The Missouri Rhine Valley, otherwise known as the heart of Missouri Wine Country, is the area along the Missouri River between St. Charles and Hermann. It was the German researcher and explorer, Gottfried Duden who gave the area this name in a book he published in 1829 after extensively researching and exploring the area. The book gave romantic and glowing descriptions of the lower Missouri River Valley between St. Louis and Hermann, Missouri. It’s believed his book encouraged many Germans to immigrate to the state, resulting in more than 38,000 Germans settling in the lower Missouri River Valley between 1830-1860.
During this time frame, the German Settlement Society in Philadelphia decided to leave the city to establish a colony where only the German language and customs would be practiced and preserved. They too moved to the Missouri River Valley and founded the town of Hermann. The town’s name is derived from a German folk hero who led a battle against the Romans in 9 AD. (Hermann will later become the state’s second American Viticultural Area (AVA) and a popular wine destination.)
FUN FACT: The settlers of Hermann doubled the size of the town’s roads because they believed it would one day be larger than Philadelphia.
The German settlers brought their love of wine and the Rhine to the Missouri River Valley. The first wine was produced in the town of Hermann in 1846 at Stone Hill Winery, still in existence today. The town of Augusta soon followed the grape-growing business, with so many local growers the town formed the first cooperative wine making effort in the Missouri River Valley, the Augusta Wine Company. In 1889 Mount Pleasant Winery was founded in Augusta.
The Missouri River Valley grew to become the second largest wine producing state in the United States, prior to the 18th Amendment, which enacted National Prohibition – the ban of alcoholic beverages. (Ohio was the first largest wine producing state at the time.) When Prohibition took effect in 1919, government agents forcibly removed vines from the local growers and wineries, along with destroying their wine making equipment.
When the 21st Amendment was put into place, repealing Prohibition in 1933, little remained of the wine industry in Missouri. High liquor taxes and license fees lingered for decades preventing the wine industry from truly reestablishing itself. Minus a few. In 1965 some of Missouri’s oldest wineries began trying to restore the region. Stone Hill Winery began operating again in 1965 and St James in 1970. The families that opened these wineries were instrumental in the creation of the Missouri Wine and Grape Program in the 1980’s. The program helped establish a new tax on wine and provided the establishment of the Missouri Wine and Grape Program.
This new group also helped to make Missouri the home to the country’s first designated American Viticultural Area (AVA). The Augusta AVA in Missouri was federally recognized as an AVA on June 20, 1980. Seven California districts and one in Oregon had filed applications with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; however, the honor went to the 15 square mile area surrounding Augusta, Missouri. The bureau cited the unique soil, climate and wines, as well as Augusta’s long history as one of America’s oldest and foremost grape and wine districts. Napa Valley was the second AVA named after Augusta on February 27, 1981.