submit, who calls herself “the Homer of Altus.” Mount Bethel makes a speciality of fruit wines — together with plum, elderberry, blackberry, blueberry and strawberry — and its elderberry wine is one Peggy Submit described as the topic of panacean claims by their prospects: “The old-timers all mentioned it’s good for his or her arthritis as a result of it’s anti-inflammatory; the new-fangled folks all say it’s good in your colds and flus as a result of it’s antiviral. I don’t know if any of that’s true, however I determine should you drink sufficient of it you gained’t care.” Eugene Submit added, “There’s writing in regards to the well being advantages of the elderberry within the pyramids.” 

Brian Chilson
Mount Bethel Vineyard

A few millennia in the past, Pliny the Elder wrote “in vino veritas”: “In wine, there’s reality,” main because it does in extra to bare and ungovernable speech. We may additionally say, “In wine, there’s place.” So, what does Altus style like? To reply that query, we’d need to take a more in-depth have a look at the grapes that thrive in native soil, such because the Cynthiana, which was formally named the state grape due largely to the efforts of Audrey Home, the proprietor of Chateau Aux Arc Vineyard, and the muscadine, which is the star of Submit Familie’s Blue Parachute wine. “Blue Parachute is one thing I believe we are able to take nationwide and worldwide,” Joseph Submit mentioned. “It’s made out of the native Carlos muscadine grape. It’s one we sweeten with grape juice; it has a little bit frizzante. There’s no place on this planet that muscadines develop higher than right here.”

Amanda Flemming, the brand new winemaker at Submit Familie, got here to Altus from California’s Napa Valley looking for a problem: “to work exterior of the vinifera formulation on the frontier of recent hybrids,” particularly the brand new varieties launched by the College of Arkansas — Enchantment and Alternative. Of Enchantment, Flemming mentioned, “It’s medium-bodied, with shiny crimson fruits; it takes to oak very well. It may very well be much like a Cabernet Sauvignon mild.” The vineyard offered out of its 2017 Enchantment classic. Flemming spoke in regards to the variations between working in Napa Valley and her new house in Altus: “In California, the local weather is extra conducive … . It’s simpler to develop very nice grapes with out a whole lot of enter … that’s extra of a fine-tuning course of. Within the South, we’ve the humidity to deal with. … We have to get our acid blends proper. It may be carried out: The grapes have to be given consideration and love.”

Flemming wish to see “grapes like muscadine, Enchantment and extra native wines get greater within the panorama and promoted … as a way to change folks’s notion of these grapes.” Flemming’s mission is to make “good worth, good high quality wines. It’s not simply these $40 wines popping out of California which can be vital, it’s the $10 bottle of wines everybody can entry.” With regards to valorizing what Arkansas does greatest, she mentioned, “For a very long time in California, folks had been attempting to be Italy or France. Do your individual factor. As communities turn into extra local-centered, I’m hoping that Arkansas does the identical.”

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