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Eric Trump: Like the Donald, in it to Win with Virginia Wine

Kirsten Obadal
By Kirsten Obadal
Posted on Jul 18,2012
Filed Under Food And Wine , Local Tastes,


Courtesy photo 
"People are calling Virginia the new Oregon, the new Washington," he said. "There is a great history in Virginia, which has been producing wine for 200 years. We aim to be the largest."

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA. - If there is one thing a Trump cannot resist, it’s the opportunity to compete and be the best at something.

Whether it's a hotel, a golf course, or now, a bottle of wine. Eric Trump recently took over where the Kluge’s left off at their winery near Charlottesville.

Donald Trump was close to the late billionaire John Kluge and is a close friend of Patricia Kluge, who offered him a deal he couldn’t refuse on their struggling winery.

“Charlottesville is a very wealthy area, full of history, so we have wanted to be there for a long time," Eric Trump said in an interview last week. "After we saw the property, and talked with John Kluge and were able to work out a deal, it turned into an incredible acquisition. It is among the most beautiful properties I have ever seen in my life.”

Talking with Trump is like riding in a convertible on a summer day with your best friend: breezy, talkative, warm, energizing. He brims with optimism and enthusiasm about his work.

There are few things more appealing than a Sunday drive out to Virginia’s bucolic rolling hills, stopping by a winery to taste the local terrior.

Wine consumption in the United States has risen dramatically in recent years, and many have taken up the hobby of winery-hopping. There are wineries in all 50 states now, with almost 200 in Virginia alone. One can find the gamut of quality—good, bad, and indifferent.

Some Virginia wines are able to compete internationally, such as Barboursville Viognier with its Octagon red.

Eric Trump said he'd like to be on that competitive plane, and while he admits he's on a learning curve about wine, he makes up for any gap in knowledge with drive and enthusiasm, in addition to an engaging and appealing personality and a winning way with people he's just met.

That, combined with a desire to always be the best, promises a product that is likely to lift the status of Virginia wine both nationally and internationally. Already Trump's Blanc de Blanc and the New World Red are attracting medals and attention at competitions.

“We are a unique real estate company, the largest mom and pop in the world, but the one consistency is that we have to be the biggest and best, and want the highest end product in anything we do," he says, sounding altogether not too different from his father. "For example, our hotels have to be five star, our golf courses have to be highly rated, etc. Our office buildings are in prestigious locations. There is a sexiness to what we do because of that. What better product than wine, which the younger generation is really embracing. It is a fun and sexy addition to our companies.”

The total property at Trump Winery is over 1,100 acres, growing Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Patricia Kluge, who is staying on as director of operations, designed the vineyard's output to be sparkling and red, based on seasonality and soil. Their sparkling is now rated 92 to 93 points in competitions.

"People are calling Virginia the new Oregon, the new Washington," he said. "There is a great history in Virginia, which has been producing wine for 200 years. We aim to be the largest."

Trump says this is just the beginning. "We enjoy pursuing profitable endeavors, we love having quality properties, and this is the beginning," he said. "We have so much capacity, and this will be our focus for a while. We want to make it incredibly successful. It would be great to have others but we want to walk before we run. “

Trump expressed his pride in the skills of his winemakers. In charge of sparkling wines is Jonathan Wheeler, who joined the Kluge winery in 2006.

Wheeler’s experience ranges from wineries in Sonoma and Monterey Calif., Marlborough, New Zealand, to his home in the Finger Lakes of New York, where he worked as an assistant winemaker.

Katell Griaud, who hails from France, is the head winemaker at Trump Winery.

The Trump brand in the competitive and elite wine world is coming up fast. The winery's New World Red has won scores of awards, including the prestigious Governor’s Cup.

"People love the wine," he said. "We are releasing a great Chardonnay, and are stepping up production of that. We are going to put a little more emphasis on white wine, but our staples are the sparkling and red.”

What about terrior, that je ne sais quoi which makes great wine a great mystery?

“Everybody talks about the land body spirit of the wine, the terroir," says Trump, who says he's traveled to Italy, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Sonoma in search of great wine.

"You can try so many different varietals...even 100 yards away can result in a different terroir," he said. "It is one of the things that makes wine special. You will never have the same glass of wine. Experimenting with something different makes it a lot of fun. I think the seasonality in Virginia’s climate, especially for sparkling, contributes to a bit of acidity that you want. We have four different seasons and it creates complexity. That is first and foremost, and the hot summer contrasting with the cooler seasons creates a good product.”

Trump says he is building a cellar at his home in New York. But he claims that his friends want to drink the wine he's producing in Charlottesville, instead of the more established Italian or French labels.

“People want to try my wine when I am with friends on the weekend," he said. "It is neat to be able to serve something like wine when people know you as a golf course person, to be able to share something from the earth, that is agricultural, that is so complex. One or two more sunny days will change the wine, the complexity leads to great beauty and elegance which makes it exciting.”

Other winery owners have communicated their gratitude for what he is trying to do for wine making in Virginia. A rising tide lifts all the boats, they say.

“I have gotten a lot of support from other Virginia wineries, and they appreciate what we are trying to do for Virginia wine," he said. "They believe that competing with established wineries is indirectly helping them as well. When we do something we do it big, we want the best and the greatest, we are willing and have the ability to get it to that kind of prominence.”

It is clear that Trump deeply appreciates the heritage aspect of wine making in Virginia’s history.

“Virginia is rooted in incredible history; Jefferson escaped the British riding through our property. It is exciting to be part of that history and agriculture in Virginia. I am a history buff and wine really helped establish agriculture in the state. We can compete anywhere in the world. We have the best winemakers, and the ratings speak for themselves. We are beating many of the best regions in the world and that really says a lot for what we do.”

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