Wiederkehr Wine Cellar’s Weinfest is one of the oldest and best-attended festivals in western Arkansas. The first Wiederkehr Weinfest was in 1963, and the event continues to be an annual attraction for locals and tourists. Weinfest celebrates the heritage of the Swiss-German immigrants who settled in Wiederkehr Village atop St. Mary’s Mountain near the city of Altus (Franklin County) during the 1880s. Al Wiederkehr, the winery founder’s grandson, initiated the festival after he returned from an oenological (relating to the study of wine and winemaking) research trip to Europe. During his expedition, he traveled to wine- and grape-producing countries, including France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, and attended a variety of local festivals. When he came home, he realized that having a festival of their own would be one way to preserve his family’s heritage.
The first few Weinfests drew about 250 guests. At that time, state laws forbade the advertisement of alcoholic beverages in dry counties. To avoid legal troubles, the winery owners decided to use Schweizerdeutsch (Swiss-German) spellings on the billboards—Weinfest (wine fest) and Weinkellar (wine cellar). That law has since been changed, but the owners maintain the traditional spellings. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, so many participants were attending Weinfest that owners had to enlist volunteer security forces to direct traffic and patrol the grounds of the village. Weinfest has not had as many visitors over recent years, but the number of guests often exceeds 2,500.
Weinfest patrons may participate in a variety of activities, including wine tastings, tours of the historic wine cellar and vineyard, conga line dances through the wine cellars, polka lessons, sing-alongs in German and English, horse and pony rides, and excellent concessions and fine dining. The winery serves a diverse mixture of German, Swiss, French, English, and Italian foods, including bratwursts and other meats; a variety of cheeses, pastas, and sauces; and the Swiss-perfected Quiche Lorraine.
Other highlights of the festival, which is held in the fall, include a performance by the German Waterloo Band, which performs traditional German, Swiss, and English songs. Weinfest visitors also vote for a “Weinfest Queen.” During her reign, the Weinfest Queen represents Wiederkehr Winery at a variety of presentations and competitions. The festival also hosts Arkansas’s Championship Grape Stomp. The winner of this event receives a bronze shoe trophy—which honors Steve Little, one of the University of Arkansas’s former field goal kickers—and qualifies to attend the World Championship Grape Stomp in Sonoma County, California.
For additional information:
Dean, Ruby. “Thousands Gather for Annual Wiederkehr Village Weinfest.” The City Wire (Fort Smith). October 10, 2010. Online at: http://www.thecitywire.com/index.php?q=node/12206 (accessed May 27, 2015).
Wiederkehr Wine Cellars, Inc. http://www.wiederkehrwines.com/ (accessed May 27, 2015).
Jeffrey M. Widener
University of Oklahoma
Last Updated: 05/27/2015