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Discover Mid-America —September 2004

Discovering the region's newest wineries. By Ken Weyand.
Chateau aux Arc's 25-year-old chardonnay vines, a month after bud-break in spring 2004. (photo by Craig Harrington)

Despite the economic uncertainties in today’s post 9-11 era, at least one industry in the Heartland has experienced growth. With the arrival of some creative, hardworking and optimistic entrepreneurs, winemaking in Mid-America has received a welcome boost.

The following wineries — from five states — are examples of industry newcomers with a seemingly bright future. Although several trace their beginnings back several years, all have opened their doors since 2000. The cross-section ranges from wineries just out of the hobby stage to major corporate enterprises.

Chateau aux Arc Vineyards and Winery
ALTUS, AR

Opened in 2001, Chateaux Aux Arc Vineyards and Winery in Altus, AR, calls itself the world’s largest planter of Cynthiana grapes, the largest U.S. Chardonnay vineyard outside of California, and the largest Zinfandel planter in Arkansas. It is the most recent addition to a wine district that now numbers five wineries, some dating back more than a century.

The roots of the winery go back to 1998 when Audrey House bought ten acres of vineyard in Arkansas after doing extensive research in California’s wine country. House’s winemaking began at the age of 13 when she produced her first batch of wine from water, sugar, baker’s yeast and Welch’s grape juice concentrate.

Not long after graduating from college, House spent weekends tent camping in her newly purchased vineyard while making her winery plans.

Within a year after its opening in 2001, Chateaux Aux Arc produced 3,000 gallons of wine. The next year, with its plantable vineyard expanded to 40 acres, House began working on a five-year plan to increase wine production eight-fold.

Today, the winery produces ten acres of Chardonnay grapes, along with five acres of Cynthiana, with more on the way. Other varieties include Kerner, Muller Thurgan, Schreube, Orianiensteiner, Vignoles, Caberrnet, Primitivo, Zinfandel, and Vidal.

Chateau Aux Arc, which takes its name from the original French derivation of “Ozarks,” is more than just a winery. Audrey House is making her experience in developing a successful winery available to others through prepared lectures.

Located in Polk County in the Ouachita Mountains of western Arkansas, Altus (population 817) calls itself the “Wine Capital of Arkansas.” The majority of Arkansas’ wine industry is located here, including four other wineries: Wiederkehr Wine Cellars, Mount Bethel Winery, Post Familie Vineyards & Winery and Cowie Wine Cellars in nearby Paris.

Antiquers and crafters will find plenty of shops for browsing in an area surrounded by mountain scenery. History buffs will enjoy visiting the Altus Heritage House Museum and Wiederkehr Wine Cellars. Overnight accommodations in the area include St. Mary’s Mountain Country Inn and St. Mary’s Mountain Guest House, plus three other facilities in nearby Ozark.

The annual Altus Wine Festival, held the last weekend in July (Friday and Saturday), features wine and juice tastings, grape stomps, contests, games, handmade crafts and great food. The 5th annual “Bargains Galore on 64” yard sales was held Aug. 12-14. Upcoming Altus events include the Labor Day Picnic Sept. 6, Second Saturday Flea Market Sept. 11 (and Nov. 13), and the annual Altus Autumn Fest Oct. 9.

The Chateau Aux Arc tasting room is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Reservations are requested for groups. For more information about the winery call 800-558-WINE, or visit www.chateauauxarc.com.

White Owl Winery
FLAT ROCK, IL

Although White Owl Winery opened in 2000, the idea began in 1992 when Brian Neighbors gave his father, Ken, a home winemaking kit as a gift. After a few months, father and son decided to try their hand at making fruit wine. By 1998, they had received more than 50 international awards.

That year, Brian and his wife, Joy, moved from Cincinnati to Flat Rock, IL, and in November 2000, they helped Brian’s parents open White Owl Winery. Over the next three years, the fledgling winery won more than 100 awards and medals for its wine.

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The vintners concentrate on fruit wines, with Blueberry Sweet, Cherry Pie, Spiced Pear, Cranberry Delight and Persimmon among the favorites. Traditional grape wines such as Merlot, Chardonnay, Vidal, Traminette and Chenin Blanc are produced. Fruit and grape blends are Surplus Blush, Snowy White Chard-N-Apricot and Red Ripple. “Sparkling” wines include Holiday Sparkle, Cherry Sparkle, Strawberry Sparkle and Cranberry Sparkle.

One of the winery’s most popular non-grape wines is “Old Blue,” a port style wine made from elderberries and blueberries. Rated “Highly Recommended” by the Beverage Testing Institute, “Old Blue” uses wild elderberries picked in fields adjacent to the winery, and blueberries from a grower about three miles down the road.

Special events and Dinner Theatres have become a tradition at White Owl Winery. W.O.W. Murder Mystery Dinners are held one Saturday evening each month. Celtic music can be heard at the winery on the second Sunday of each month in the VINO Dining Room.

