The Untold Truth Of Trump Winery

It may come as a surprise that the 45th President of the United States of America, famous teetotaler Donald J. Trump, owns a winery in Abelmarle County, Virginia, but then again this is a person who also has also slapped his name on everything from steaks, to ties, to spring water, to colognes, so perhaps Trump owning a vineyard isn't such a surprise after all. Perhaps the bigger surprise is that unlike so many ventures the Trump Organization has launched or bought into, so far this one seems to be a success.

The Trumps acquired the 227-acre vineyard, winery, and a 45 room, 26,000 square foot mansion now used as a boutique hotel and for events in a series of fire sale purchases from longtime Trump family friends Patricia Kluge and her ex-husband billionaire John Kluge. The winery was purchased in 2011, the rest of the estate the following year, and the property has subsequently been expanded to a total reported size of nearly 1,300 acres.

The Trump Winery produces several types of wine including sparkling whites, a sparkling rosé, several white wines, and several reds. From the approximate 200 acres planted with grapes, the winery produces some 36,000 cases of wine each year. It is one of more than 300 vineyards in the state of Virginia, the state with the fifth most vineyards in America after California, Washington, Oregon, and New York.

And as you have likely come to expect from a venture run by the Trumps, there is a lot about this Virginia vineyard that is questionable at best, and certainly interesting regardless of your politics or oenophile status.

Donald Trump does not own Trump Winery

Under the auspices of the Trump Organization, Donald Trump bought the former Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard in 2011, but soon after he transferred ownership of the property to his son, Eric Trump. So when Donald Trump said: "I own a house in Charlottesville. Does anyone know I own a house in Charlottesville? is the winery" he was making a false statement, technically speaking. (Note that Trump made these boasts shortly after the tragic and deadly riots in Charlottesville.) And in fact even the winery's own website makes it clear the POTUS does not own the winery, stating: "Trump Winery is a registered trade name of Eric Trump Wine Manufacturing LLC (why not hit the nail right on the head with a name?), which is not owned, managed or affiliated with Donald J. Trump, The Trump Organization or any of their affiliates."

Day-to-day operations of the Trump Winery are overseen by Kerry Woolard, the general manager, and while the younger Trump claims in a video posted on the Trump Winery website that he is involved in all levels of daily operation of the facility, he is demonstrably elsewhere the majority of the time, what with frequent notable travel and regular political activities on behalf of his father. And in fact his own biography on the winery's website makes it clear that his residence is in New York.

Obama took a not-so-subtle swipe at Trump Winery in 2016

At a Democratic Party fundraising event in March of 2016, a number of months before the election that same year, President Barack Obama took a shot at Republican hopeful Donald Trump, saying in part: "Has anybody bought that wine? I want to know what that wine tastes like. I mean, come on: you know that's like some five dollar wine. The slap a label on it, they charge you fifty dollars, and say it's the greatest wine ever."

In the same appearance, Obama also called out Trump Steaks, expressing bewilderment at all the products onto which the presidential hopeful had slapped the family name.

While the former president did not call out businessman and reality TV celebrity Trump by name while making the jests about the wine itself, it was an unequivocal jab at the man who would soon take over the office of POTUS. Trump Winery does indeed sell multiple bottles of their wine for around $50, including a sparkling rosé and a New World Reserve red blend, while other bottles sell for as much as $100 a piece. Still, to be fair, the winery does offer more affordable bottles as well, such as an $18 chardonnay and multiple half-sized 375 milliliter "split bottles." Or you can spring for the $349 Ultimate Collector's Bundle.

Some of the Trump Winery wines are surprisingly good

In standard Trump fashion, the Trump family moved in on an already established business, bought it out, slapped their name on it, then took all the credit for any later success. In this case, said success comes in the fact that many cases the re-christened Trump Winery sells are packed with surprisingly decent bottles of wine. The Piedmont region of Virginia, which lies east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is noted for several grape varieties in particular, such as chardonnays and Cabernet Francs, and the Trump Winery makes good use of the terroir in its winemaking. 

The Trump Winery chardonnay has been awarded multiple medals, including gold by the San Francisco Chronicle in 2017, the New World Reserve won a gold medal in the 2016 Virginia Governor's Cup, and the Sparkling Blanc de Blanc has received 92 points from respected experts including Steven Spurrier and James Suckling. So while it might be tempting to throw shade over the entirety of the Trump Winery, you have to hand it to them for making a few good wines. Or actually, you have to hand it to Jonathan Wheeler, the actual winemaker of the winery, who according to the Trump Winery website: "...has been directly responsible for our 90+ point scores with Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and James Suckling, [and our] numerous best-in-class designations, and internationally awarded gold medals."

