AUGUSTA, Mo. — David and Jerri Hoffmann own properties and businesses all across the country. But it’s the view along a Missouri countryside that they say is one of the best around.
“They call the new view at Montelle [Winery] ‘Halfway to heaven,’” David said.
He and his wife had just pulled up to the winery in Augusta — one of several properties their Hoffmann Family of Companies has recently purchased — while on a phone interview for a recent episode of the Abby Eats St. Louis podcast. Hoffmann said people were, at first, skeptical when he recently took down some trees to clear the way for the view.
“That concerned people until they saw it and they go, ‘Wow, this is unbelievable,’” he explained. He even sent the podcast team a photo of that view, showing rolling hills, farmland and the Missouri River, which peeked out between the lines of trees.
While it’s always their goal to impress locals and visitors when developing areas — they’ve done it in Naples, Florida, along with cities in Colorado and Illinois — the Hoffmanns said this project is personal.
“This place is in our hearts,” Jerri said.
Getting back to their roots … and buying up new ones
Before they were millionaire developers investing and making money by transforming businesses and communities, they were a couple of kids from Washington, Missouri.
The couple grew up in WashMo. They’ve been together since they were 15 and have been married for almost 49 years.
“We were born and raised here,” Jerri said fondly.
“I love Missouri,” David added.
It’s one of the reasons they’re so invested in the Augusta project, both with their pocketbooks and their hearts. They’re looking to turn the St. Louis area’s winery scene into a national destination, promising to invest $100 million into various ventures, from riverboats to trolleys, to a golf course, hotel and special events venue. Along the way, they’ve purchased five wineries and seven vineyards. Their properties total nearly 900 acres in the Washington area.
“I think my attraction to this was we grew up here. I’m usually not as involved in these projects as I am,” David said, adding that they just bought a house in the area, so they plan on spending plenty of time among the vineyards. “I think the countryside of Missouri is just beautiful. I really do.”
Change isn’t always easy
One of the other things that drew the Hoffmanns to the Augusta area is the people.
“The people here are incredibly friendly,” David said. “I’ve seen people I haven’t seen for 50 years come out to our vineyards and wineries to say hello. And they’re very supportive of that part of it. There’s no amount of money in the world that can match that.”
But staying true to the Missouri motto, David said a lot of locals have been taking a “show me” kind of approach with all the plans in the works.
“I think whenever you see somebody buy that much property quickly, I think it’s just natural that people have a wait-and-see attitude,” he said.
So far, they said most people are happy with the transformations underway, but they did receive one complaint from an Augusta resident.
“There might be some discussion about some of the paint colors, but with the paint colors, I think until they see the full palette of how the whole community comes together, it's difficult to judge them one building at a time,” David said. “That the only negative comment I heard was about a color ... And then when the building was completed, that same person said, 'You know, I was wrong.'”
The Hoffmanns said they are especially drawn to restoring old buildings.
“We’re bringing them back to their original grandeur. We don’t tear anything down, we restore. And that’s pretty unique in the developing world,” David said of how they plan to keep Augusta’s small-town charm while building up businesses.
“It really is a fun, exciting, rewarding project,” Jerri added. “I think the people take this as a joy. I think the people of the city and the people of Missouri, I think they’ll be proud when they come out and see these things come to life again.”
‘This will be a national destination’
While the Hoffmanns want to impress locals and ensure the town keeps its charm, they also want the wine to taste just as good. David said Missouri wines don’t get enough credit and some of them can go stem-to-stem with the varieties out in California.
“I think the products in all reality are better than their reputation, if I could say that candidly. I think that some of the products do compete with significant wines that are better known in Napa,” David said.
But he’s not naive to the reputation that Missouri wines can’t stack up.
“We know that that's some of the commentary, especially with the, you know, quote-unquote wine snobs. But that's OK. I think we know what we're doing. And I think this product is going to be exceptional,” he said.
The Hoffmanns said working to overcome preconceived notions by ramping up production at their wineries — which include Balducci Vineyards, Montelle Winery, Augusta Wine Company and Mount Pleasant Estates — and bringing in state-of-the-art equipment. And they plan to do more storage of their wine and aging in barrels.
“I think our wine is going to surprise everybody,” David said. “I want people to rave about Missouri. We’re going to be known for our wine.”
With the goal of putting Augusta on the national wine map, they want people to come for the wine and stay for Missouri’s scenery.
“It's not just going to be people from suburban St. Louis who come out to have a glass of wine on a weekend. When it's all said and done, you have people flying in from all over the country to see this. And if we do it right, we may be lucky enough to say coming in from all over the world to see that special, the sheer breathtaking beauty of this place,” David said.
“We’re going to knock the socks off the wine and the wine experience.”
You can hear more of this story on the Abby Eats St. Louis episode titled "Future vintage: How Augusta is becoming America’s new wine destination" The Abby Eats podcast is available for free on all major podcast platforms.
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