LITTLE ITALY -- A winery's tasting room housed in a yurt could be a vision from faraway Mongolia. In fact, this tented structure stands only 30 miles northwest of downtown Little Rock in Little Italy.
The yurt belongs to Wendy and Roger Quaid. In making and selling wines as part of An Enchanting Evening's operation, the Quaids are reprising a once-bustling line of business in this unincorporated community.
The town was founded in 1915 by Italian immigrants, who first called it Alta Villa before switching to the present name. Having planted grapes, Little Italy's vintners survived Prohibition by selling bootleg wine and whiskey in the 1920s.
According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, "Local anti-immigrant and anti-Italian attitudes were quelled during this time due to the willingness of the Italians to provide non-Italian locals with illegal liquor." After the national ban on alcohol sales was lifted in 1933, the little locale supported four bonded wineries before prospects faded in the 1950s.
As the encyclopedia also reports, Little Italy in its heyday "also attracted non-Italian locals by sporting two 'beer joints' and a dance hall, each outfitted with a bocce court. Because of this heavy concentration of alcohol, the town gained a reputation as a volatile area."
Everything these days is cool, calm and collected at An Enchanting Evening, which also hosts weddings and offers a cabin for honeymooners or other guests. In the yurt, one of the Quaids or a daughter hosts visitors for free tastings of the wines, which span the sipping spectrum from dry to sweet. They are made mostly from grapes bought in northern Arkansas.
The Quaids take pride in being Little Italy's first licensed small-farm winery in more than 70 years. Wines available for sampling include Savant (sweet red), Traminette (semi-sweet white), Rose Blend (semi-sweet), Chambourcin (semi-sweet red), Enchanting White (dry white) and Pinot Noir (dry red). By the glass, the wines cost $4 to $8. By the bottle, prices go from $12 to $24.
A spacious deck behind the yurt provides views of nearby Pinnacle Mountain. Visitors are welcome to take a picnic meal for dining on the deck while imbibing wine bought inside.
A sense of humor is evident in the sign posted on a nearby smaller yurt housing a restroom. The facility is fully modern, with a flush toilet and a stylish wash basin. But the sign, playing off the term "outhouse," calls the building an "out yurt."
In touting its rental log cabin, An Enchanting Evening promises that "romance, luxury and privacy await you in a hot tub under the stars." Amenities include a "leather king-size sleigh bed with the finest linens" and a "walk-in two-person shower." Chocolate fondue is served on the night of arrival. The cabin rents for $195 the first night and $145 each additional night.
On the way to An Enchanting Evening, a sign on Arkansas 300 just south of Roland heralds River Bottom Winery at BoBrook Farms. Open since the autumn of 2014, River Bottom produces wines made mainly from fruit other than grapes, including blueberries and blackberries. BoBrook Farms also hosts weddings.
An Enchanting Evening, 29300 Arkansas 300, Little Italy, is open for wine tasting 5-8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, 12 noon-5 p.m. Sunday. The tasting is free. Wines are sold by the glass or bottle. Visit AnEnchantingEvening.com or call (501) 330-2182.
River Bottom Winery at BoBrook Farms, 13810 Combee Lane, Roland, is open for wine tasting 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Visit BoBrookFarms.com or call (501) 868-8860.
Weekend on 06/07/2018