Really, Is There A “Wine Country” Near St. Louis, Missouri?
Suppose you like to visit wineries and you are in Saint Louis, Missouri. What’s the possibility of finding a good group of wineries close enough to visit, and then return to St. Louis? And, how about doing this in one afternoon? What’s the possibility? 100%!
Look at the map below this paragraph. The town of Augusta, Missouri is marked with an “A,” located along highway 94 and in the middle of what is now officially called, the Augusta Wine Region. Notice the ruler icon in the lower left-hand corner showing the 5 mile/10 km increments for the map. The Augusta Wine Region is less than an hour drive from almost anywhere in St. Louis. (Note: All maps and most pictures in this posting can be enlarged by simply clicking on them. Your browser will load an enlarged picture in a new window.)
I live in St. Louis and have enjoyed Missouri wineries in this area, now known as the Augusta Wine Region, for over thirty years. When my wife and I started dating, thirty-four years ago, one of our first dates was to Mount Pleasant Winery in Augusta, Missouri. It is the oldest winery in the region. It was established in 1859, and is located in the heart of the Augusta Appellation Wine District. That district is the first in the United States, founded in 1980. For time comparison, Napa Valley, in California, was the second in 1983.
My wife and I spent the afternoon in the Augusta Wine Region on June 29, 2010. I took pictures at each of the nine “wine-stops” between Chandler Hill Winery (beginning) and Blumenhof Winery (end). Some of these pictures are provided for your viewing pleasure and to help give you an idea of what the Augusta Wine Region is like.
The distance from Chandler Hill (labeled “C” on the above map) to Blumenhof (labeled “B” on the above map) is 16 miles. The map below shows you the various wine-stops between them.
When looking at the map below, you can see the relative distances between all of the nine wine-stops that we encountered on June 29. Following the map, is a “hyper-texted” name of each wine-stop and some information that I hope you find interesting and useful. By clicking on the hyper-texted name of each stop (usually a winery), your web browser will open up the website for that particular wine-stop.
The rest of this post is designed to help you have a virtual driving tour of the Augusta Wine Region that my wife and I did on June 29, 2010. The wine-colored car separates each stop, so you will know when we are back on the road. :-)
Again, most pictures can be enlarged, if you click on them.
Our first stop is Chandler Hill Vineyards. On June 29, my wife and I arrived around lunch time and had sandwiches and a glass of wine on their “over-sized” deck.
Chandler Hill is one of the newest AND closest to St. Louis. It opened in 2008 and now features good food with nice facilities for eating – either inside or outside. They charge for tasting and you are not allowed to bring food or drink.
Here’s a little history of the land that the winery is on, quoted directly from their website. “In the early 1870s, a former slave traveled north from the Civil War-torn south and settled near Defiance, Missouri. Befriended by a family who lived on property next to that belonging to the family of Daniel Boone the freed man worked on their farm for many years and was married in the 1880s. Eventually, the family deeded him 40 acres of their land including a hill overlooking the beautiful Femme Osage Valley.”
“The man’s name was Joseph Chandler who died in 1952 at the age of 103. Chandler Hill Vineyards operates on the same property he once owned. The tasting room and winery stands on the site of Joseph Chandler’s modest cabin. During excavation for the winery building many century-old artifacts were uncovered including a shotgun, rifle, stove remnants, buttons and china. These storied relics of Joseph Chandler are on display at the winery. The stones from the original cabin foundation were also carefully removed and are being used as a feature at the winery.”
After having lunch, we left Chandler Hill and visited Wine Country Gardens. Until recently, we have been stopping in the Gardens primarily for buying plants. For example, my wife and I have seven beautiful Holly Bushes from Wine Country Gardens that we planted in our yard three years ago. Of course, it was nice to be able to taste wine before buying the bushes. :-)
Because of the nursery, if for no other reason, this stop in wine country is well worth it. This is true, even if you aren’t interested in purchasing plants. In some ways, it’s like a small botanical garden. And, you can taste and purchase wine!
The Wine Country Gardens has been growing each year since 1997. It started out as an overgrown farm and farmhouse and is now a large nursery, restaurant and wine garden. You may buy wine by the glass or bottle, but no Missouri wine is offered. They do not charge for wine tasting.
