Category: Cover Story

40th fruity celebration brings family fun to Altus

The Altus vineyards at sunset.
The Altus vineyards at sunset. Photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the famed Altus Grape Festival in Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative territory. The July 28-29 free event brings locals and visitors from across Arkansas to the heart of the town to celebrate everything the vine has to offer.

“The Altus Grape Festival began in 1984 to celebrate the grape, after earlier Grape Festivals were held in 1926 and 1927,” says Altus Mayor Veronica Post. “In 1984, the Altus Viticultural Area was recognized by the federal government as an official Appellation of Origin (or winegrowing region), which can be put on wine labels of wine made from grapes grown here. The annual celebration honors all grape growers and winemakers in Altus, the Wine Capital of Arkansas.”

Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, Hanging Grapes.
Hanging grapes. Altus is recognized as an official Appellation of Origin or wine-growing region. Photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

But there is plenty to do for all ages, not just 21-and-up. The happenings include all sorts of activities for the kids, a Friday night street dance, a Saturday morning breakfast in the park, a string of concerts Friday and Saturday, a juried arts and crafts competition and various fruit-focused contests and games.

“There is the grape-in-the-spoon relay, waiter/ waitress races and the ever-popular grape-stomp competitions,” Post shares. “Wine tasting from area wineries is offered. A variety of food vendors, including the local fire department, offer a selection of food.”

There’s much fun for the kids, too — bouncy houses and a playground, barrel train rides, face painting and a water balloon toss are all part of the festivities.

Festival Chairman James Dahlem has been involved with the festival since 1996.

“I’ve been growing grapes since 1993,” Dahlem says. “Michael Post with Mount Bethel told me in 1996, ‘Boy, we need you down there. You need to go down and sell some grapes at the festival.’ I tried it, and we’ve been going ever since.”

While most folks know about the wine grapes produced in the region, Dahlem’s operation is known for its table grapes, and you can sample the University of Arkansas-developed Venus and Reliance varietals at his festival stand. They’re also available to take home in clamshell boxes and as jellies.

Homemade products like jellies and jams — and not just grapes — are for sale at the Altus Grape Festival. Photo courtesy of Grav Weldon. 

“I also provide the grape-stomp grapes at no charge. We weigh up all the grapes for the grape stomps. We pick them up, cool them as needed, pull them out of the cooler, and Paul Post and others put them in the tubs to get stomped.”

Stomping and Sipping

Those grape stomps draw a lot of attention. Four people at a time will bare their feet, climb up on stage, step into those barrels half-filled with grapes, and — when the whistle is blown — will see who can get the most juice out of those grapes before time is called. Anyone can sign up for the heats, and a celebrity grape stomp attracts a crowd on Friday night. (Author’s disclosure: I’ve managed to pull out a win at said stomp three times over the years!)

The event also showcases an annual pie-eating festival, where a heritage recipe from Hermina Court is prepared with sweet Venus grapes. Six competitors vie to consume as much of a whole pie as possible in a short time. The winner takes home $10, a T-shirt and bragging rights for the next year.

Visitors can enjoy tours of Chateau Aux Arc (pictured), Mount Bethel, Post Familie and Wiederkehr Wineries vineyards
Visitors can enjoy tours of Chateau Aux Arc (pictured), Mount Bethel, Post Familie and Wiederkehr Wineries vineyards. Photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

Of course, there’s also the wine. Local winery stands offer tastings of wine and juice to festivalgoers, and there’s also a competition held specifically for those folks who make wine at home. “Amateur grape winemakers come from all over, including surrounding states, to compete for the Champion Amateur Winemaking Medal,” Post says.

The Altus Grape Festival’s grape stomp is a popular event among festivalgoers.
The Altus Grape Festival’s grape stomp is a popular event among festivalgoers. Photo courtesy of Paul Post.

The weekend also offers opportunities for visitors to enjoy tours of the vineyards and facilities at Chateau Aux Arc, Mount Bethel, Post Familie and Wiederkehr Wineries. Local restaurants such as the Owls Roost Cafe and Alligator Rays also offer dining. There are RV slots and camping plots available at Grape Country RV Park, primitive camping at Dionysus Wine & Brew, and motel rooms can be found in nearby Ozark.

For more information, visit Atlus Grape Festival Facebook Page.

10 Steps to Stomp Grapes

Three-time Altus Grape Festival celebrity grape-stomp winner Kat Robinson offers these tips for those who wish to compete.

  1. Roll up your pant legs above your knees. If you are wearing shorts, you may omit this step. Skirts are not recommended.
  2. Remove your shoes and socks. Socks will just soak up the juice and leave behind an unusual flavor to the results.
  3. Wash your feet.
  4. Carefully step into the grape-stomping tub. Grapes can be slippery, so be sure to hold onto the side for balance.
  5. Wait for the mark to begin stomping. Do NOT begin stomping before it is time.
  6. When allowed to begin, move your feet up and down in the tub, being sure to step firmly on the grapes. Though this is called a grape stomp, actual stomping is not necessary if you weigh more than 20 pounds. Your weight should be sufficient to release the grape’s juice from its skin.
  7. Be sure to step on as many of the grapes as possible in the allotted time. Speed, not pressure, is key.
  8. When time is called, freeze in position with both feet in the bottom of the tub. Carefully, and with assistance, if necessary, extricate yourself from the tub.
  9. Wash your feet again. This keeps your socks from sticking to your skin.
  10. Replace your shoes, and await the results. Even if you don’t win, you have achieved grapeness!
Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, stoping grapes.
Stomping grapes. Photo courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.


Save the Date for Muscadine Picking

Muscadines. Photo courtesy of Kat Robinson.

Ever wanted to pick your own muscadines for making jelly or juice, or just for enjoyment? This September from 29th through 30th, you have your chance at the 2023 Post Familie Vineyards Muscadine You-Pick event.

“No equipment is necessary to enjoy the experience of walking the vineyards, picking and eating fresh fruit right off the vines,” says Joseph Post, vice president of sales for Post Familie Vineyards and Winery. “We charge everyone a $5 per person entry fee, which comes with a 1-quart cup to collect and carry home their fruit.”

Muscadines are native to Arkansas. The thick-skinned grapes are well-known for being great for making jelly, jam, juice and wine. It takes two to three years for a muscadine vine to produce its first fruit, but it can continue to produce for up to 20 years beyond that. There’s no need to wait on your vines to grow; you can just venture out to Post Familie for this special event and harvest your own.

And you aren’t limited to just a quart.

“We sell bigger cardboard boxes with plastic liners for those who want to harvest greater amounts of muscadines,” Post says. “We also allow serious pickers to bring their own containers (5-gallon buckets) and hand-pulled wagons to collect their fruits. All containers are weighed in and out.”

Self-picked muscadines cost $1.50 a pound. The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Research and Extension Service recommends cutting clusters from the vine with shears or a knife into your basket or bucket, then keeping them in a cool place or refrigerator. The fruit should be processed within a few days. It also makes a marvelous snack.

Post Familie Vineyards Muscadine You-Pick
1700 Saint Mary’s Mountain Road, Altus, AR
Directions to Post Familie Vineyards Muscadine You-Pick
September 29th through 30th
9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Post Winery Website
(479) 468-6400