story and photos by Brittany Ransom
The Wine Capital of Arkansas welcomed visitors from all over the state and region on Friday and Saturday (July 25-26) for the 31st annual Altus Grape Festival. Filled with delicious food, live music, and grape stomping, the weekend celebrated the Ozarks' long-standing tradition of grape-growing and wine-making.
The event kicked off Friday evening with the opening of wine tents and other booths, along with special entertainment and a street dance. Held downtown at the Altus City Park, the festival offered something for visitors of all ages. Several area bands and musicians performed in the central gazebo while kids made their way to the playground and bounce-around areas. Numerous vendors, selling crafts, clothing, and homemade goods were set up, with food trucks serving up festival staples, such as ribbon fries, funnel cake and sno-cones.
Visitors made their way to tents throughout the park, sampling whites, reds, and blushes from participating local wineries. Showcasing the best the region has to offer, representatives from the vineyards were on hand to answer questions about their featured wines and about the detailed wine-making process.
Known as the state's premier wine country, the region's grape celebrations date back more than 100 years. In 1984, the federal government designated 12,000 acres in the Altus community as a viticulture area, giving way to the expansion of wineries and vineyards and the official establishment of the Altus Grape Festival.
The always popular grape stomping competition was held on both Friday and Saturday. Competitors young and old took part in the festival tradition, doing their best to squish the most grapes in their wooden vats, using only their feet. Judges then poured the juice from the containers into bottles to determine which jar was fullest and which stomper was most successful.
A Bacchus and Lady Bacchus look-alike contest was also held, celebrating the Roman god of the grape harvest. Eureka Springs pair Tim and Jill Collins took home the top prize for their costumes.
Saturday's activities got underway early, with the annual "Breakfast in the Park" beginning at 7:30 a.m. Visitors took part in fun games including a kids water balloon toss and a grape pie eating contest.
Wine lovers were encouraged to try their hand at the craft in the amateur wine making competition. Entries included individuals from throughout the state and surrounding area.
Festivities extended outside of the park, with local restaurants and shops staying open all weekend. Regional wineries also offered special tours and tastings in honor of the Grape Festival.