2020 marks 40 years since the Augusta AVA (American Viticultural Area) was declared the first federally designated viticultural area in the United States.
In 1976, a wine-tasting test took place in Paris in which French judges chose blindly between French and California wines. The California wines won in every category, much to the surprise of French and British wine connoisseurs who until then had viewed French wineries as the greatest producers in the world. The “Judgement of Paris,” as it came to be known, sparked a newfound passion and pride for winemaking in the United States.
In the following years, the U.S. government began an initiative to designate viticultural areas throughout the country. Wineries were invited to apply for a license, and the government engaged in a strict selection process.
“They wanted small areas that were unique from everything surrounding them. They were looking to emulate what had been done in Europe,” says Augusta Winery owner and winemaker Tony Kooyumjian, explaining that Augusta met three major criteria that made it a viable candidate.
First, its glacial soils, formed 10,000 years ago during the last continental glacier, are unique for the area. Second, the Augusta AVA is surrounded by high ridges to the north and west and the Missouri River to the south — all of which contribute to warmer winter temperatures that allow grapevines to flourish. Finally, the area already possessed a rich history of winemaking dating back to the early 19th century when German influence made Missouri the second largest wine-producing state in the country.
In 1980, Augusta became the first area to be interviewed. A month after the hearing, it was awarded the distinction of being the first viticultural area in the United States. Napa Valley followed suit eight months after Augusta’s selection.
“We’ve celebrated that every 10 years,” says Kooyumjian.
In honor of the milestone, the local post office produces a special stamp that is available for just one day; people can bring in wine bottles, posters, letters and postcards to be stamped.
Because this year’s 40th anniversary plans were mostly sidelined due to pandemic constraints, the winery plans to continue the celebration in 2021. Additionally, a planned banquet dinner has been rescheduled for November 7, 2020.
Today, there are four wineries in the Augusta wine trail: Augusta Winery, Montelle Winery, Balducci Vineyards and Noboleis Vineyards. Angie Geis, marketing and advertising manager at Noboleis, explains the role the Augusta wine trail has played for the individual businesses.
“Being a part of that has a historical relevance, and you continue to be able to grow high-quality grapes that produce excellent wines,” says Geis. “It’s been wonderful to have that relationship between the wineries, to support each other and to raise awareness of our shared history.”