The sun sets at Balducci Vineyards in Augusta, Missouri.

Wine, Whimsy and Wild Wonders Make Augusta the Perfect Day Trip from St. Louis

Monday July 3, 2023

By Rachel Huffman

With its historic homes, sweet shops, stunning scenery and close proximity to the Katy Trail, the charming hamlet of Augusta, Missouri, has long been a road-trip favorite.

Approximately an hour from St. Louis, Augusta is the country’s first American Viticultural Area (AVA), which was established in 1980. An AVA recognizes and promotes distinct wine-making regions in the U.S., and Missouri has five in total.

The 15-square-mile, crescent-shaped area of Augusta is defined by a ridge, which creates a unique climate and protects the grapes from harsh winds. Here, the soil is also special: The last continental glacier stretched into the area, depositing organic matter that enriched the earth then and makes the vines happy now.

From Montelle Winery, you can see across the Missouri River Valley.
Photo courtesy of Montelle Winery

Among the rolling hills that overlook the Missouri River Valley, you’ll find wineries with captivating legacies and surprising wines, including Augusta Winery, Balducci Vineyards, Montelle Winery, Mount Pleasant Estates and Noboleis Vineyards.

Most of the wineries in the region entertain guests with live music, and all of them pour wines made in a range of styles with native and hybrid grapes such as Chambourcin, Norton, Vidal Blanc and Vignoles.

Augusta Winery is known for its Norton.
Photo courtesy of Augusta Winery

Mount Pleasant Estates, in particular, has a sprawling campus, which now features the same tickled pink paint as the original buildings from the 1860s. “When we bought it, the buildings were brown,” Don Simon, CEO of Missouri operations for the Hoffmann Family of Companies, explains. “Wineries are supposed to be a bit more festive, which is why we reverted to the original color.

“Mount Pleasant Estates honors the history of Augusta,” he continues, “while Augusta Winery focuses on the production of fine wines.” The latter has a small tasting room and outdoor wine garden.

Balducci Vineyards accommodates families, with a lot of room for kids to run, but the best views come after a climb up to Montelle Winery. From the sun-soaked terrace, perched on a hill, the verdant landscape extends are far as the eye can see. Plan your trip right, and you can catch one of the best sunsets in the Midwest from here, as well.

Augusta Winery, Balducci Vineyards, Montelle Winery and Mount Pleasant Estates encompass approximately 1,500 acres of vineyards – with 50 new acres planted every year – and more than a dozen buildings in downtown Augusta and the surrounding area.

In Augusta, Missouri, you can drive John Deere Gators through the vineyards.
Photo courtesy of the Hoffmann Family of Companies

Want to go behind the bottle? Book a guided tour of the vineyards, where you can drive your own John Deere Gator, learn about wine production at Augusta Winery and visit the storied cellars of Mount Pleasant Estates.

Spoiler alert: The cellars hold the only two wine barrels in the state that survived Prohibition. Prior to Prohibition, Missouri was the second-largest wine-producing state in the country, and it’s now working to regain its status in the wine world.

The cellars of Mount Pleasant Estates hold two wine barrels that survived Prohibition.
Photo courtesy of Mount Pleasant Estates

As you bounce through the vineyards at the beginning of the tour, listen for tidbits about the wine region and the grapes. In the 1860s, for instance, as a microscopic pest called phylloxera ravaged French vineyards, state entomologist Charles Riley discovered that the bug only ate the leaves of Missouri vines, not the roots. The state’s grapes were resistant to the worst of the affliction. So, cuttings were sent to be grafted onto the legendary French vines, saving the industry there.

Did you know that it takes five years for grapes to mature, and the roots grow as deep as the vines grow tall? You might also be impressed that the vines are hand-pruned – now that takes patience!

You’ll also learn that, in 2003, Missouri named Norton as the official state grape. As you bop from winery to winery, sample the Norton at each – we think that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the different experiences.

Augusta Winery is praised for its Norton, which has a rich bouquet of raspberry and black cherry with a hint of cigar. If you like dry white wine, this winery delights imbibers with Chardonel, Dry Muscat, Traminette and Vidal Blanc, as well.

