Just 9 days ago, on June 20th we celebrated the 36th anniversary of our nation formalizing its wine appellation system with the creation of Augusta AVA. In the United States, an AVA (or American Viticutural Area) is a designated wine-grape growing region distinguishable by geographic features, with boundaries defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) of the United States Department of the Treasury. This was the first such appellation created in all of North America that recognized the unique geography and historical significance of viticulture in the region. Most interestingly, this appellation was created a full 6 months before the next American Viticultural Area – Napa Valley.
The town of Augusta, Missouri was founded in the 1st half of the 19th century. It was originally known as Mount Pleasant, and played a significant role as a landing for riverboats along the Missouri River. The regions first winery (Mount Pleasant Winery) was founded by 2 German brothers named Georg and Frederich Münch. These early pioneers of the Missouri wine industry recognized the unique terroir left behind by flooding in the valley which caused the river to change course in 1872, and dried up the area’s riverboat landing which left a distinct soil type in the area between the town and the river. These men helped transform the Missouri wine industry into the 2nd largest in the country before prohibition, just behind California. In 1920, the 18th amendment was passed and prohibition became law. Wineries were forced to close, vineyards were abandoned, and only those few producers who made sacramental wine were able to survive. Although it only lasted 13 years, prohibition single handedly destroyed the American wine industry. It wasn’t until the 1976 Judgment of Paris that the industry regained some international acclaim for fine wine production, almost 60 years after the onset of prohibition.
In the late 1960’s, while Napa Valley was undergoing a bit of a renaissance, a French winemaker by the name of Lucien Dressel purchased the 10 acre Mount Pleasant Winery in Augusta, Missouri. Lucien dreamed about applying to the French government for AOC recognition (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée – the French system for Appellation Designation), based on Missouri’s status as a former French colony prior to the Louisiana Purchase of 1802. After being denied by the French government, Lucien decided to pursue a new designation within the United States. That of an American Viticultural Area. Lucien managed to beat every influential winemaker in the North Coast of California to the punch, and solidified Augusta, Missouri as the 1st AVA in the United States. Today there are over 230 recognized AVAs in the United States, some as large as 29,000 square miles.
While Napa Valley has gone on to become one of the most significant wine regions in the world, and is unquestionably the most significant in the United States, it will always be 2nd to Augusta, Missouri as a recognized AVA. Cheers to the pioneers of the Midwest!