ALTUS — Almost 1,000 feet above sea level in the arid lands of Altus, grape harvest continues despite the pandemic, providing Arkansans with wine, a constant since the end of the Civil War.
The wineries sit between Star Mountain and Mount Magazine. For Post Vineyards and Winery, the COVID-19 crisis has upped their sales.
"I would say when times are good, people drink wine, and when times are bad, people drink maybe even more wine," said Joseph Post, the vice president of sales.
But at Mount Bethel Winery and Wiederkehr Wine Cellars, the owners have felt the impact of the economic slump.
From March through June, tourism sales remained virtually nonexistent, said Michael Post with Mount Bethel. The past two months have been steadier, but there’s not much he can do to make up for those lost dollars.
"It’s starting to come back a little bit," his wife Kasey Post said.
In response MIchael said he’s slowed his purchase of outside fruit. Mount Bethel produces wine from grapes as well as a variety of fruits including blackberries, strawberries, elderberries and plums.
"I just would like people to know we’re still working hard to produce good wines," Michael said.
But because the wineries have been established and growing grapes for more than 100 years, there is less risk of the wineries going under.
"You know it’s not like some of these new businesses that have all this overhead," Kasey said. She later added, "Farm’s paid for."
During the roughly six weeks the wineries were closed to the public, Dennis Wiederkehr, the president of Wiederkehr Wine Cellars, said he kept his employees on staff and used them to renovate the restaurant.
"We put people to work who would’ve not been back to work," Wiederkehr said.
The winery has also had to cancel its yearly Wiederkehr Village Weinfest, a weekend that brings in profit for the six wineries in Altus.
Even before the virus, the wineries had seen a slip in sales, resulting from a 2017 law change that allowed national wine brands in Arkansas grocery stores, pushing Altus wines off the shelves in many stores.
"I think that’s affected everybody," Wiederkehr said.
His wine has remained for sale in liquor stores throughout the state.
At Altus, wine is a family pursuit. During harvest, the families rise early, well before the sunshine. Most of the grapes are picked mechanically, but there are a few more finicky strands that they still pick by hand.
"We all grew up working at the vineyards and working at the winery," Joseph said.
His family didn’t let prohibition stop them from making wine. They’ve carried on through the recession and the World Wars, and they’ll continue through the pandemic as well.
Cowie Wine Cellars & Vineyards
While things have slowed down a little at Cowie Wine Cellars & Vineyards in Paris, Bob Cowie continues making wine and patrons can still pick up their favorite Cowie wine at 101 N. Carbon City Road in Paris.
Chateau Aux Arc Vineyards & Winery
At 8045 Highway 186 in Altus, wine lovers will also find Audrey House still making award-winning wines like Dragonfly Red, and Bishop’s Red. The vineyard also has an RV park.