By Paula C. Squires
With his sleek, black helicopter emblazoned with the Trump name as a backdrop, Donald Trump made his formal debut Tuesday into Virginia’s wine industry. As usual, he did it in style and on a large scale. At a press conference at The Trump Organization’s newly purchased winery in Albemarle County – formerly the Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard— the New York billionaire real estate mogul and reality television star promised to “do something spectacular,” on the 900-acre site. “This will be one of the great wineries in the world.”
Trump and his 28-year-old son, Eric, who will run the winery, shared their plans to construct new buildings at the vineyard, expand its product line and eventually get more acres under vine. At 220 acres, the vineyard already is Virginia’s largest. Eric Trump said there will be “many hundreds of new jobs,” as a result of the winery coming under the Trump umbrella of properties. “We’ll start expanding as we gain distribution,” Eric Trump said.
The winery appealed to The Trump Organization as an investment, he said, because of its proximity to Washington, D.C. and Charlottesville, two areas that draw many tourists. “This is an amazing region with an incredible wine history,” he said.
Both Trumps and Gov. Bob McDonnell praised the efforts of the winery’s founder, Patricia Kluge and her husband, Bill Moses, who they said had contributed a great deal to the Virginia wine industry by producing high–quality wines that are served in some of the country’s best restaurants. Kluge founded the winery in 1999, following her divorce from the late John Kluge, a billionaire who made his fortune in the communications industry. She and Moses lost the winery last year when Creditor Farm Credit Bank foreclosed on a loan of $34.8 million that the couple was not able to meet.
Kluge and Moses will stay on to assist in winery operations. Kluge said that she will run the winery with Eric Trump, president of Trump Winery, and Moses will work part-time as a vice president of operations.
Kluge and Moses seemed anything but defeated during yesterday’s press conference, followed by an invitation-only reception attended by local executives, Gov. McDonnell and first lady Maureen McDonnell and former governor Douglas Wilder.
Kluge, dressed in a gold and black suit, and Moses took the stage with the Trumps and the governor. Later on during an interview with Virginia Business, Kluge said she shared the same experience of a lot of other Americans, in terms of losing a business during the economic downturn. “What was paramount to me was seeing that what I built, be saved, because the loss of the winery would have had a negative impact on Virginia’s wine industry,” she said.
She termed Trump, a friend whom she has known for 30 years, as a “visionary,” who could see the potential in Virginia’s wine industry, which has grown from six wineries in 1979 to more than 200 today. Trump purchased the winery and vineyard for $6 million during an auction in April.
Moses said the couple approached Trump about buying the winery after unsuccessful attempts to interest 12 of Virginia’s top companies in investing in the winery. One of the companies was Altria, which already owns a wine subsidiary, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Moses said the companies declined, because “they didn’t’ think the Virginia wine industry was ready.”
After Kluge approached Donald Trump, Moses said he agreed within an hour to make a bid for the winery. “We’re happy that Donald was able to come in and do this,” Moses said. “He got high-quality assets and a known brand for a good price.” Plus, with his organization’s many commercial properties including hotels and resorts, “he has a lot of facilities where he can use wine.”
Gov. McDonnell said the Trump name is “synonymous with business success and quality” and will create “a new instant market for this winery.”
Annette Ringwood Boyd, director of the Virginia Wine Marketing Office, agreed that the Trump name will bring a lot of visibility to the state’s wine industry. “He’s known for putting his stamp on everything he touches. You hear a lot of excitement and a curiosity about how he’s going to use his platform here, because we have built a product that’s uniquely Virginia. It’s not California and it’s not New York. People will want to continue to see that Virginia stamp.”