Official State Grape
aka: Cynthiana Grape
Approximately 150 commercial vineyards and wineries have operated in Arkansas since 1870. In 2009, the Arkansas General Assembly took note of this agricultural mainstay when it designated the Cynthiana, a native grape, as Arkansas’s official state grape.
Act 547 was introduced as House Bill 2193 by Representatives Beverly Pyle of Cedarville (Crawford County) and Kathy Webb of Little Rock (Pulaski County). The measure was introduced at the suggestion of Audrey House, proprietor of the Chateau Aux Arc vineyards in Franklin County, to draw attention to the survival and rising reputation of Arkansas vintages. Arkansas’s grape-growing industry is small, however, in comparison to that of such viticultural powerhouses as California. Between 2007 and 2009, acres of cultivated grapes ranged between 750 and 600, including production both for wine-making and fresh local consumption.
Cynthiana (vitis aestivalis) is the oldest native North American grape in commercial cultivation today. It was first identified as early as 1770, and one nineteenth-century authority suggested that it was native to Arkansas. The Cynthiana, sometimes referred to as the “Cabernet of the Ozarks,” is almost identical to the Norton grape, refined and cultivated by Virginia physician Dr. Daniel Norborne Norton and commercially available by 1830.
The Cynthiana is a winter-hardy and highly disease-resistant variety, with a low per-acre yield (compared to more common wine or table grape varieties) and a high skin-to-juice ratio. Wine made from the Cynthiana grape is high in resveratrol, a chemical found in all red wines and sometimes credited with helping prevent arterial clogging. Arkansas and Missouri are the nation’s main producers of the grape, which, under the name of Norton/Cynthiana, was designated Missouri’s state grape in 2003.
For additional information:
Main, Gary. “Growing and Vinting Cynthiana Norton Grapes.” Proceedings of the 24th Annual Horticulture Industries Show, Fort Smith, Arkansas, January 14–15, 2005.
Reishch, B. I., R. Goodman, M. H. Martens, and N. Weeden. “The Relationship between Norton and Cynthiana, Red Wine Cultivars Derived from vitis aestivalis.” American Journal of Enology and Viticulture 44 (December 1993): 441–444.
Smiley, Lisa Ann, P. Domoto, G. Nonnecke, and W. W. Miller, “A Review of Cold Climate Cultivars: Cynthiana/Norton.” Iowa State University Horticulture. https://www.extension.iastate.edu/viticulture/cold-climate-cultivars (accessed February 9, 2022).
Ware, David. It’s Official! The Real Stories behind Arkansas’s State Symbols. 2nd ed. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2017.
Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office
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On your published piece mentioning Rep. Pyle and Ms. House: they wrote the bill that I was paid by Ms. House to review. At that time, I took an interest as a private citizen of Arkansas, and I noted Missouri to be the first state and Arkansas to be the second having a state grape. I was shocked that California did not, but on further research I could not find a native grape. The information used in your article talking of the history of the grape and the name Cynthiana both come from my interpretation of a French document written as a summary of prior documents to 1881 when the document I read had been published. I want especially to note that I spoke on the bill at my own expense to ensure that all proper understanding of why it was native and how it came to be named in distinction to the Norton Grape of Missouri. Further, I believe that your readers would be interested in how the Cynthiana saved French vines that were dying of a similar blight that destroyed plants in Ireland during the potato blight of that time.