Flat Rock, a village in Crawford County about eight miles west of the Wabash River, is located on Hwy. 11 just off Hwy. 1 and about 36 miles south of I-70. The area is rural with wayside picnic areas and a nature preserve located nearby. Vincennes, IN, is the nearest city with more than 18,000 population, located about 25 miles to the southeast. History buffs can visit the George Rogers Clark Historical Park and many historic homes in Vincennes.

For more information about White Owl Winery call 618-928-2898 or visit www.whiteowlwinery.com.

Dozier Vineyard and Winery
ELLINWOOD, KS

Like many vintners Bruce Dozier began making wine as a hobby. In 1989, Dozier discovered the wine he made in his basement was getting compliments from people outside his family. Bruce and his wife, Nina, seeking to start a business of their own, selected property for a winery. In 1998, they bought 48 acres of land and planted a 4-acre vineyard the following spring.

A dilapidated Santa Fe depot building was on the property, and the Doziers would later renovate it for use as the winery’s main building. Surrounding the winery are woods with footpaths and picnic areas.

Local residents claim to have seen the ghost of a young woman who waited at the depot with a preacher to marry her betrothed. He was on his way to war. The train failed to stop, carrying her fiancée to the battle and an early death. The heartbroken woman searched the town for him. After her death, according to local eyewitnesses, her spirit continued the search. Over the years, eyewitnesses claim to have seen the apparition, still dressed in wedding finery.

“Some of our neighbors have reported a lot of strange sightings,” Bruce Dozier said.

A local reporter, preparing a feature story on the winery, recently took numerous photographs on the winery grounds, continuing until nightfall. Later, when he examined his photos, an unexplained whitish, transparent “blob” appeared on several of them. Did he “catch the spirit?”

There are more stories on the winery’s website, so you can decide for yourself.

Ellinwood, with 2,164 population, is located ten miles east of Great Bend, KS, on Hwy. 56. Nearby attractions include the Barton County Historical Society Museum and Village in Great Bend.

Dozier Vineyard and Winery produces fine wines, including semi-sweet and semi-dry reds and whites, and an apple wine. Hours are 1 to 6 p.m., Monday through Sunday. Appointments are available from 6-8 p.m. For more information, call 620-564-0195 or visit www.dozier-winery.com.

Crown Valley Winery
STE. GENEVIEVE, MO

Opened in the spring of 2003, Crown Valley Winery in Ste. Genevieve, MO, features a 44,000 square-foot building which houses the winery, a tour and tasting center, a deli and retail boutique. The winery and its expansive vineyards are located on a farm owned by Joe H. Scott, Sr., who remembered the boyhood summers he had spent on his grandfather’s farm. In 1984, he purchased land in the area and established a farm of his own.

Scott planted his first Chardonel grapes on the farm in 1998, and followed up the following year with another field. As the grapes matured, Scott developed his ideas for a winery. He visited many wineries throughout the world in 2000. In 2001, he began building Crown Valley Winery, which opened in the spring of 2003.

Today the winery has more than 195 acres of vineyards on a 600-acre site. California-style wines are featured, including Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Seven varieties of grapes are grown on the estate, and include Chambourcin, Chardonel, Traminette, Vignoles, Concord, Frontenac and Norton.

The winery claims to have the largest planting of Norton grapes in the United States. Christopher Ruess, director of marketing at the winery, said that one unique feature is the fact that the winery is surrounded by more than 8,000 acres of farmland and ranch being developed by Scott.

“Our weekend vineyard tours are like safaris and visitors are delighted to see long-horn cattle, bison, elk and llamas in addition to the vines.”

Although the scale of development of Crown Valley Winery is larger and more expansive than most, Ruess stressed that not all of the winery’s assets are in buildings and fixtures, but in dedicated people.

“Our winemaker, Philippe Daguisy, is really a spectacular person, and makes the winery special,” Ruess said. “He sets a standard equal to the best wineries of California.”

A native of Reims, France, Daguisy earned a degree in enology and viticulture and worked throughout the major winemaking regions of France before continuing his career at Crown Valley Winery. He heads a “cellar staff,” supervising the many processes that result in award-winning wines. The wine is aged in French and American oak barrels on the premises.

Ste. Genevieve, located about 60 miles south of St. Louis on Hwy. 61, was settled by the French in the late 1700s. The oldest French-Colonial village in the U.S., the town contains many restored homes. The oldest is the Bolduc House, built in 1770 by Louis Boduc, a Canadian merchant, miner and planter. Many antique shops, bed & breakfasts, restaurants and other attractions make Ste. Genevieve an important visitor destination.

Wines from Crown Valley Winery can be sampled Sept. 10-12 at the Saint Louis Art Fair in Clayton, MO. Throughout September, musical groups will entertain at the winery from 2 to 6 p.m. during the three-day Labor Day weekend and on Saturdays and Sundays.

Crown Valley Winery is open 7 days a week. April through October hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday. November through March hours are Monday through Sunday, 11-5. Guided tours are $8 to $12 per person; wine tastings are $5.

Other festivals and wine events are scheduled throughout the year and are listed on the winery’s website. For more information about Crown Valley Winery, call 573-756-9463 or visit www.crownvalleywinery.com.