Turns out you don't need to give the Trumps credit for Trump wines after all.

The Trump Winery is far from the largest in the state, despite the president's claims

In March of 2016, then presidential candidate Donald Trump stated that the Trump Winery was "the largest winery on the East Coast." This was a falsehood on multiple fronts by multiple metrics. 

First, by volume of wine produced, the Trump Winery is far from the largest winery on the East Coast of America and is not even the largest in the state of Virginia. As PolitiFact reported shortly after his claims, while the Trump Winery produces about 36,000 cases of wine annually, both the Williamsburg Winery and the Chateau Morrisette wineries produce approximately 60,000 cases of wine each year. And zooming outward to look at the East Coast in the bigger picture, Duplin Winery in North Carolina produces nearly 400,000 cases of wine annually, dwarfing the Trump Winery's output.

When looked at in terms of acres under vine (meaning actively used to produce grapes for winemaking) the claim that Trump Winery is the biggest on the East Coast is also easily demonstrably false. There are at least two vineyards in New York that are notably larger than the Trump Winery in terms of active acreage. Trump Winery has about 200 acres under vine, while the Wagner Vineyards Estate Winery of upstate New York has 250 active acres and Pindar Vineyards on New York's Long Island has 300 acres of grape vines planted. (And both properties produce significantly more wine, too.) That metric does, however, make it the largest vineyard in Virginia... but that's not what he said, is it?

One wine expert called most Trump Winery wines "grape jelly with alcohol"

As granted earlier, several wines made by the Trump Winery are of good quality and have been given multiple awards and solid reviews by respected institutions, publications, and people. But many wines from the Trump portfolio are not so much worthy of accolade as they are of utter derision. Writing in Vanity Fair in 2017, Corby Kummer, executive director of the Aspen Institute's Food and Society Program and multiple James Beard Award winner for his food writing, Kummer described the experience of tasting nearly a dozen Trump Winery wines while in the company of a noted (but in this case anonymous) wine expert.

In his article about the tasting experience, Kummer and his associate eviscerated multiple Trump Winery wines. The chardonnay is referred to as "oaked up [and with] too much residual sugar... harvested too ripe [and] flabby." The Meritage was "Welch's grape jelly with alcohol [with] a terrible, fumy alcoholic nose." The expert also stated that the winery was "lying about the alcohol on the label" of that latter wine, though his method of measuring that isn't exactly scientific.

The highest praise that came from the Trump Winery tasting was for the Sparkling Blanc de Blanc, of which the oenophile said: "It's fine... it doesn't offend. I'd get drunk on it at a wedding. [But] let's be honest, I'd get drunk on anything at a wedding."  

Donald Trump has almost surely never tried the wine bearing his family name

While his surname may be on the winery, it's almost certain that no drop of Trump Winery wine has ever been inside the President of the United States. Donald Trump is a well-known teetotaler who never takes even a sip of alcohol aside from rare communion sips. "When we go in church... I drink the little wine, which is about the only wine I drink," he said once, and on a limited number of other occasions he has been seen taking a small single sip of wine after a toast at a major business or political function, but his wine glass is always then quickly spirited away by an aide, usually replaced with Diet Coke or water.

Is Donald Trump an alcoholic? No, but by his own admission he fears he would be if he drank, saying: "Can you imagine if I had [alcohol]? What a mess I would be. I would be the world's worst."

Trump does not drink primarily because watching alcohol ruin and ultimately end the life of his older brother, Fred Trump Jr., left a painful and lasting scar on the president, who adored late Fred despite his troubled life. Fred Trump died at just 42 years old after an alcohol-induced heart attack, and President Trump has stated: "Fred told me not to, and I saw what happened to him when he didn't follow his own advice."

You can order Trump Winery wines online

If your interest has been sufficiently piqued to where you wish you could try a few of these Trump Winery wines, whether to enjoy a 93-point bottle of actually good stuff or to revel in the taste of Schadenfreude when you sip some swill, you can order a bottle or case of Trump Winery wines online for delivery right to your door. (They currently ship to all but nine states.) 

