Big Dreams For Missouri’s Augusta Wine Region From Investor With Local Ties
Think Napa Valley, but in Missouri.
A couple originally from Washington, Missouri, is buying up businesses and buildings near their hometown with the goal of converting it into the country's next big wine region.
“I think it will very much become a Napa-like environment,” said David Hoffmann, who along with his wife, Jerri, operate the Hoffmann Family of Companies.
They began pumping more than $100 million into the Augusta area late last year.
So far they've acquired four wineries, six vineyards and more than a dozen buildings and other businesses to carry out their vision of raising the area's profile, while maintaining the charm of a small town in the rolling hills of St. Charles County.
"We have zero plans to knock anything down," Hoffmann said about the buildings they have purchased. "We're just restoring them back to their natural beauty, I think. And that's really what we are kind of known for."
He brings plenty of experience in revitalizing communities after completing similar projects in Naples, Florida; Winnetka, Illinois, and Avon, Colorado.
The wine industry is at the heart of Hoffmann's plans for Augusta, but a big-pocketed investor coming into a rural Missouri town has caused some trepidation.
"To make a complete change from Augusta to Napa is a pretty big demand," said business owner Joe Brazil, who represents the area on the St. Charles County Council.
He said there hasn't been a lot of information on some of the company's bigger plans, and he wonders if they're following all the zoning procedures. Hoffmann counters they’ve been as forthcoming as possible and haven’t avoided any local government approval procedures.
Still, Brazil knows the town could use a shot in the arm.
As a county council member, he raises questions about public hearing procedures and the removal of trees to improve winery views. But as an area businessman, he understands how important the Hoffmanns’ plans could be to the local economy.
"Do you think that this Hoffmann experience is going to be good for Augusta? The answer would be yes. Do you think this Hoffmann experience will be bad for Augusta? The answer would be yes," he said.
For some, it was clear that the small town would die on the vine without change.
"I remember leaving work on a very busy October Saturday and all of the downtown commercial businesses were either closed up or permanently closed," Chuck Dressel recalled, "and I thought this is a bad sign."
Dressel’s family had run the Mount Pleasant winery since the early 1990s. He said three weeks after he noticed all the closed businesses, Hoffmann started buying properties.
He said while the family shed a few tears in the decision to sell, it was the right move to make. And he’s stayed on as manager.
"I wanted to be a part of it,” Dressel said. "I wanted to see, you know, this dream and these visions of a greater Augusta coming to light."
That dream is shared by Vic Brown. He operates Gallery Augusta, an art and furniture shop in the heart of the town.
“I felt like the town was dying,” he said, while adding it’s important that the revitalization is not happening through a series of small steps.
“To have an entity that has an overall view, that wants to pull it all together as much as it can, I think is going to be a positive thing.”
Hoffmann said his companies are used to moving quickly.
“When we take on a project it’s not something that’s going to be planned out and happen five or 10 years from now,” he said. “It’s going to be done in months, not years.”
The gorgeous scenery and attachment to the area where he and his wife grew up were factors in the decision to invest in Augusta.
But David Hoffmann’s vision boils down to the bottom line. “We saw a real, unique business opportunity,” he said.
Being from the area, he added, is just “the icing on the cake.”