Arkansas Wine Just Fine


UA researcher proud of state’s grape


By Maylon T. Rice


Justin Morris has been at the University of Arkansas for nearly 50 years.

Dr. Justin R. Morris is, indeed, quite a politician. But being a politician is not the job he’s been academically trained to do and politics is not really a part of his job. But get him talking about Arkansas wine and the old Louisiana Kingfish himself, the late Huey P. Long, couldn’t hold a candle to Morris when he starts talking about his love and passion for all things grape in Arkansas.

Morris’ life has been invested in the twin true loves of his academic and professional career — viticulture and enology. He has enjoyed a long career at the University of Arkansas and currently serves as distinguished professor and director of the Food Science and Engineering department.

Ask Morris about the Arkansas wine crop and his promoter and political side emerges. And emerges quickly. Prepare to sit a spell. For Morris can outtalk anyone when it comes to wine and those who bottle the fruit of the grape.


Unique Is Good

“Arkansas’ wines are unique,” Morris quickly says. 

And that simple statement, is perhaps the very thesis he promotes on why the industry has survived and thrived over the years.

He will not rate one grape over another, nor will he promote one winery over another. 

He unashamedly promotes them all — every grape, every vine and yes, every Arkansas wine.

His only advice, which has become something of his own mantra regarding Arkansas vintners and their products: “(Arkansas winemakers) should not try to out-California, California,” he says with a chuckle. 

But the seriousness of a man who has spent his life working, studying, researching, writing, publishing, advising and applying all of his academic and generational farm skills to the wine industry, leads one to immediately know: Dr. Morris is not kidding.


No Backseat

“Arkansas’ wineries and Arkansas wines should not take a backseat to anyone, any wine, anywhere,” Morris said, sitting in his office that is filled with papers, books, brochures and yes, some bottles of Arkansas wine. 

He can point to a bottle from each of the state’s wineries and tell a visitor why it is unique and outstanding.

He compares the Ozark Mountain and Arkansas River Valley winegrowing region to that of Central Missouri and other smaller wine growing regions in the eastern United States.

Arkansas is not, he points out, on the scale of California in size and numbers, nor should it be. But flavor, well that’s another matter.


History Does Matter

Morris likes pointing out the history and resiliency of the state’s winemakers. 

“Now a fellow can get in trouble trying to keep all the history straight,” Morris said. “So I would tell you that the families involved in Arkansas winemaking, the Posts, the Wiedekers, the Cowies and others, are in it for the love of the wine and to make a little money, too.”

He downplays the recent frost of two years ago that stymied much of the crop. Morris says all the winemakers still talk a little about that natural disaster, but they are busy this year with another crop.

“All farmers who farm can tell you that the weather conditions on any crop can be both kind and cruel,” Morris said.


Wild Muscadine

Arkansas wines are unique because of the climate, the tastes of the public and the ancestral heritage of the surviving winemakers over the last 100 plus years, Morris said. 

In Arkansas, most Arkansans think about the wild muscadine when they think of wine, Morris said. “And Arkansans have an idea how an Arkansas wine should taste. So we don’t need to, I hate to say it again, but I will, out-California, California.”

In other words, an Arkansas wine and its flavor should be unique to the region and the imbibing public.

The Arkansas winegrowing region is primarily in the northwestern and western portions of the state roughly from Eureka Springs to Altus and Paris and on to one of the state’s newest wineries in Hot Springs, in central Arkansas. Seven wineries, each with their own Web site, can be found in Arkansas.


History On Display

Morris is quick to point out that not only do the winemakers of Arkansas produce great wines, they all relish their individual and collective histories.

“Over at the Cowie Wine Cellars is a museum well worth the drive to learn the state’s winemaking history,” Morris said.

The Arkansas Wine Museum at Paris is an outgrowth of the Cowie Wine Cellars and Robert Cowie, the vineyard founder and historian. 

The state’s winemaking history dates back to the earliest settlers in the region. Arkansas once boasted an estimated 150 wineries and more than 1,000 permits for winemaking.

Each of the vineyards have historical displays about the heritage of the winemakers and their vineyards.