Here is a quote directly from their website: “Featured in “Better Homes and Gardens” our 42 acre nursery and farm provides a relaxing country atmosphere while offering a selection of over 80,000 perennials and flowering shrubs. Our lovely century old home over looks the beautiful Missouri River valley and is surrounded by many patios, ponds with waterfalls, swans and ducks, gift shops and display gardens. The Patio Café & Wine Garden is open daily to further enhance your experience.”
On June 29, we weren’t able to visit the Yellow Farmhouse Vineyard and Winery since it was Tuesday and they weren’t open. In the past, when I did visit, I was given a tour by the owner. The winery is small and I would classify it as a “boutique” winery.
Yellow Farmhouse Vineyard and Winery
I have been to the Yellow Farmhouse Winery only once since it opened a few years ago. I usually try to visit the wine country during the week and the Yellow Farmhouse is only open on the weekends. It’s a small winery located in the center of the small town of Defiance, Missouri. When I went, there was a charge for tasting, but the cost was waved if you purchased a bottle or more.
Here is information about the winery, quoted from their website: “Yellow Farmhouse Vineyard & winery began as an idea in the late 1990′s. Dale Rollings, an avid “basement winemaker”, having lived and worked in nearby St Charles for over thirty-five years, had visited the wineries of the Missouri River Valley many times and recognized that the wines made there were improving with each passing harvest. It was well-known that vineyards were flourishing along the Missouri river from Defiance to Hermann, and that Highway 94 was becoming a veritable ‘route du vin’. Each weekend, more and more visitors made the journey to the vineyards and wineries that dotted the hills along the river.”
“In 2003, Dale acquired the first tract of what would become Yellow Farmhouse Vineyard & Winery. It was then a dilapidated bed-and-breakfast, but the hillside was perfect for growing grapes. In the spring of 2005 the first Norton vines were planted. The site proved to be just right.”
As mentioned before, we did not stop in the Yellow Farmhouse, so our next stop was Sugar Creek Winery. We tasted, had a nice visit with Ken, one of the owners and bought a bottle of wine. Ken mentioned that we would have a drink for my birthday, the next time I visited. What a nice and friendly place Sugar Creek Winery is! It consistently provides me with the greatest positive “wine country” experience in the Augusta Wine Region!
Sugar Creek Winery is one of my favorites. My wife and I consider the owners, Ken and Becky Miller, our friends. We have known them since the mid-nineties when they bought and opened Sugar Creek. Tasting is free and picnic baskets are welcomed – all drinks must be purchased at the winery.
Here is a direct quote from Sugar Creek Winery’s website about their tradition: “Never mind that hilly, wooded area in West Kirkwood Missouri known as Sugar Creek, we’ve found our own version of sweetness on the bluffs of wine country in St. Charles County. We Kirkwood expatriates made our big move to Missouri’s vineyard mountains in 1994. We christened this happy hideaway Sugar Creek Winery, and we continue to have plenty of visitors from our old hometown of Kirkwood and the surrounding environs to keep us company. We really love it here. Every morning we wake up to fantastic scenery and a fascinating and growing business. It’s a business that attracts some really special people – people who are looking to relax and enjoy the product of our vineyards.”
I think you can tell, from the previous paragraph, how nice and friendly the ambiance is at the winery.
After leaving Sugar Creek, we drove to Montelle Winery. On the way to Montelle, you climb a rather steep hill by a quarry known as Klondike Quarry. The hill is steep and winding and has a couple sharp curves that together was known in the sixties as “dead-man’s curve.” It’s much safer now. :-)
Montelle Winery was one of the first wineries that my wife and I went to in 1976. It was a lot smaller during the 70’s and 80’s, but has always had one of the best scenic views. Tasting is free, but you can’t bring any food or beverage – all must be bought there.
