St. Charles County is known for many things—from serving as the starting point for the Lewis and Clark expedition long ago to being one of the fastest growing counties in Missouri today. We also are known for our beautiful historic wine country, and I’d like to share with you the history of how it came to be the flourishing area it is today.
In 1821, Leonard Harold, a settler from Virginia of English descent, purchased over 300 acres of land from the U.S. Government along the Missouri River in southwest St. Charles County. Harold grew tobacco and other crops and realized his property would make an excellent boat landing. He applied to the St. Charles County seat for a license and then created the town of Mount Pleasant in 1836, which was renamed Augusta in 1855. Harold sold his land to a Bavarian immigrant named Christian Knoernschild in 1854, who added vineyards to the property and became one of the founders of the Augusta Wine Company. By the mid to late 1800s, Augusta was inhabited mostly by German immigrants, many of whom had vineyards on their properties and made their own wine.
In 1859, two of these immigrants, brothers Georg and Friedrich Muench, founded Mount Pleasant Winery in Augusta and planted vineyards that took advantage of the rich soil in the area. The brothers were extremely successful and were able to ship their wine to Chicago and beyond. Later, flooding in the Missouri River valley caused the river to change course in 1872, drying up the area’s riverboat landing and leaving a distinct soil type between the town and the river that was even better for planting and grapes than it was before.
In 1920, Prohibition hit, and it had a dramatic effect on the area, causing the closure of local wineries and the uprooting of vineyards. Prohibition ended in 1933, but it was not until the 1960s that attention was brought back to Augusta. Various individuals in the Augusta area planted vineyards and made wines successfully due to its distinct soil, climate, and elevations of the vineyards. According to Wikipedia’s Augusta AVA, on Oct. 16, 1978, Clayton W. Byers and Lucian W. Dressel petitioned to establish the Augusta AVA as the first federally approved American Viticultural Area. They were granted the status on June 20, 1980, just eight months prior to the Napa Valley AVA in northern California. Since that time, there have been award-winning wines coming from local wineries here in St. Charles County. Along with Mr. Byers, the winemakers instrumental in resurrecting Augusta wine country were Lucian Dressel and Tony Kooyumjian. Because of their foresight, southwest St. Charles County’s wineries and vineyards are on the map! While no longer in the wine industry, the sixth generation of the Knoernschild family now operates Centennial Farms in Augusta, which has become a huge attraction for its orchards.
I bring you this bit of history to commend the hard-working pioneers of St. Charles County’s wine country who persevered in making this beautiful area of our community what it is today.