Out & About with Amanda - Destination Augusta: Wines & Family!
Hermann, MO, is known as the “Napa Valley” of the Midwest, but just a short drive southeast is Augusta, which is definitely expanding Missouri’s appeal as a wine tourism destination. In June of 1980, Augusta was declared the first American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the United States. Its unique soil, microclimate, and history of wine production, dating to the German immigrants of the late 1800s, scooped this honor for Missouri ahead of California.
Augusta is a quaint, small, welcoming town and an amazing destination for anyone who loves wine. The best feature of this wine town is the Augusta wine trolley which transports visitors to and from four different wineries, each now owned by the Hoffmann family. The best part about the Augusta wine trolley is that it’s complimentary. The trolleys run during the hours the wineries are open and pick passengers up at each winery about every 30 minutes. During the summer months, both the wineries and trolleys have extended hours for the peak season. As a result, patrons can drink wine without having to worry about who will be the designated driver!
June is birthday month in my family, and Augusta seemed the perfect place to celebrate. We rented a cute house on Airbnb within walking distance from one of the wineries. There are several bed and breakfasts in town and hotels in nearby Washington. We invited a few aunts, uncles, and cousins along to help us celebrate.
Our birthday wine weekend started on Friday night at Noboleis Vineyards. This is the only winery in town where the trolley does not visit as Noboleis is not owned by the Hoffmann family like the other four. However, this does not mean it should be skipped. Noboleis is a five-minute drive outside of downtown. This winery offers flights of four wines served on a cute wooden paddle for $5. They also have their own line of canned wine seltzers. We chose to avoid the heat by snatching one of the few tables in the air-conditioning. Just outside, they have a sizable tented pavilion to offer visitors an escape from the sun. The pavilion overlooks the rolling hills that cradle stunning vineyards.
Saturday, was our trolley day. It was a sweltering day with the temperatures in the 90s, but we were excited to explore Augusta. We walked from our Airbnb a couple blocks down to Augusta Winery, where the trolley picked us up. Our first stop of the day: Balducci Vineyards. The countryside was beautiful as we rode to the wineries outside of town. Note this trolley does not have the party atmosphere experienced on the trolley in Hermann.
Balducci Vineyards is visible from the highway with its bright orange building accents and modern-looking barns. The beautiful outdoor wooden tasting bar greeted us as we stepped off the trolley. We couldn’t wait to taste all the Balducci wines and the refreshing wine slushies that came with a souvenir glass. They have a large, elegant, air-conditioned indoor seating area. At the center of the action is an adorable patio with outdoor games like cornhole and giant Connect 4. The knowledgeable bartenders recommended a wine based on my request for something similar to pinot grigio. Balducci has won the Missourian Reader’s Choice Award for best winery 14 years in a row, and its wines and environment make it evident why.
The second stop of the day was Montelle Winery. It has a party atmosphere. When we arrived, there was live music and a dance floor full of tipsy guests. Being only one winery deep, we chose to get a couple bottles of wine before participating in the festivities. There is no indoor seating at this winery, but there are trees and umbrellas to offer some shade on the bluff-top deck with breathtaking views. There’s food at the Klondike Café, but we selected a charcuterie board from the winery.
Montelle is the only winery in Missouri with its own distillery. My fiancé Jake was a great sport all day about trying wines with me, so I did a brandy tasting with him, and that is when the party started. For $15, we sampled four brandy shots. Jake loved it, but it was a little strong for me. About 15 minutes later, the band started playing some trending pop songs, and I was dragging my mom onto the dance floor. Their River White Blend wine was the perfect pair with an afternoon full of dancing and laughter.
Next up, the trolley dropped us off at Mount Pleasant Estates. This was the fanciest and most expensive of the four wineries, and when I did a tasting, I could see why. The outdoor patio has a gorgeous view, especially at sunset, overlooking the Missouri River Valley. It was surreal to sit on their patio listening to the live music while enjoying the stunning scenery and sparkling conversation with family. In addition, there was a wedding taking place on one edge of the property. The couple’s pictures that overlook the river valley and vineyard must be stunning. The tasting room at this location is super fancy and offers port shots out of chocolate glasses for just $4. The sommelier explained at length the process and flavors behind each of the wines he recommended.
Just down the hill was our fourth and final stop: Augusta Winery. This winery had the least expensive wines of them all, but was not lacking in taste or quality. It was the perfect wrap-up to our wine adventure. We spent the waning hours of our day reminiscing under the delightful pergola laced with greenery while a local band played music. It was a relaxing end to an unforgettable day filled with great wine and even better company.
Visiting this rural town is a unique experience and perfect for any occasion from birthdays to anniversaries and bachelorette parties. Make sure to get gas and groceries before arriving in Augusta. Both are a 20-minute trip outside of town. Keep the weather in mind. Summer months may be uncomfortable for heat-sensitive individuals. Take advantage of the MVP Winery program. Registered wineries in Missouri provide codes to enter on the MVP website for points. Points accumulate and can be redeemed for different wine-related prizes, experiences, and sweepstake entries.
All of the wineries offer wine tastings for $15, which includes a souvenir glass. Having to carry them around all day can be a hassle, but the wineries do not offer a cheaper tasting price without a wine glass, so safe to say Jake and I accumulated plenty of wine glasses. Taking the trolley is smart, and it’s free. Our second stop of the day, Montelle Winery, was my favorite of the trip, my favorite wines were from Mount Pleasant Estates, and my favorite wine would be Augusta Winery’s, seyval blanc.