This Small Missouri Town Will Change the Way You Think About Midwest Wines
Augusta, Missouri, has a surprising wine scene you should know about.
I recently visited this hidden gem of a destination during its annual Augusta Harvest Festival, and it surprised me from the start.
During my first night, I attended the Swingin’ in the Vines event. Seemingly, the entire 300-person town — plus visitors who’d come for the festival — met at Harmonie Verein, an event space that was originally built by the first German settlers in the area. Today, the venue has a mission to preserve and promote cultural arts in greater Augusta.
Our group took a hay wagon ride from Harmonie Verein to Honey Bee Vineyard, a private, family-owned estate with beautiful views. Situated on nine acres, it grows Vidal blanc grapes sold to local wineries and overlooks the scenic, well-known Katy Trail, a 237-mile former railroad route stretching across most of the state of Missouri.
Upon arriving, I collected a picnic basket for two (which, of course, included a bottle of Missouri wine) and reveled in being outdoors, listening to swing music with the Augusta community, who was drinking wine and soaking in the crisp autumn weather under the stars.
As a California resident who has spent time wine tasting in both Napa and Sonoma, I was thoroughly impressed by Missouri’s wines. But the state — including Augusta, nearby Hermann, and the other statewide AVAs — is no stranger to winemaking.
Missouri is home to more than 130 wineries, which date back to the time of the German immigrants that founded the wine industry about 200 years ago. In fact, Missouri native George Hussmann, helped save French winemaking in the 19th century, when France’s vineyards were plagued by a parasite. After diagnosing the issue, a Missouri entomologist discovered some Native American rootstocks were immune to this louse’s advances, and grafted French vines onto them so healthy grapes could be produced. Then, millions of cuttings of Missouri rootstock were shipped back to France, averting a global winemaking disaster. (This rescue is commemorated by statues standing in Montpelier, France.)
Missouri was also the first designated American Viticultural Area (AVA), which means it’s older than California’s Napa Valley. The Missouri wine industry experienced a significant downfall and challenges during prohibition, as well as the following years into the era of the World Wars, but over the past few decades, it has made a valiant comeback, with American varietals and local grapes taking center stage in bottles of reds and whites alike.
The industry’s $3.2 billion economic impact in Missouri is continuing to expand. In fact, a former local resident of the Show Me State recently made a significant investment in the wine and hospitality sector. David Hoffmann and his company, Hoffmann Family of Companies, placed its bets on the small town of Augusta in the form of a $150 million investment.
The company aims to make the region home to the Midwest’s largest vineyards, and even better, David and Jerri Hoffmann — both Washington, Missouri, natives — are working to transform the town and surrounding area into a national wine destination for visitors.
And since Augusta’s AVA is in such a condensed area, it has something popular Napa doesn’t: a free wine trolley system. The complimentary trolleys begin service around noon, and the final loop starts approximately one hour before the wineries’ closing times. Riders can hop on and off at any time, at any location, with no reservation needed to board. The trolley runs in a continuous loop, picking up and dropping off from each site approximately every 30 minutes.
As part of the planned investment, the Hoffmanns have acquired six vineyards, totaling more than 1,500 acres, with four wineries in the Augusta region, including Mount Pleasant Estates, Augusta Winery, Balducci Vineyards, and Montelle Winery.
Balducci Vineyards is surrounded by rolling hills, delicious food, and, of course, unforgettable wine. Immediately upon arriving, visitors are greeted with vibrant orange decor and sprawling grounds with several areas to sit and enjoy or explore. There’s live entertainment on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from May to November, plus a bocce ball court and snacks from the kitchen. (Tip: Their must-try toasted ravioli pairs well with a glass of wine.)
Montelle Winery offers panoramic views from atop Osage Ridge, overlooking the Missouri River Valley region and beyond. It was founded more than five decades ago and is a great place to see the sights while sipping on a fine glass of wine.
Set against a lush, grassy background on the north side of the Missouri River, historic Mount Pleasant Estates boasts a timeline spanning 150 years of winemaking. Visitors can taste award-winning wines while perched on a bluff overlooking the Missouri Rhineland.
Those who are particularly curious about winemaking can join Augusta Vineyard Tours for a behind-the-scenes ATV adventure that provides insight into what it takes to produce wine in the region. Participants will learn where the grapes are grown, as well as where the bottling and storing happens.
In addition to its wineries, the entire town of Augusta has experienced a renovation in the past few years. Visitors can step into the quaint Augusta Bakery & Coffee Shop or browse local food and gifts at The Augusta Emporium, set in a building constructed in the 1880s. There’s also The Augusta Clothing Company, which sells “wine-country” clothing and accessories, and Gallery Augusta, which features a rotating collection from artists across America. For more ideas on what to do, head to the visitor center in town.
Augusta was previously known as a day trip destination, but the Hoffmans have transformed some of the buildings into charming places to spend the night. This gives travelers and locals the chance to enjoy an idyllic, wine-soaked escape in a place they might not have considered before.
(Source: Travel + Leisure)