When Chuck Dressel was a student at Country Day School in Ladue (not MICDS at that time), the furthest thing from his mind was a career in the wine country of St. Charles. The topic of fine wines was never discussed much around his family’s dinner table.
But a divorce in his family in 1992 changed all of that. The Mount Pleasant Winery in Augusta had to go up for sale, and the young man from Ladue pounced on the opportunity to buy from an uncle. He bought everything, literally, lock, stock and barrel.
The rest is family lore.
Dressel was typical high school student, good grades, played some sports but stood out at none of them. He went on to earn a dual degree in economics and poliical science from Northwestern in Chicago.
From there, he launched into a typical business oriented career. Dressel, 44, who lives on Overbook Drive in Ladue with his wife Cynthia (perpetually 29) and his two children Cate and Dave who are elmentary school students at Forsyth in Clayton was well into a stable career in the food and beverage industry.
He was first a purchasing agent for companies that were in the baking, dairy and ice cream products industry. Later, he went into reseach and development for these companies.
“Our job was to find was to make products cheapter, faster and find effective ways to market them,” he recalled.
In 1992, everything changed.
He took over the lush 78 acres of grape growing property in Augusta, a town of just 250 residents.
His trek to Augusta (38.6 miles out highway 64/40 and down 94 through the unincorporated town of Defiance) became a routine six to seven days a week.
Mount Pleasant Estates (a new name after he established a winery in Branson) has become a hot-spot for bikers (the pedal variety); tourists from St. Louis, those who just want to chill out for a few hours, and brides who want a majestic view of the valley below.
“Governor Nixon and his wife came out recently to spend a few hours with us. They just felt they needed some time to get away from everything and to just hang out,” said their host.
These days, Dressel devotes one day to picking and pruning grapes in the field, and the rest of the week running the business.
He manages a staff of 18 (grows seasonally to 40 during summers) and supervises the creation of beautifully crafted Augusta wines.
A local wine master and his assistant hail from the local community. “We are a working winery. We have tours of our wine cellars on weekends, but we need to make special arrangements for tours during the week.”
Weekends on the patio
On weekends, the back patio is jammed with visitors who enjoy music ranging from Grateful Dead and Beatles cover bands to popular singer Nikko Smith and Spanish guitarist Javier Mendoza.
These days, Dressel is leveraging this year’s early arrival of spring. “We’re a full month ahead of where we were this time last year. It may be early April, but the crop has grown to where it might be in early May,” he said.
The estates does all kinds of charitable events. A planned fundraiser is for the Ronald McDonald House charities. The place is dog (not cat) friendly. “Lots of people bring their pets here,” he said. No cats or lizzards please.
Fast approaching is Vino Fondo, a bike and wine festival through the St. Charles countryside.
The artist community will soon be hosting “Plein Air,” an art exhibit of local landscapes and scenery with everything up for sale during the show.
A big part of the business is selling those locally produced wines to St. Louis stores and outlets through the center of the country. “We even ship wine to China,”Dressel said proudly. Twelve different types of grapes are harvested on the local vines.
“I’m really not the corporate type. I don’t want to wear a suit and sit behind a desk all day,” he said.
“This is a product that has been produced some 7,000 years. I’m happy to be part of that tradition,” said the Vintner from Ladue.