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Arkansas Winery Swept Away by Flood

New tanks 'looked like beer cans a giant had stepped on,' owner said

by Paul Franson
railway winery
A flood hit Railway Winery in rural northern Arkansas, washing away the wine, equipment and the structure itself.
Eureka Springs, Ark.—A small winery in rural northern Arkansas was swept away during a flood Aug. 7, washing away the building, almost all equipment and even its vine trellises, cordons and grapes. All that is left at 500-case Railway Winery are the trunks of the vines.

Named after an abandoned nearby railway, the winery sat on 15.5 acres, half of which was planted to hybrid vines with a bit of Cabernet Franc. This was to be the winery’s first real vintage from its own vines, which were planted in 2009.

Owners Greg and Vicki Schneider have made wine from peach, plum and berries on the property as well as grapes bought from vines growing within 40 miles of their Eureka Springs site.

The damage
The Schneiders had just received three new stainless steel fermentation tanks the week before, and they were destroyed along with their existing tanks. “We were going to increase production 50% this year,” Greg Schneider said.

“We found some of the tanks downstream. They looked like beer cans a giant had stepped on,” he said. Schneider was able to salvage one fermentor and pounded it back into approximate shape. “We can use it to ferment fruit wines,” he said.

All other winemaking equipment, case goods and memorabilia in the winery were destroyed or missing except for a basket press Schneider was able to salvage. He found parts of it downstream.

Schneider lived through another flood of Butler Creek a few years ago, which he was told was the flood of the century. Because of the earlier flood, Schneider had built the winery, a converted workshop and storage area, on a four-foot foundation. It didn’t help: This onslaught was three or four times higher. “A wall of water 12 feet rushed down the creek like a tsunami,” he lamented. It was caused by an 8-inch rain.

Four of Railway’s 26 five-gallon carboys were found unbroken, but all of the wine the Schneiders had made in the past was gone. Of the thousand bottles of wine that went downstream, the Schneiders found fewer than a dozen.

The vineyard
Along with assorted appliances and other junk, the floodwater also washed gravel out of the creek bed and deposited it on part of the vineyard, burying the trunks of the vines.

Schneider hopes that the vines will regrow. He had 1,100 grapevines planted and 400 cuttings growing in a nursery. He grows hybrids Cynthiana/Norton, Frontenac, Chambourcin, Traminette and Vignoles as well as Cabernet Franc. “Cab Franc is the only vinifera that grows here. The first year, I planted Syrah, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, but we had a big freeze, -30ºF, and that froze them to the union joint. We decided to go with self-rooted hybrid vines.”

What’s next?
With the winery wiped out, Schneider said he will rebuild, but he plans to do so on higher ground nearer the highway. He also needs to figure out how to pay for it. He had almost let his contractor’s license expire, but now he may have to go back to work.

Even replacing the trellis systems will take $6,000 to $7,000, and flood insurance is not available in the rural county. He hopes the county will be declared a disaster area and get federal relief, however.

The winery lies near historic Eureka Springs, a once-thriving resort and health spa. The only other winery nearby is Keels Creek Winery. Its owners Doug Hausler and Edwige Denyszyn have offered space for Schneider to make and sell wines, which will have to be with purchased grapes.

One small consolation is that the winery cat insisted on going home with the Schneiders that night; it often stayed at the winery overnight. If it had, it would surely have drowned.

A fund to help Railway Winery recover from the flood has been established at Cornerstone Bank.

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