American wine history is packed with unexpected turns and hand-of-fate outcomes. Our population has thirsted for wine since the founding fathers sipped Madiera and Thomas Jefferson’s agrarian pursuits inspired a true American wine.
History isn’t complete without the Wente “mother clone” in Livermore Valley or the Judgement of Paris in Napa (with some Sonoma fruit, but that’s another story). I’ve read that New Mexico was the site of the first American vineyards and I’ve followed the prosperity of hybrids from American universities, making it possible to cultivate wine in every state of the union.
Many people, despite the fact that they are told to expect the unexpected, are still surprised to find that the first officially recognized American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the United States was awarded to Augusta, MO. 35 miles from Saint Louis along the verdant bluffs of the Missouri River Valley, this growing region is home to approximately 15 wineries. The tone is peacefully Midwestern — cozy communities and farmland dressed in nature along ride-em-slowly roads.
I had the opportunity to visit Augusta last fall and was impressed by the festive atmosphere and enthusiastic crowds. If you haven’t discovered Augusta, you might want to get in line — people love these wineries.
According to the Economic Impact of Missouri Wine and Wine Grapes Report 2013 (most recent available from Missouri Wine and Grape Board), the Missouri wine industry provides nearly 15,000 jobs and is the 14th largest in the U.S. Approximately 950,000 tourists popped into Missouri wineries in that same year. Also according to the report, “Based on our estimates, wineries and growers throughout the state of Missouri have donated approximately $521,000 to charities in 2013.” That’s not exclusive to Augusta, but it is a statement on the winemaking and wine tourism climate of the Show-Me State.
The region relies heavily on hybrids — but that’s no surprise, considering the Midwestern climate. Vignoles does particularly well there, a Riesling-like, aromatic white with an impressive range. Chardonell, (really exceptional in Augusta), Seyval Blanc, Traminette and Vidal Blanc make up the white wine guard.
Pairing to try:Noboleis Vineyards Dry Vignoles with Grilled Zucchini Salad with Mozzarella and Dill
Midwestern gardens put out lots of Zucchini in July and this recipe heats up the grill with the cool balance of dill, also abundant this time of year. Delicious when served with grilled bread and fresh extra virgin olive oil. Note: one of my favorite olive oil shops, Di Olivas, is in nearby St. Charles, Missouri — visitors to Augusta simply must shop and have dinner in St. Charles, a Lewis and Clark site of immense historical value.
Norton, that classic American red standard, is commonly found in Augusta vineyards — a dry red of dark berry inclinations, Norton does well when exhibiting oak. Chambourcin, Catawba, St. Vincent, Cynthiana and even Concord are in Augusta vineyards.
Pairing to try:Montelle Winery Norton with Summer Squash and Basil Pasta
To put some teeth into this dish — as Norton begs for — add a bunch of freshly-grated parmesan cheese to the finished plate. The thing about living in the Midwest is that basil is one of THE summertime smells. We grow it, we eat it, we love it. Summer squash vines give generously in July and Midwestern gardeners are always looking for creative ways to use it. Of course — wine pairing!
Wine Pairing Weekend: Wine from Where?
Augusta, Missouri is only one of the treasures of lesser-known wine regions. This month our Wine Pairing Weekend group introduces readers to their tucked-away wine-growing corners of the world.
Join us on Saturday, July 14, 2018 at 10 am central time to learn about these spots. Look for our hashtag, #WinePW. Plan your next wine country vacation or summer wine purchase on the advice of these seasoned wine writers:
- Jade from Tasting Pour is sharing “Cauliflower Rice Risotto and Brandborg Gewurztraminer”.
- Cam of Culinary Adventures with Camilla has “A Few Firsts with the Infinite Monkey Theorem: From Colorado + From a Can”.
- Lori of Dracaena Wine talks about how “Bi-coastal Life Gets Confusing… Thank Goodness for Wine”.
- David over at Cooking Chat shares “Slow Cooker Honey Mustard Chicken Thighs with Wine Pairings”
- Nicole at Somm’s Table is “Cooking to the Wine: Scallops and Mint Pea Risotto with Macari Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc”
- Lauren, The Swirling Dervish answers the question “What Pairs with New Jersey Wine? Everything!”
- Here at L’Occasion we are all about “Midwestern Gardens and Missouri Wine: America’s First AVA”.
- Gwendolyn of Wine Predator invites us to “Ventura County: Ghost Wineries Be Gone!”
- Jane from Always Ravenous says “When in Georgia Drink Frogtown Wines”
- Cindy of Grape Experiences is telling us to “Go Greek; Cinnamon Lamb Stew and Limniona/Xinomavro from Karditsa”
- And our host Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm is “Chilling Out with Green Barn Winery”.
15 thoughts on “Midwestern Gardens and Missouri Wine: Augusta, America’s First AVA”
There is also Norton and Vignoles in New Jersey. I guess the colder weather there also makes them favorable grapes.
On my list is New Jersey wines. Cheers!
Love this article Jill. I had no idea MO had any wineries let alone the first AVA. How interesting. I have to believe the wines there are similar to ours in Michigan. Many of the same grapes are used
Around about 1975 I was driving in Missouri, headed to a conference in Lake of the Ozarks. Along the route I came upon St. James Winery, and dropped in to taste. Given my then mostly French wine palate I likely would not have made the stop, but happily my interest was peaked by reading Leon Adams’ excellent work on North America’s wine history, published in 1973. In it he mentions that Missouri wine production began in 1823, and by 1866 passed Ohio to become the second largest wine growing state in the Union.
Alas, then came Prohibition, and we virtually had to re-create what had been a vibrant industry.
What an interesting layer — I haven’t experienced St James Winery, so I’ll look into it and Leon James and his work regarding the region. Thanks for reading.
I had Norton from Missouri years ago at my first Texsom. I did not know the history of the region and Augusta AVA. Thank you for sharing.
How fun. Someone lost a bet with me once on what was the first AVA. He started it.
It is surprising — I think many would lose that bet!
I didn’t know anything about Missouri wine. Now I’m curious to find a bottle and give it a try! Thanks for sharing.
I hadn’t had much until my visit last fall. I bet many of them sell online. Thanks Lisa!
Interesting post Jill. I too had no idea that Missouri received the first official AVA in the United States. States that you would think couldn’t produce wines do, just different varieties. Winemaking continues to evolve in the U.S. and with global warming, I think winemaking in the U.S. and worldwide will continue to change.
So interesting! I wouldn’t have guessed that Missouri had such a thriving and interesting wine region. Vignoles is a grape I hadn’t heard of, let alone try!
Glad I could draw your attention to this spot and these wines David!