The jury's still out on whether Donald Trump can or should be president, but let’s face it, the guy knows real estate, and maybe, now wine.
Back in 2011, he picked up one of the most coveted pieces of property in Virginia -- for pennies on the dollar.
The Kluge Vineyard and Estate was for sale because the Kluge family was facing bankruptcy thanks to tons of overleveraged deals. At the time, Trump claimed he was more interested the property, which sits along the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, than the vineyards.
But of the almost 1,300 acres near Thomas Jefferson’s historic home, practically 200 acres had vines planted on them and were producing wine.
So it was hard to avoid it. Not to mention, 30 of those acres were planted in 1999 and another 160 in 2004. Some of those grapes needed to be picked.
And the notion of a winery seemed to fit perfectly with the Trump lifestyle brand, says general manager Kerry Woolard.
So they renamed it the Trump Winery and his son Eric became president.
Thomas Jefferson, the Politician, was a Wine Lover.
While Virginia may seem like a strange place to make wine for some, the first bottle of wine in America actually came from Virginia back in 1607 – way before California.
Plenty has been written about how Thomas Jefferson tried to grow grapes near his home, Monticello, but could never quite get it right.
Still, he has been quoted saying, “Wine is a necessity of life for me.”
Me too, TJ.
While people are loath to give Trump compliments sometimes, the family is onto something here. Virginian wines are slowly starting to get noticed and money is coming in.
Former AOL CEO and Chairman Steve Case and his wife Jean bought Early Mountain Vineyards nearby in Charlottesville, also in 2011.
Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews Band bought Blenheim Vineyards (), right across the street from Trump, in 2000.
And the Zonin family, who has been making wine all over Italy since 1821, bought Barboursville Vineyards, 30 minutes outside Charlottesville, way back in 1976. They have been staunch believers that Virginia wines have the potential to compete with some of the best wine regions in the world.
Economically, the wine industry has helped Virginia as well. There are now more than 275 wineries compared with 50 in 1990, and it is fifth-largest state in the nation for wine-grape production, according to the Virginia Wine Board
A 2010 economic impact study, the most recent available, shows that Virginia's wine industry, with its related jobs, taxes and sales, add roughly $750 million to the economy.
And, no surprise, the Donald’s campaign run hasn’t hurt sales for Trump Winery.
Their online sales actually have increased since he announced in June, says Woolard. “People from other places that might not have heard of us before are ordering our wines,” Woolard says.
A Vote for Sparkling
The Trump Winery puts out 12 different kinds, all priced between $15 and $45, though 50 percent of their production is sparkling wine.
The former Kluge family’s highest-rated wines were its sparkling, so both Eric and winemaker Jonathan Wheeler agreed it made sense to continue.
From a business perspective, it helps save the grapes from Virginia’s less-than-predictable weather, says Woolard, because grapes for sparkling wines need to be picked earlier than those for reds and chardonnays.
And since their hand-pickers are seasonal workers, it allows them a longer employment term.
Today, the Trump Winery is producing 40,000 cases of wine a year and, no surprise, is currently Virginia’s largest winery. And while most vineyards take seven to 10 years to see positive cashflow, Woolard says they did it after two.
And for those who live and die by the ratings, Wine Magazine has rated the wines, on a scale of 1-100, 87 and up, with the 2007 Chardonnay getting 91.
So this is for real. The Presidency, on the other hand, may need more time to ferment.