Little did we know when we took a drive out to Augusta back in May of 2020 that there were big plans afoot to transform the town into a new “Napa Valley of Missouri.” But nonetheless, regardless of my opinion (which is “unless it’s for a toxic waste dump who turns down a $100 million investment for the St. Louis region?”), I thought it was right up my alley to document the sleepy town in the final year before the dramatic transformation began. Contributor Jeff Phillips and I visited late on Saturday afternoon right after the overcast skies broke over St. Charles County. We parked down along the bottom of the bluff line on Water Street. A new microbrewery, Good News Brewing Company, is operating right off the Katy Trail, and they are producing very good beer. We left and went over to the first street in town. There we spotted our first Hoffmann Real Estate sign on a building that looked to be a former depot or hotel.
The river actually used to come right up to Augusta, one of many towns founded along the Missouri or Mississippi, but like so many, they never really took off as major commercial centers. The wine industry, however, was a huge success. We need to remember that the vaunted Napa Valley in California was basically a creation of Robert Mondavi in the late Twentieth Century.
We went by this house as the streets climb quickly up towards the top of the bluffs. The original town was basically a grid of twenty-five blocks arranged in a square.
We got to the top, and more Hoffman Realty signs appeared on newly painted buildings. We definitely missed this the last time we were in town, if it had even happened yet.
And of course, when you get up to the top, almost on cue we encountered our first worshippers of the god of wine and merriment, Bacchus. Stumbling down the middle of the street with wine glass in hand, they let out a cheerful “Woo!” as they wandered in a zig-zag pattern. I have been dragged out to “Wine Country” on numerous occasions, and what most often sticks with me is not the quality of the wine, but the large number of people staggeringly drunk, vomiting or outright passed out on the ground in front of families with children at several wineries. It’d become sort of an ongoing joke to guess how many strangers I’d see make fools out of themselves in front of me whenever I went out there.
I know the owners of at least six bars, and all of them would have literally grabbed these people by the collars and thrown them out of the front door (I’ve seen one of them do it–that’s what owners who are concerned about losing their liquor licenses do). Let’s be honest here, “Wine Country” outside of St. Louis has gotten pretty stale and is in need of some major overhauling. Do you really think it could have been that easy for Hoffmann to buy out almost all of the wineries around Augusta? (KMOV reported June 1, 2021 that one refused to sell) Do you think maybe the winery owners saw the writing on the wall and decided it was time to just throw in the towel and cash in? Nobody was stumbling around acting like an idiot at Good News Brewing when we visited.
We also were interested in that there were still large gullies in town, where the natural topography of the bluffs were never filled in. I’m sure the original founders of Augusta wished they had the capital that was now about to be infused into their town. In most large cities, like St. Louis or even small county seats such as Milan, those gullies were long filled in. In a way, these huge gashes in the earth represent the failed ambitions of the early settlers of the town.
Instead, there is one lone house nestled in the valley.