Stone Bluff Cellars Winery and Inn
HASKELL, OK

VAC case scale model
Ernie Hemingway and the Stone Bluff Cellars Winery festival parrot. (photo by Bob McBratney)

In 1994, Bob and Sandy McBratney purchased a farm near Haskell, OK. While Sandy refurbished the old farmhouse, Bob commuted to his ophthalmology practice in Tulsa.

Long interested in grapes and wine, Bob began weekend studies at the T.V. Munson Viticulture and Ecology Center in Denison, TX. Armed with new knowledge and help from son Brendan, a recent graduate of Oklahoma State University, Bob planted the first phase of the vineyard in 1997. More vineyard acreage was added the next year.

The winery and inn officially opened Sept. 30, 2000. Nearly 2000 guests attended the grand opening. Over the next three years, a series of harvests produced Cynthiana and Vignoles, the winery’s table wines, and Royale, the dessert wine. These wines, fermented in stainless steel tanks and American Oak barrels, continue to be the winery’s specialties. However, other varieties have been added, including St. Vincent, Chambourcin, Baco Noir and Malvasia Bianca.

Bob McBratney, who retired early from his ophthalmology career, said he and his wife had looked for something on a small acreage that would be self-supporting, and the winery/bed & breakfast seemed perfect.

“Our property is located on a knoll, and you get a 25-mile view that’s really beautiful,” he said. “And we’re blessed with sandy-loam soil that’s perfect for growing grapes.”

The soil conditions allow for good drainage. “Grapes don’t like wet feet,” McBratney added.

He credits others for much of the winery’s success. He said his primary mentor has been Dr. Keith Striegler, a professor at Southwest Missouri State University in Mountain Grove, MO, who has advised him throughout the development of the vineyard and the winemaking process.

The vineyard at Stone Bluff Cellars includes a two-acre plot of Chardonel grapes that was planted last year. McBratney said the winery supplements their grapes with those of neighboring growers, concentrating on award-winning premium wines. So far, his wines have received 30 medals at national and international shows.

A unique event that will introduce Stone Bluff Cellars wine to many visitors is coming this fall. The fifth annual Wine Festival will be held Saturday, Sept. 25, at the winery. Guests will have the opportunity to sample wine, enjoy live music, take a ride in a hot air balloon and enter a drawing for a free night’s stay at the Inn.

Haskell is located on Hwy. 64, 20 miles southeast of Tulsa and about halfway between Tulsa and Muskogee. Water recreation and river scenery is nearby on the Arkansas River. The Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee is a destination for Native American history buffs.

For more information about Stone Bluff Cellars Winery, call 918-482-5655 or visit www.stonebluffcellars.com.

Tidal School Winery
DRUMRIGHT, OK

After two years of renovations, the Tidal School Winery opened April 22, 2004 in the Tidal School building, located two miles south of Drumright, OK. Built in the 1920s, the building was used to serve the educational needs of John D. Rockefeller’s oil company. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The renovated building houses modern wine production equipment. An oak barrel room includes a tasting room and a small meeting area. According to its developers, the entire operation promises to be the largest wine producing facility in Oklahoma.

Wines offered include Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Oklahoma Sweet, Chardonnay, White Zinfandel and White Pinot Noir.

1947 B John Deere
The lower level of Tidal School Vineyard's historic building now houses Oklahoma's only fully automated wine bottling line, over 7,000 gallons of fermentation and aging tanks, as well as presses, crushers/destemmers and other equipment for Oklahoma's largest winery. (photo by Brenda Schroeder)

Gary Schroeder, president and CEO of Tidal School Winery, said that a vineyard was completed last spring, incorporating the “best of European design.” More than 800 Cabernet Franc vines were planted, according to Roger Wilson, winemaker.

Schroeder said that he was very pleased with the turnout of more than 2,000 wine-lovers at the winery’s Grand Opening, May 21. “It was the culmination of two years of renovating,” he said, “and we were proud to show the public what we’d done.”

Schroeder said that only a little less than half of the winery’s four acres are devoted to vineyard. “Most of our grapes come from other vineyards in the local area,” he added

The winery’s vineyard and a 45-foot gazebo will be the centerpiece for four acres of landscaped gardens, picnic areas and lawns. Free tours are offered from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday.

The winery offers a ‘Bistro Lunch’ that includes gourmet food tasting, an etched wine glass, wine tasting, and a guided tour of the winery, vineyard, and art gallery and heritage area. Total cost is $10.95. Reservations are required, call 866-258-1903.

Drumright, a town of 2,905, is located on Hwy. 33 about 30 miles west of Tulsa and about eight miles east of Cushing. Turner Turnpike, with access to Oklahoma City and other Oklahoma destinations, is 20 miles to the south via Hwy. 99. Cushing is the site of the Cimarron Valley Railroad Museum. For more information about Tidal School Winery, call 918-258-3536 or go to www.tidalschool.com.


For more information on wineries in Mid-America visit Discover Mid-America's Wineries in the Heartland.


Discover Mid-America founder and Senior Contributing Editor Ken Weyand files regular reports on notable Midwest destinations. He can be reached at kweyand@gbronline.com.


> Discover Mid-America Archive — Past cover stories

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