Real estate magnate and TV personality Donald Trump has added winemaking to his résumé with his October 4 relaunch of the Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Kluge Estate was founded in 1999 by Patricia Kluge, a British socialite, out of a windfall divorce from her ex-husband, the communications mogul John W. Kluge. Through Kluge’s hands-on approach, the winery’s idyllic location and the use of notable consultants like Bordeaux’s Michel Rolland, Kluge Estate established a following for its Bordeaux-style reds and sparkling wines—including the SP Blanc de Blancs and SP Rosé, which were served at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding festivities in 2010.
The winery was roiled by years of financial trouble, and by 2010, banks had foreclosed on the estate and vineyards. Early in 2011, Trump, a longtime friend of Kluge, began to cobble together parcels of property. First, he purchased 200 acres surrounding the former Kluge mansion for less than $500,000 from a Kluge family trust. Then, in April, Trump obtained the estate’s 776 acres of vineyard along with the winery’s inventory and equipment for $7.9 million at auction, just a fraction of the $60-million appraised value.
Donald Trump’s son, Eric, who has been charged with operating the newly acquired estate, admits the initial attraction to Kluge Estate was the value of its real estate. “We got into the wine business almost by default,” he says, “but recognizing how good the wines were, we realized how sexy it could be for the brand as a whole.”
The winery’s tasting room was remodeled for the relaunch and plans for a golf resort and event venues are in the works. Rolland will remain a consultant and Kluge and her family will continue as employees. Kluge Estate’s most popular wines will be kept largely intact, but rebranding under the Trump name and an expansion of products and capacity are expected.
“We are believers in brands, and clearly we have an incredible one,” Eric Trump said. “Our top product will certainly be some sort of Trump label.
“Whether it be real estate ventures, or anything else,” he adds, “we only have five-star assets and are mindful about keeping everything absolutely first class.”