Getting back on track with our hypothetical tasting, Balducci Vineyards produces a medium-bodied Norton, which is aged in oak barrels for 12 months to soften its tannins while creating a longer finish. At Montelle Winery, the full-bodied dry red wine has aromas and flavors of raspberry, mulberry, elderberry and a touch of toasty oak, while the Norton at Mount Pleasant Estates yields an inky, fragrant, plummy wine with a smooth, bourbon-flavored finish.

If you don’t want to drive between the wineries, hop on the complimentary wine trolley, which operates on Saturdays from noon to one hour before closing.

Root Food + Wine offers an elevated dining experience in Augusta, Missouri.
Photo courtesy of Root Food + Wine

Feeling peckish? Balducci Vineyards boasts St. Louis-style pizza and other Italian-inflected dishes; the Klondike Café at Montelle Winery offers an extensive menu with tasty bites such as baked Brie, caprese salads, French dip sandwiches and turkey-bacon-avocado wraps; and the Appellation Café at Mount Pleasant Estates crafts casual cuisine that perfectly complements the award-winning wines.

Beyond the wineries, you can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner at the White House Café. The chef’s special quiche with bacon, spinach and Feta, the fried chicken sandwich with pickled red onion, pickles and remoulade on a brioche bun and the Southern-style shrimp and grits are must-try meals.

For an elevated dining experience, Root Food + Wine serves a concise menu of snacks, starters, plates and sweets – think heirloom tomato tart, smoked vichyssoise, beef agnolotti and peaches with toasted meringue and pecan crumble – available à la carte or as a prix-fixe menu, while Botanical Tea Room serves traditional afternoon tea with a botanical twist.

Balducci Vineyards has a lot of outdoor space.
Photo courtesy of Balducci Vineyards

Recently, the Hoffmann Family of Companies, owned by real estate developers David and Jerri Hoffmann, who grew up across the Missouri River in Washington, Missouri, have been making changes to the town in an attempt to make Augusta a nationally renowned destination for wine-lovers.

The developer has acquired all the aforementioned wineries – except Noboleis Vineyards, which remains independently owned and operated – along with shops and other buildings, renovating and transforming them for a better visitor experience. In between wineries, peruse the new general store, where an eclectic mix of products – from bowties to typewriters to homestyle meals – will keep you guessing what’s around the next corner.

The Augusta Clothing Company is also worth a stop. Offering a handpicked collection of clothing and accessories curated by Jerri Hoffmann, the chic, sophisticated store is housed in a preserved building on Walnut Street that’s more than 150 years old.

A 12-hole championship golf course as well as a luxury hotel and spa are also in the works.

Miss Augusta, a luxury yacht, offers daily cruises on the Missouri River.
Photo courtesy of Miss Augusta

As you sip and savor, make time for a river cruise aboard Miss Augusta, the most elegant luxury yacht in Missouri.

The 105-foot Skipperliner yacht departs from Klondike Park, guiding passengers through Missouri wine country in style. The boat has three stories, including two enclosed, climate-controlled levels and a sun deck, where you can enjoy the breeze, photograph fall foliage, search for bald eagles or watch the sunset.

The daily public cruises will give you a new perspective of the Missouri River. On the narrated sightseeing cruises, you’ll be treated to a first-class experience, but if you want to further indulge, look into the lunch or dinner cruises. Miss Augusta also offers private charters for a variety of events – think memorable company outings, large family reunions or intimate marriage proposals.

“This is a one-of-a-kind experience,” Molly Dempsey, marketing and customer events manager of Miss Augusta, says. “There isn’t another luxury yacht in the country that’s doing what we’re doing, and I love seeing passengers’ faces when they step onto the boat. Miss Augusta is a really beautiful venue, and our cruises are just fun.”

Miss Augusta offers public lunch and dinner cruises on the Missouri River.
Photo courtesy of Miss Augusta

St. Louis has a wealth of entertainment, from historical sites to live music and world-class arts to exhilarating sports teams, and a day trip to Augusta will only enhance your visit. So, hop in the car and head to one of the most significant and spectacular wine regions in the country. Cheers!