The winery has a long history. Here is a direct quote from the winery’s website: “The Augusta region was nationally known for its wine during the 19th century, but Prohibition halted the state’s winemaking for decades. Then, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a few pioneering souls began to refurbish the old vineyards and winery buildings. One of these pioneers was Clayton Byers, who founded Montelle Vineyards in 1970. The winery was later purchased in 1998 by present owner and wine maker Tony Kooyumjian.”
“The secret to our success in producing outstanding wines is our vineyards. The Augusta area was chosen as the first viticulture area in the United States because of our unique soils, microclimate, and history, and it is our mission to produce wines that exemplify the uniqueness of this eleven square mile area. Our philosophy is to farm our vineyards with a respect for the land and the environment. As a result, our wines are fresh, fragrant, focused, and well-balanced, but most of all, express the uniqueness of our vineyards. It is this attention to detail that has enabled us to produce wines that are continuously recognized for their uniqueness and superior quality.”
“In addition to our wines, Montelle is also the first winery in Missouri with a distillery. We produce four kinds of brandy: apple, peach, cherry and grape (grappa).”
The next stop on our wine country tour is Augusta Winery, located in the town of Augusta. It’s a sister winery to Montelle.
Augusta Winery is owned by Tony Kooyumjian, who also owns Montelle Winery. He bought both wineries in 1988. In my opinion, Augusta Winery has good wine and is reasonably priced, especially if you buy bottles to take-home. Tasting is free and they do have a nice outdoor area to sit. Sorry, I have no pictures of their newly expanded outdoor area but the home page on their website does offer some.
Here is a quote from Missouri Wine Country about Augusta Winery: “Augusta Winery makes fine wines in a variety of styles, from dry European to sweet dessert wines, all from vineyards dating back over 100 years. Located in the first federally designated viticulture area in the U.S., Augusta Winery vints its wines in small quantities so special care may be given to each lot. Winner of the Governor’s Cup for Best Missouri Wine in 2004, 2006, & 2007, enjoy a bottle of our award-winning wines with locally produced cheeses and sausages on our wine terrace. The winery also features a tasting room, gift shop, and custom-labeled wine for your special occasions. Come our and enjoy our NEW terrace, the Augusta Wine & Beer Garden! It features a spectacular 10-foot tall grape arbor and a serene water fountain.”
Also, in the town of Augusta, is one of the oldest wineries in the United States, Mount Pleasant Winery. It’s only a block from Augusta Winery, but is much bigger. We could have easily walked from the Augusta Winery to Mt. Pleasant Winery.
Mt. Pleasant was the first winery that my wife and I visited over thirty years ago. As mentioned before, one of our first dates was at this winery. It has grown to over ten times the size it was in the 70’s. They charge for tasting and do not allow any outside food or beverages.
This is a current picture of the patio at Mt. Pleasant Winery where we shared that first “wine date” and a bottle of wine, thirty-fours years ago.
Here is a direct quote about the history of Mt. Pleasant from their website: “Mount Pleasant Winery was founded in 1859 in Augusta, Missouri; America’s first designated wine district. George Munch, who came with his brother, Frederick, from Germany, established a vineyard and winery in an area that reminded him of his homeland. From the beauty of the topography to the incredible potential for creating excellent wines, they chose Mount Pleasant. The original cellars were completed in 1881 and were built from the wood and abundant limestone in the area.”
“When Prohibition hit in 1920 the winery was forced to close and all of the vines were removed. In 1966, the winery was reopened and the vineyards were replanted with self-rooted vines and classic grafted European varieties.”
“In 1980, the Augusta Appellation was created and became America’s First Wine District.”
“Today, the winery grows 16 grape varieties on 85 acres and the original cellars are still used to age the “estate bottled” wines and our international award-winning Augusta Ports.”
After Mount Pleasant and the town of Augusta, our tour continued along highway 94 to Louis P. Balducci Vineyards. We usually refer to it as just, “Balducci’s.”
Louis P. Balducci Vineyards is another of my favorite wineries, not only for the wine, food and scenery, but also because I met my wife at Balducci’s Winefest restaurant in West St. Louis County in 1976. This was long before the winery was open, but one of the owners of the winery (Rick Balducci), also is an owner and founder of the West St. Louis County restaurant. Tasting at the winery is free and you may bring your own food, but they do have some of the best food for sale in the Augusta Wine Region.
