Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dave McIntyre Profiles Trump and His Wines in the Washington Post

Trump aims for award-winning wines and weddings
By Dave McIntyre
December 14, 2011
The Washington Post

Trump has no intention of ripping out the vines at the former Kluge Estate. (Rob Garland Photographers) When Donald Trump purchased the former Kluge Estate winery last April at a bankruptcy auction, speculation ran rampant over what would become of Virginia’s largest vineyard property. Trump gained an operating winery with about 220 acres planted to vines on Carter’s Mountain just south of Charlottesville. Many people had hoped a major West Coast wine company would step in and buy the property; with Trump, the concern was that the vineyards might be ripped out and replaced with a golf course or luxury McMansions.

The speculation was understandable. The Kluge Estate bankruptcy played itself out spectacularly in the press over two years, with headlines dripping with schadenfreude as Patricia Kluge, the ex-wife of the late media mogul John Kluge, auctioned off her baubles, bangles and beads in an ultimately futile attempt to stave off her creditors. Her bank, Farm Credit of the Virginias, called her loans in October 2010 and essentially issued a stop-work order. The 2010 harvest — a very good one in Virginia — was sold off at bargain-basement prices as the bank threatened to sell off the property in parcels to various developers.

When Trump purchased the winery and vineyards for a song ($6.2 million, compared to the more than $34 million in debt that led the bank to foreclose on Kluge), he installed his son, Eric, to run the winery business, while keeping Kluge and her husband, William Moses, to manage the property. The rechristened Trump Winery was unveiled in October.

In a telephone interview from his New York offices late last month, Eric Trump outlined his vision for the new Trump Winery, including a renewed focus on weddings and other events, but also increased investment in the winemaking part of the business. “We want to win the ‘best of’ awards,” he said. “We like having the highest-quality products.”

A Trump label wine will have a natural distribution network through luxury hotels, country clubs and casinos, playing off the Trump name. The winery had already expanded its distribution to 17 states, he said, with more on the horizon. “Distribution is through the roof!”

I visited the property a few days after my conversation with Eric Trump. Patricia Kluge’s staff showed me a new sparkling wine facility under construction, as well as a farm building under renovation for housing and maintaining vineyard farming equipment and tractors. The message was clear: The infrastructure investment signaled the Trumps’s intention to focus on the quality of the wine, not to redevelop the property.

“We have no intention to rip out the vines,” Eric Trump had told me.

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