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HOUSE: Why go to California?
  • HOUSE: Why go to California?

Arkansans will soon be able to bet money in an official state lottery while drinking wine made from an official state grape. This was never possible before.

The 2009 state legislature — a “do-everything” legislature, one might say — not only established procedures for operation of the state lottery that voters authorized last fall, and which is expected to come on-line later this year, but  also designated the Cynthiana grape as Arkansas's official grape (Act 547 of 2009).

Rep. Beverly Pyle of Cedarville was the chief sponsor of the bill that became Act 547. She acted at the request of a constituent, Audrey House, the owner of Chateau aux Arc vineyards and winery in Altus. Chateau aux Arc (pronounced “Ozark”) is one of several wineries in the area.

House said she sought the legislation to draw attention not only to the Cynthiana grape, but to the Arkansas wine industry. “A lot of Arkansans don't realize we have a treasure in our own back yard,” House said. “You don't have to go to California to visit wine country.” She also said she wanted to get her feet wet in Arkansas government and politics for possible future legislative efforts, such as changing the Arkansas laws governing the shipment of wine.

Another grower and vintner in the Altus area, Michael Post of Mount Bethel Winery, said the Cynthiana is native to Arkansas and Missouri and is “considered by many to be the best native American grape for dry, red, dinner wine.”

The Cynthiana is disease-resistant, Post said, and in the 19th century, the Cynthiana root was used to save European grape crops. That same quality is attracting much notice today, with many nurseries around the country asking for Cynthiana plants and wood. Post fills their requests. He figures that more name recognition for Cynthiana is to his benefit. He has acres of the grape.

“A lot of people want to grow grapes organically,” Post said. “You can grow Cynthiana with very little herbicide or fungicide.”

Cynthiana wine is not yet widely available in Little Rock, at least not that we could find, but the drive up I-40 to the wine country is pleasant. Aux Arc, Bethel and several other wineries offer free tours and wine tastings.   

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