You would be forgiven for thinking that Donald Trump decided one day to get into the wine business, either bought land or converted the land he had to a winery, and got the best people he could find to run it. Instead, the story of Trump Wine is exactly the kind of business deal that I have come to expect from Donald J. Trump.
The story of Trump Winery begins with Patricia Kluge. Kluge was raised in Iraq, and became a successful nude model for her first husband, Russel Gay. She later divorced and married Billionaire John W. Kluge in 1981. In 1990, they divorced, and as part of the divorce settlement, she received what Forbes Magazine described as a “paltry settlement” of less than $1 million per year (nice work if you can get it, Forbes), and ownership of Albemarle, a 200-acre, 45-room estate in Charlottesville, VA.
By 1999, Kluge and her third husband, William Moses, bought the surrounding 960 acres around Albemarle and started Kluge Estate Winery. It was very successful: It received 10 Gold Standard awards, including “Best Sparkling Wines in the World,” and the 2007 vintage would later win a 91-point rating from Wine Enthusiast Magazine, the highest rating for a Virginia Wine. Kluge Estate Wines were even on the menu at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding.
Kluge had the misfortune of taking out huge loans to expand the winery, and even build multi-million dollar homes on the property, just as the market crashed in 2008. Kluge was unable to pay off the debt even after she auctioned of millions of dollars of personal property.
At this point, it gets technical, so let me slow down and explain: Albemarle is the name of the mansion, and Kluge Estate Winery is the name of the surrounding properties. The 206-acre front lawn, believe it or not, was actually still owned by John Kluge, who died in 2010, which was left in a trust for Kluge’s son, and Patricia Kluge was a trustee.
Kluge put Albemarle up for auction at Sotheby’s International Realty for $100 million, then was listed again at $48 million, then $24 million, and it was then repossessed by Bank of America, which was unable to sell it at auction with a $15.3 million starting bid. Kluge Estate Winery was repossessed by Farm Credit of Virginia, and it, too, was unable to find even one bidder at their auction, which started at $19 million.
This is when Donald Trump showed the business acumen that made him the man he is today.
He bought the front lawn from Kluge’s trust for $150,000 and snapped up the winery for $16 million. Then he got to work treating his property like total shit. He let the grass grow out. He made it look like the place was in disrepair and would need a huge investment of time and money to any potential buyers. He put up signs that said “No trespassing. This land is owned by Trump Virginia Acquisitions LLC,” even though technically Bank of America was allowed legally to pass through it and show the property. Bank of America again put Albemarle up for auction, this time starting at $16 million, and Trump, along with son Eric, took Bank of America to court. After a year of litigation, the court sided with The Bank, but it made no difference. Trump was able to buy Albemarle for $6.5 million.
And if you think that Trump got a great deal, I’m not finished yet. Part of the original agreement for the front lawn was that he would pay an additional $350,000 to the Kluge trust. He didn’t pay, so the trust sued him. Also, David Hopper, Eric Trump’s lawyer in his case against Bank of America, sued Eric for $95,000 in unpaid legal bills.
So, if you’re in Virginia, and you happen to stop at Trump Winery, get their most expensive wine—it’s called Trump Winery Reserve New World Red, and it costs $38 a bottle. And ask them if you can buy it for $2.47. Be sure to scratch the bottle first.