New winery brings back memories, preserves traditions
TONTITOWN-Heather Peachee has many childhood memories of squashing grapes in her family’s basement to help make the family’s homemade wine.
“It was always my father’s dream to open a winery,” she said recently. “I remember always making wine with my dad.”
A couple of months ago, Peachee and her husband, David Peachee, brought that dream to life by opening what is now Tontitown’s only winery. Tontitown Winery, located in the old Taldo House at the corner of Barrington Road and Sbanotto Avenue, features a growing number of wines that are fermented right on the property and come from Arkansas-grown grapes.
Peachee’s maiden name is Ranalli, making her a member of the family who arrived in the United States from Northern Italy during one of several migrations that started in the late 1800s. When families from that region found their way to Northwest Arkansas, they discovered soil that was similar to home—and perfect for growing grapes. “The soil here is similar to Italy and grapes grow well with the rocks because of the drainage,” Peachee explained.
Many wineries sprung up over the years, but the last ones closed in the 1970s.
“We’ve preserved our history here. Our history is important to us,” Peachee said. “We’re bringing back what we were starting to lose.”
Preserving the heritage is a primary reason the couple decided to open the winery and it’s a true example of a family business. Heather didn’t want to take over her father’s dream but when she approached him with the idea he gave his full blessing. He’s busy with the main family business, Ranalli Farm and Produce. David’s mother and stepfather partnered with the couple to create the dream.
The sign out front of Tontitown Winery says it began in 1923, which is when the Ranalli family bought its original farm. The winery’s home is in a home that was constructed in 1917. At one point, it was home to the Dixie Pride Bonded Winery No. 40, which meant that it was the 40th winery to be allowed to open after the Prohibition, Peachee explained.
The grapes are purchased from throughout Arkansas, including many from 18 acres of grapes grown on the Ranalli family farm. Some grapes are also purchased from a farm in Lowell, and the grapes for the muscadine wines are purchased from south Arkansas.
“Muscadine (grapes) don’t grow this side of the Boston Mountains so we get them from a man in south Arkansas,” Peachee said.
The White Muscadine is Peachee’s personal favorite, but the winery’s Italian Red seems to be the most popular with customers—it’s sold out until about January. Another popular wine is the Concord, which is made with the same type of grapes that used to be grown for the Welch’s plant that left the area decades ago.
Visitors can find their own personal favorite during the winery’s daily free wine tastings. There’s a gift shop available with many handmade items, including gift items made from people in Arkansas.
Visitors can also peruse more information about the winery’s history in the history room. That room is filled with pictures from times gone by and memorabilia from the former wineries, including an old family grape press.
“At home we always stomped the grapes but now we use a stemmer crusher,” Peachee said.
Despite a rough economy, the new business has been doing relatively well. The community has embraced the family who is trying to preserve not only their own heritage, but the town’s as well. The winery’s Facebook page has approximately 600 fans.
Elaine Sbanotto and her husband, Pete, both grew up in the area and are pleased to see the new winery.
“We have been there multiple times, that house has lots of memories for me. (My husband’s aunt) owned that house at one time and our best friends the Brunetti’s owned it after that. I spent lots of time at that house growing up and I was so happy to see someone preserve it and turn it into a winery seems for appropriate,” she said. “I love the place, it makes me feel so good that someone has taken that home and renovated it and is taking pride in it to fix it up so beautifully. Pete’s mom lives down the road so we drive by it a couple of times a week and it looked so run down for so long, it would just make us sad.
“Then when it was recently purchased we would watch the progress every week and called the Brunettis to tell them they need to come back and look at their old home place, it is just beautiful.”
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