While bargain-hunting shoppers were happily scoring Virginia’s Kluge Albemarle Red, once $12 a bottle, for $45 a case, Donald Trump was buying the farm. With a successful bid of $6.2 million, Trump snatched up the Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyards of Virginia, once valued at $70 million, at auction in Charlottesville, Thursday.
The estate had been in foreclosure to Virginia’s Farm Credit Bank since October. The bank attempted to set a market price for the winery in December when it acquired the property for $19 million at an unsuccessful auction where it was the only bidder. Owners Patricia Kluge and William Moses had defaulted on a debt of $35 million for loans made between 2007 and 2009.
While existing stock is being sold off, Trump has acquired what is perhaps the best and most modern wine facility in Virginia and an immense amount of unbottled wine that may eventually end up bearing his name. Trump’s purchase included trademarks and labels for the winery.
A Trump representative told journalists that the billionaire plans to continue making wine at the facility, which produced more than 30,000 cases of wine annually. “The Trump brand is valuable. It signifies significant luxury and quality and that is where the interest lies,” said Jason Greenblatt, who represented Trump at the auction.
Former owner Moses said he and Kluge are interested in talking with Trump about the future of the winery. Both say they’re pleased that Trump wants to keep the winery in business. Moses said that the winery was a labor of love for the two of them and that “Patricia has known Trump for 20 or 25 years.” Kluge said she was “thrilled that Donald owns the company” and that he had assured her that he will continue making wine. “We are committed and he is committed and great things are going to come from the Kluge Estate.”
An additional auction of winemaking and vineyard equipment was scheduled for Friday and the Trump team was expected to continue its purchases. Greenblatt, however, said he was not concerned about being out-bid. “The vineyards are the most important part,” he observed. “You can get equipment anywhere.
Trump, though enthused over the prospects of running a winery, emphasized that the land and buildings were what attracted him. “I’m really interested in good real estate, not so much in wine,” he declared Thursday. “This place had a $28 million mortgage on it and I bought it for $6.2 million. It’s a Trump deal.” He said he expects to keep Moses, a former IBM executive, and Kluge on staff to run the facility.
Kluge had been the face of the winery since its inception and spent freely—excessively, according to some observers—in creating a modern plant and hiring winemakers and consultants in her drive to bring attention to the wineries of Virginia. In her own way, she has had as colorful a career as the multifaceted publicity-seeking entrepreneur who succeeds her.
She was a wealthy socialite with an exotic past, a companion of royalty who won a divorce settlement estimated at between $15 million and $1 billion from her former husband, the late John Kluge, a communications magnate once described as the richest man in America.