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Arkansas wines flowing at a festival near you

story by Candise Montemayor, special to The City Wire

A celebration of the wine and grape industry is set to tickle taste buds Friday and Saturday (July 26 and 27) in Altus, Ark. The 30th Annual Altus Grape Festival, located at the Altus City Park, is perfect for aficionados of wine as well as for fans of outdoor concerts, food and crafts.

The event is also a nod to the economic impact the industry has on Arkansas’ economy.

Steeped in tradition, Altus has long been known as the “Wine Capitol of Arkansas.” The event brings local vineyards and wine producers together to showcase the area’s more than 120 year history as Arkansas’ premier Ozark wine country.

“When visitors come to Arkansas, they are pleasantly surprised that we have a wine region – the Altus Viticultural Area,” said Veronica Post, publicity chairperson. “More than 1.5 million visitors come to the state's wineries each year. That adds tax dollars to our state's income, which goes to help all areas of the state.”

Arkansas now has a Wine Country Trail with highway signage to direct visitors to the wineries.

Diverse and flavorful wines vary just as the wineries do and offer wine lovers the chance to savor an expansive selection of whites and reds. For tasters who cannot have alcohol for medical reasons and for children, grape juices are an attractive addition to the many products offered.

“If you have ever tasted a Chardonnay, but didn't like the oak taste, then you should try some of the wines produced in Altus for a surprising difference,” said Post. “As for Post Winery and their juices, the grape juices are made with no sugar or water added, so the juices are the equivalent to eating fresh grapes.”

30 YEARS OF FESTIVITIES
To celebrate the 30th year of the festival the popular grape-stomp, celebrity grape-stomp and pie eating contests will be timed at 30 second intervals.

“Our grapes for the stomp competitions are kept in a cooled environment so that it is a refreshing feeling on a warm festival day to step into a cooling tub of grapes,” said Post.

Stompers will smash soft and squishy grapes that have been measured and weighed and placed in wooden vats so that each wine barrel contains the same amount. The juice they produce is then poured into bottles and measured to determine the winner.

“It really comes down to the technique of the stompers as to who will smash out more juice from the grapes and often the winners are not the ones with the biggest feet,” Post hinted.

Festival goers can join in grape-related games such as the waiter and waitress tray races, the grape spoon relay races, and the Bacchus and Lady Bacchus look-alike contests. Activities to be enjoyed by all ages are the Blessing of the Harvest, a Saturday morning breakfast, free wine and juice sampling and live musical entertainment. A Friday night street dance invites everyone to participate.

Not to be forgotten are the numerous food venders, homemade goods and arts and crafts stations that line the park. Admission to the event is free. Related activities can be found in and around Altus during festival days.

Post has been involved in the Altus Grape Festival for more than 20 years and is excited about the continued growth of the visitors packing into the area for the Arkansas wine experience.

“Wine tourism is a huge benefit for Arkansas,” she said. “Wine tasting is a personal preference, but when visitors try the wines we make in Altus, they always find some they like and want to take home with them.”

THE GRAPE ECONOMY
The grape and wine industry claims a $173 million economic impact in Arkansas, according to a study from Frank, Rimerman & Co.

The study was commissioned by Arkansas Tech University-Ozark Campus and released in October 2012. Using 2010 financial data, the California-based accounting firm determined that the industry generated $130.991 million in revenue and $42.196 million in wages during a 12-month period.

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According to the study, the state’s active wineries total 13 and add $11.4 million in direct-to-consumer wine sales, more than half the $20.3 million retail sales revenue.

“Wine, grapes and related industries also accounted for approximately 1,668 jobs in Arkansas with an associated payroll in excess of $42 million,” the report stated. The wineries themselves employ 78 full-time equivalency positions, showing total payroll of “approximately $3.6 million.”

And according to Ken Warden, chief business and community outreach officer for ATU-Ozark, the state’s industry has plenty of room for growth. ATU-Ozark commissioned the study through an Arkansas Agriculture Department specialty crop block grant.

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