The Post Familie Vineyards in Altus, is a fifth-generation family-owned vineyard and winery. 

Wiedeker, also in Altus, is another multigenerational winery.


An Arkansan — Always

Morris has been on the UA campus either as a student, graduate student or faculty member since the days of President John Tyler Caldwell, in the late 1950s. 

His office, on the north end of campus where the flagship University of Arkansas Food Science Building and its labs are located, is down one of the many hallways, like tunnels in a rabbit warren. But don’t let the simple hallways, labs and classrooms fool you, major research has gone on here. Vintners in Arkansas, California and other states and yes, from around the world, look to this plain-Jane concrete block building for industry changing suggestions and solution.

In the twilight of his career, as Morris prepares to take Emeritus status, there is an urgency to turn hundreds, if not thousands of linear feet of published and non-published research out to the industry. 

Morris and a cadre of UA horticulture and agriculture researchers have been hard at work taking care of local, national and international research on a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Dr. John Clark, another noted UA scientist and researcher says few really know about Morris’ impact on Arkansas agriculture.

“His impact is big, very big,” Clark said. “Dr. Morris has created technology on grapes and other crops that has been used by an array of growers and has stood the test of time. 

“(Morris’) creativity and follow through on ideas have been exemplary. And the students he has trained have multiplied his output. He has inspired young minds across the state and country and we are all better off. His research results and impact reach far and wide nationally and internationally. He simply is one of the best ever in his field in the (UA) Division of Agriculture.”


Hall Of Famer

One of the more recent accolades for Morris — and there have been many — was his induction into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2009. 

Another of his many jobs at the UA, besides teaching and mentoring students, has been to direct the University of Arkansas Institute of Food Science and Engineering. He has also served as the executive vice president of the Ozarks Food Processors Association, leading that organization to become one of the largest such entities in the United States. He has served the OFPA since 1988. The OFPA represents some 90 food-processing companies and suppliers in 35 states.

Morris has also been awarded the Nesbitt Award for grape research contributions for the southern region and has won an American Wine Society Award of Merit.


Family Grew Peaches

Morris’ family owned a peach orchard in the Nashville area (Howard County), so he had a strong work ethic before he came to the UA as an undergraduate. His academic pursuits led Morris away from the UA campus only once.

“I left in 1960 to do graduate work at Rutgers in New Jersey,” Morris said. “While that was excellent classroom work and the people were wonderful, well it wasn’t Arkansas and where I wanted to live. I got back here in 1964 and swore never to leave again.”

He returned to the UA with another Rutgers PhD student, Dr. Jim Moore, and the two began a tandem effort to put the UA fruit research on the national map, according to Clark.

“These two men together put Arkansas grape and small fruit research on the map, and not just the Arkansas map but worldwide,” Clark said. “I admired them when I first met them in the late 1970s and I admire them even more now 30 years later.”


West Coast Influence

Much of the mechanization of the grape crops has been done in California where a large portion of the U.S. wine grapes are grown and harvested. It is a living lab much different than Arkansas. 

Morris said some California wines are made in large-scale warehouses where the label owners of a particular winery farm-out all the processes from the vine to the packaging. Some of these companies buy grapes from a farm not owned by the vinter. The grapes are then crushed and mixed by a second company, possibly bottled by a third company and then packed by a fourth company. Sometimes the owners of the wine may not see their product until it is bottled.

But that’s not the hands-on way most Arkansas wines are made.

Remember, Dr. Morris intones. “Don’t try to out-California, California.”


Research Work

Morris’ work has impacted both vine management and decision-making in production and introduced countless developments in post harvest handling and enology, Clark said. 

“He has been the whole package of research for wine growers, very unique with this broad program for pre- and post-harvest technology development,” Clark said.

And along the way, Dr. Morris has become the No. 1 supporter of Arkansas wineries and a pretty even politician, even when he didn’t have to be.


Arkansas Wineries

More information about Arkansas wineries can be found at:

Keels Creek,, in Eureka Springs, produces boutique wines sourced from regional and small farm vineyards.

Categories: Features