Eric Trump, Owner, Trump Winery

The real estate visionary turns his eye to wine in Virginia.


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At 27, Eric Trump is not the best-known face of the Trump empire, but that may soon change. The executive vice president of development and acquistions of The Trump Organization--and son of Donald--has been appointed the head of the new Eric Trump Wine Manufacturing LLC, which acquired the historic Kluge Winery in Charlottesville, Virginia, in April.. Renamed the Trump Winery and continuing to produce the reds, whites and sparklers Kluge established (plus a few new labels down the road) the winery—soon to become a hotel destination—has already created a big industry and consumer buzz. We talked to Trump recently to discuss his vision for the new venture, and whether he’ll be spending more time in rubber boots than Armani suits in the days to come.

Wine Enthusiast: Why is the acquisition of the Kluge property and the launch of Trump Winery unique for the Trump group?
Eric Trump: Actually, the real estate market is not completely unlike the wine business.  In both you can react intelligently, be conservative and make good decisions but that’s no guarantee things will go your way. The intangible nature of real estate is what makes it fun. I think the intangible nature of agriculture is what makes fine wine. Weather, soil, all of these things make wine changeable and will make that vintage different from last year.  And that’s what makes it exciting and different, and makes you want to keep trying. Like vines, golf courses are very reliant on weather as well. You have years of drought and too much rain is not good either. It’s trying to find that perfect balance.

WE: Has anything surprised you about the wine business?
ET: The quick reaction time of the industry is interesting to me. We had a storm last night and today we needed to do an extra spray. Let’s hire 30 employees…where are we going to hire these 30 employees? To be on the property tomorrow? It’s so quick. That’s impressive.  There’s also a level of camaraderie in the industry that’s great. I know our neighbor’s sprayer went down and we sent our guy over to help. I think in New York capitalist [culture} you would think of it as a competitive property, and I don’t think that’s how the wine industry necessarily works. You help out others. It’s community. It’s still about business and creating the best product but there’s a morality that you might not see in other businesses.

WE: Do you hope to promote the Virginia wine industry as a whole as associated with your brand?
ET: The thing I give [former owner]Patricia [Kluge] the most credit for is putting Virginia wine on the map. But one thing we have the ability to do is draw attention wherever we go.  When people go to Virginia. I think they’ll know about the property and we’ve made a big statement. It was covered extensively in the press. I think that does a lot for Virginia. I also think we offer a recognizable brand…a human face. That has been my father and more so every day us [the children].  There’s a lifestyle association. And in an indirect way, there’s accountability. So many different brands are unaccountable and there’s no one to answer for them.  We have organization and personality and we’re accountable, and that means everything in our business.

WE: Was wine and food an important part of your life growing up?
ET: I did not grow up with wine extensively, but both sides of my family have winemaking roots, both in the Czech Republic and in Germany.

WE: Are you a wine collector?  How did you start building your collection?
ET: I started collecting by visiting a wine store I trust and working with people there to create a diverse cellar. It was important to me to know the stories behind each of the wines and wineries. I love cooking and my girlfriend went to cooking school so every year I have these big parties in my house and we naturally receive bottles of wines from guests, so I’ve also built my collection that way. Ever since buying this property I think every person who comes into my office has brought me a new bottle of wine from their friend’s vineyard or their family’s vineyard, so now you walk into my office and I literally have 100 bottles in it.

WE: Any types of wines you’re most attracted to?
ET: I love trying new things, so I’m drawn to smaller, more remote regions. I kind of like rooting for the underdog, which makes it interesting given what we’re going into.

WE: Speaking of emerging or smaller regions, why do you think now is the right time for you to move into the Virginia wine business?
ET: I think working in an emerging region is timely now because a few years ago, people had to buy the most expensive wines…that was the world we lived in.  Based on the recession there’s a new sentiment on spending money…people are realizing you can save money and be happy.  Across industries consumers have realized they can get incredible products for less money. By going outside the box. Properties like Kluge have proven you can get scores in the 90s and you don’t need to be in Napa.

If you really strive to be the best, I think you can do it. If you want a great watch, you don’t have to buy Rolex.

I’ve had some interesting conversations with sommeliers and wine industry people about certain regions in the world that may not be there yet, but actually have better growing circumstances than places like California. I think a lot of these areas are going to sprout up, with the right approach, ad surprise us.

WE: Do you have plans to purchase other winery properties?
ET: I think we want to see how this goes first. One thing at a time.

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