Here is a direct quote from the winery’s website that illustrates how welcome you are made to feel when you visit.
“Welcome to Louis P. Balducci Vineyards and Winery, Experience the sights, sounds and tastes of rustic Italia!”
“Nestled on 76 acres in the rolling hills of Augusta, Missouri, you’ll find Louis P. Balducci Vineyards and Winery. Family owned and operated since 1987, the 100 year-old farm and vineyard is situated on picturesque grounds that offer a truly relaxing atmosphere like no other.”
“Come sip our premium Missouri wines or select beers, dine on sumptuous, award-winning food from selected family recipes, or simply “go casual” and bring a blanket & your own picnic basket to enjoy on our spacious grounds. You’ll take delight in the sounds of the very best music our area has to offer. And your experience is complemented by a second-to-none staff that makes you feel like famiglia! (family)”
And, now we are at the last winery on our tour of the Augusta Wine Region – Blumenhof Vineyards. As mentioned earlier, we had a glass of wine at the first winery, Chandler Hill. After that glass, we only tasted at the other wineries. Before we left St. Louis for our visit to wine country, we had arranged to meet my sister at Blumenhof. She lives relatively close to Dutzow, Missouri, where Blumenhof is located. She joined us for a tasting, a bottle of wine and a relaxing good time.
Blumenhof is another winery that I have been going to for over 30 years. It has always had good wine at a reasonable price. The atmosphere is created first, by the chalet style of the winery and second, by the strong German theme. In fact, I have been there, more than once, when they had for entertainment an “OOM-PA-PA” group (band with a tubist)! Tasting is free and you may bring your own food.
Here is a direct quote from their website: “Blumenhof Winery is located on Highway 94 in the historic village of Dutzow, Missouri’s oldest German settlement, founded in 1832. Blumenhof, which in German means “Court of Flowers” takes its name from the Blumenberg family’s ancestral farm in northwestern Germany. German heritage is also expressed in the winery’s architecture and in the warm friendly ambiance that invites visitors to “stop… and smell the Blumen.”
After the bottle of wine and a long visit with my sister, we drove back to St. Louis. In about an hour, after leaving Blumenhof, we were sitting in our living room and reminiscing about the wonderful afternoon we spent in the Augusta Wine Region. We had comfortably visited seven wineries and one nursery/restaurant which serves wine and looks like a botanical garden, ALL in one afternoon. Of course another winery was closed, but it would have been possible, on the weekend, to have nine wine-stops. Wow!
Well, I hope you enjoyed the tour. In the future, I plan on doing more posts on the Augusta Wine Region. For the next three or four that I do, I will concentrate on some specific characteristics of one or two wineries and hopefully, give you the reader, more of the feel and/or ambiance that I experienced while visiting them.
So, is there a “wine country” near St. Louis, Missouri? I say YES! What do you think?
I really enjoyed this article on the Augusta Wine Country. This was professional work and I hope it spreads the word for such a beautiful drive through ole Missouri.
Thanks Bill. I really appreciate the feedback.
Really nice article which I will pass along to organizers of the 2013 St. Louis International Magnolia Society meeting for pre/post trip ideas. 190 Norton vineyards now in 22 states, but none compare overall to Missouri’s offerings at this time. We’ve tasted 79 different Norton wines so far with favorites being Missouri’s Montelle, Blumenhoff, Chandler Hill, Heinrickshaus, Robller, Stone Hill’s Cross J, Adam Puchta and Virginia’s Cooper Vineyard.
An excellent overview of a good number of Missouri wineries. I enjoyed it – I will have to try Sugar Creek and maybe give Balducci another chance; I wasn’t that taken with it on my first visit. Mount Pleasant was my favorite decades ago, but the ambience has changed completely with the new building and it’s lost something. I like Montelle, but love the Blumenhof, it’s my favorite in the area. Good wine at good prices, very friendly people, unpretentious but attractive setting. As for Chandler Hill, well, that reminded me more of an upscale conference center than a vineyard with any character. I did not like it.
I look forward to future articles from you. Thanks for doing it!