Investor aims to transform Augusta into national destination

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
A lone car travels along Highway 94 through the scenic countryside in western St. Charles County as seen from the deck at the Montelle Winery outside of Augusta, Mo., on Friday, May 7, 2021. Montelle Winery is one of four wineries in Augusta recently acquired by the Hoffmann Family of Companies who have plans to develop Augusta into a national winery and vineyard destination. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

AUGUSTA, Mo. (AP) — A Florida investor with Missouri roots is spending about $100 million in hopes of turning an area of Missouri Wine Country into a destination that will attract visitors from around the country.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that David Hoffmann, CEO of Hoffmann Family of Cos., has spent months buying up land in the tiny town of Augusta along Highway 94 in St. Charles County, most notably, four of Augusta's five wineries, including at least 750 acres of vineyards. He sees the region as Missouri's own version of Napa Valley.

"This is all going to get done, and it's going to get done fast, and it's going to get done beautifully," Hoffmann, who grew in in Washington, Missouri, said. "It's going to be a national destination people are going to be proud of."

Some worry the town of 290 residents could lose its unique charm. Augusta's early vintners were German immigrants who arrived in the 19th Century. Its wineries have long been popular for St. Louis-area visitors lured in part by the scenery of the region.

Already, crews have dressed up old buildings with fresh paint, fastened plaques with the Hoffmann name on storefronts, and parked 1940s-era Chevrolet pickup trucks at several Hoffmann-owned properties.

Hoffmann has acquired Balducci Vineyards, Mount Pleasant Estates, Augusta Winery and Montelle Winery. His company has purchased 13 commercial properties being renovated into a general store, filling station, flower shop and more.

Golf course designer Rhys Jones will design a 12-hole course. A 100-room hotel is planned. So are trolley and carriage rides, and a boat to cruise the Missouri River with a dock planned at nearby Klondike Park. Hoffmann even plans to build free housing for up to 200 employees.

He said he is financing his vision with a combination of cash and loans.

Hoffmann Family, based in Naples, Florida, includes his global executive search firm DHR International, plus Hoffmann Commercial Real Estate and the private equity firm Osprey Capital. All told, Hoffmann and his family own more than 100 businesses and properties across the country.

Over the past 10 years, the Hoffmanns have invested heavily to renovate areas of three other towns: Winnetka, Illinois; Avon, Colorado; and downtown Naples.

At Mount Pleasant Estates, Augusta's oldest winery established in 1859, crews have already begun work such as repaving parking lots and repainting buildings.

"It's the greatest thing that I think could ever happen to Augusta," the winery's president, Chuck Dressel, said. His family had owned the winery since the 1960s.

Jeff Shelby and his family have lived in Augusta since 2000 and have seen the town decline. He has no fear that Augusta's small-town charm will be lost. He said he's looked into what Hoffmann has done in other towns and thinks he'll do Augusta right.

Others are uneasy. Writer Judy Hennessey said she and her husband, Tim, from Defiance, wanted to downsize and build a smaller home on farmland they own in Augusta. They dropped the plan once the Hoffmanns came to town. The Hennesseys don't want to deal with additional crowds and traffic on 94 they expect the development will generate.

"Everyone wants businesses to do well, but you have to balance it with what's good for the community as well," Judy Hennessey said. "God love him, I guess he has enough money, he can buy and do whatever. But it's not going to be the same. The community will never be the same."