By Trish Muyco-Tobin
Augusta’s pedigree as a wine-growing region dates back to the first half of the 19th century. It’s been said that the oldest vineyard in the United States can be found in here. In fact, Augusta was designated the first American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1980; the most famous region in the country – Napa Valley – was designated a year later in 1981.
Located just west of St. Louis, the 15-square-mile town overlooks the Missouri River Valley. It was founded in 1836 by Leonard Harold, who was born in Virginia and fought in the War of 1812. For his service in the war, he was awarded a land grant, allowing his family to settle in the area. He laid out the nine-block town of Mt. Pleasant (now known as Augusta), chosen for its good river landing, on part of the land he owned. Harold later added 15 blocks to the west, positioning the town parallel to the river.
It was also around this time that German immigrants began to settle in the area, and soon discovered that the land was ideal for growing grapes for wine-making. By the latter part of the 1800s, Augusta’s hundreds of acres of vineyards contributed to making Missouri the top wine-producing state in the U.S. at that time.
Wine remains among the biggest draws to Augusta, but these days, the town is also a destination for outdoor recreation on the Katy Trail, quaint specialty shops and art.This month, the 16th annual Augusta Plein Air Art Festival will take place from April 18 to 29. The festival offers art lovers a rare opportunity to interact with the artists as they interpret the scenery around them on canvas. Plein Air, which means “in the open air,” is an art technique created outdoors in real time. The event showcases Augusta in its full spring splendor, among the acres of vineyards, its rolling hills and the river bluffs.
AUGUSTA PLEIN AIR ART FESTIVAL
April 18 to 29
Enjoy daily “Paint Out” competitions (and wine-sampling) at local wineries and businesses, where more than 130 artists begin creating artwork in the morning and finish in time for judging around lunchtime. Following the competition, artwork will be displayed and available for purchase.
Saturday, April 21
“People & Places of Augusta” theme (judging begins at 5:30 p.m.)
Thursday, April 26
“Life on the Farm” theme (judging begins at 7 p.m.)
*For each competition, the artwork will be displayed and available for purchase immediately after the winner is announced.
For locations and a complete schedule of events, visit augustapleinair.com
IN AND AROUND AUGUSTA
The country’s longest “Rails to Trails” project, the 240-mile Katy Trail winds along Augusta with a few worthwhile stops along the way. It’s a 29-mile journey east to St. Charles, where you’ll find a number of B&Bs and landmarks with historical interest, as well as a café and brewery, near Frontier Park.
Our preferred route is to go west about 8 miles from Augusta to Dutzow, where near the trailhead you’ll discover one of our favorite stops: the Dutzow Deli & Restaurant. The menu has the most comforting of comfort foods like homemade soup, burgers, pot roast, catfish, and everything you need for a down-home breakfast. But that doesn’t mean the selections don’t get adventurous. Try the Mango Club, the Naked Piggy and the Sloppy Cow. Leave room for dessert, with fresh-baked cinnamon rolls and pies.
When it comes to wineries, there is a good crop of them in Augusta. Our favorites include the award-winning Sugar Creek Winery. Family owned and operated, the winery was established in 1994 by a St. Louis-area couple whose son is now its winemaker and director of operations. Sugar Creek’s Cynthiana (Norton) is outstanding, with a list of awards to prove it. The Chambourcin, which is most similar to pinot noir, is also not be missed. sugarcreekwines.com
Another worthwhile stop while in Augusta is Noboleis Vineyards. Relatively new to the Augusta wine scene, the property is perched atop a magnificent panorama of grapevines, farmland and wide, open space. Try the Vidal Blanc or the Dry Rosé, along with selections from the café menu, including house-made soup, pizza and appetizers. noboleisvineyards.com