To enjoy the best prices on Trump Winery wines, make sure you buy in bulk, as they offer 10 percent savings on orders that contain six to 11 bottles, and 15 percent off any order of 12 bottles or more — quite the art of the deal. And more good news, right now any order over $249 will ship to you free of shipping costs.

If you happen to live in or to be visiting Ablemarle County, Virginia, you can also try the wines in person at the Trump Winery tasting room, which is currently open for limited days and hours and with numbers of guests restricted due to COVID-19 safety precautions — though actual tasting sessions are not being offered at this time. When they are available, wine tasting session at Trump Winery costs $12 and nets you a souvenir Riedel wine glass. (Sparkling wine tastings cost $20 and come with a wine flute instead.) 

Donald Trump bought the vineyard, winery, and mansion at fire sale prices

The backstory of the property today called Trump Winery is complex and rather depressing, so let's try to move through it efficiently. In 1981, Iraqi-born British-American former model and socialite Patricia Kluge married America's second richest man, billionaire businessman John Kluge. She was 33, he was one year more than twice her age. A few years later the couple relocated to a sprawling property and massive mansion they built near Charlottesville, Virginia, partly in order to raise an adopted son, largely to enjoy their own private 18-hole golf course, massive game preserve, multiple manmade lakes, and so on. In 1990, the couple divorced and Patricia got most of the estate as well as a reputed $100 million. It was time for her to follow her own dream to start a vineyard and make world-class wines.

She would invest "everything [she] had into the vineyard" and by the early years of the 2000s, the Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard was indeed producing world-class wines that won awards and accolades and wide. Then came the financial crash starting in 2008. Soon the winery was losing a million dollars every two months. Kluge listed her mansion for $100 million; soon the price was slashed to a quarter of that. Still it would not sell. When her longtime friend Trump finally acquired the house, he paid $6.7 million. He had already bought the vineyard and winery out of foreclosure for $8.5 million.

You can buy some pretty crazy stuff in the Trump Winery got shop

You don't build up a mighty wine business selling wine alone, right? Well actually you probably do in most cases, but not here. The Trump Winery also sells all manner of other gifts and goodies, many of which are perfectly reasonable and logical and thus won't be mentioned. On the other hand, the Trump Winery gift shop sells some pretty bizarre and unexpected stuff, and some things that might not surprise you so much as merit a slow, tired sigh.

First, there is the Trump-branded Champagne Saber that sells for $150 and can "heighten the drama of any special occasion by [letting you] slice open a celebratory bottle of your favorite Trump sparkling wine with this heirloom-quality Champagne saber." Next we have the $175 Trump Spa Day package that comes with a bathrobe, spa slippers, one container of "Tropical Water Flower Bath Salts," one "Tropical Water Bath Bomb," and a 375 milliliter bottle of Sparkling Blanc de Blanc. Don't forget the branded dog leashes, dog throw toys, or dog collars, and of course don't miss face mask with the words "Only Remove for WINE" across the front.

Also there is a gold-plated wine key, a Trump Blanc de Blanc Christmas tree ornament, and an approximate 20-piece order of Cabernet Soaked Barrel Staves, also known as pieces of wood that would have been thrown away but that you can buy for $15 instead.

The Trump Winery has been accused of using undocumented workers

According to reporting in Newsweek, immigration lawyer Anibal Romero (who has represented numerous workers of Trump Organization businesses) revealed in January of 2020 that the Trump Winery had knowingly employed numerous undocumented worker to tend to and harvest their grapes. These are the exact same type of people the president and other in his administration would deride as illegal aliens and whom they had spent much time and effort trying to ban from the United States, even in cases where the aspiring migrant workers were fleeing violence and persecution.

According to Romero, many of the workers had been identified as undocumented yet worked at the winery for many years, and then following the 2019 harvest, when their work was no longer needed for the season, multiple undocumented workers were summarily fired. "Getting rid of them [before] that point could have caused problems for the wine," Anibal Romero reportedly said, which makes it clear where Trump Winery's priorities lie.

The Trump Organization has also been accused of using undocumented labor in many of its other enterprises, from their golf clubs to restaurants to hotel properties. "It's almost as though the president wants the political benefit of treating undocumented immigrants as subhuman menaces while simultaneously receiving the economic benefit of being able to hire people who he can pay less money and not provide health insurance," said writer Bess Levin in Vanity Fair.