New York Times
By Katie Rogers
June 06, 2017
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — At the White House, protesters scream at the gates. At the Trump International Hotel in Washington, they project anti-Trump messages on the outside walls. In Virginia, they paddle up to the Trump golf course in kayaks, waving signs: “Resist!”
But in this pastoral part of the state, things are relatively peaceful, unless people spouting Nazi chants are in town. Along the winding roads that cut through green hills laced with rows of grapevines, a sign emblazoned with a golden T marks the entrance to the 1,300-acre Trump Winery.
President Trump is under immense pressure as leaks spring from the White House and intelligence agencies, bringing new revelations surrounding an investigation into his campaign’s contact with Russian officials. But about 120 miles to the southwest, the Trump Winery, the largest of about 30 that dot the Monticello Wine Trail, attracts people who seem to prefer pinot over protest.
On a recent day, visitors like Mike Showalter of Derby, Kan., were more interested in perusing $28 bottles of wine (made here), $76 vests (made in China) and chocolate treats designed to look like gold bars.
The vineyards at Trump Winery, a 1,300-acre property. Chet Strange for The New York Times
“He needs to keep his mouth shut,” Mr. Showalter, 72, said of the president. “But as far as the job he’s doing, I think he wants what’s best for the country.”
Mr. Showalter and his wife, Donna, said that their support of Mr. Trump had prompted their visit, and that Mr. Trump’s presence did loom large here. Like his golf courses and other properties, the business is entwined with his presidency.
In late April, a handful of supporters visited the winery and raised glasses and wine bottles to toast to Mr. Trump’s first 100 days in office. And though the winery is overseen by the president’s son Eric Trump, business entities associated with it were recently included in Mr. Trump’s 2015 financial disclosure form and were estimated to be worth between $6 million and $27 million, with revenues listed between $784,000 and $2.6 million.
A spokeswoman for his son did not return an email asking how those figures were related to winery operations.
Winery employees declined to provide general sales figures, or to address questions about how politics have affected the business. But Eric Trump, deploying the family fondness for superlatives, called the winery a “tremendous success” in a statement emailed through a spokeswoman.
Trump Winery’s 2016 blanc de blanc in the tasting room. Chet Strange for The New York Times
“Our sales, and the amazing accolades that we continue to garner, are extremely validating and are a true testament to this remarkable property and our immensely talented team,” he said in the statement.
In a 2016 interview with The New York Times about his business endeavors, the future president called the estate “one of the most beautiful pieces of land I’ve ever seen,” and bragged of the winery’s size.
“I have the largest winery on the East Coast,” Mr. Trump said. “That’s the Kluge estate. I bought the Kluge estate.”
The winery is in fact not the largest on the East Coast, but it was a once-floundering passion project of the socialite Patricia Kluge, an ex-wife of the communications magnate John Kluge, who died in 2010. Mr. Trump bought the winery at a foreclosure auction in 2011, during a legal odyssey in which he snapped up land surrounding Albemarle, the 23,500-square-foot estate that was home to the Kluges during their marriage, until there were no other potential buyers. The manor is now a luxury hotel on the property.
“She spent $200 million building the most incredible vineyard,” Mr. Trump said of Ms. Kluge. “I bought it for $6 million at auction. It was amazing.”
Andrew Stover, a Washington-based sommelier, gave his review of the $28-a-bottle 2016 sauvignon blanc.
“It’s very floral. Grapefruit. More like pink grapefruit. White peach, ripe pears.”
“It has this really kind of grapefruit zest and sweet tart finish. I question whether it’s been acid-adjusted.”
“I’m not going to buy it for obvious reasons and it’s expensive, but I’ve got to be honest: It’s a good wine. It’s well made and it’s clean.”
A year later, the winery was among the sponsors of a Russian-American cultural group’s event honoring Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, according to documents recently posted on Twitter by Scott Dworkin, a Democratic activist.
A spokeswoman for the winery declined to comment. But in an email, Alexander Potemkin, the executive director of the American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation, said the event, held in 2012, had been to celebrate the organization’s 20th anniversary.
“Perhaps someone asked for a few bottles of wine from them,” Mr. Potemkin wrote. “But it certainly was not their initiative.”
These days, coinciding with Mr. Trump’s presidency, there are plans to aggressively expand the business.
Twenty new acres of vines were planted in the vineyard this year to expand production of sauvignon blanc and viognier. Events, including a 200-person, $45-a-plate Mother’s Day brunch and a $125-per-person reception the winery hosted for graduates of the University of Virginia, have all sold out.
“This is not a celebrity vanity project,” said Kerry Woolard, the winery’s general manager. “I feel like we have the greatest gift ever. We have the resources, and we have the leadership.” Chet Strange for The New York Times
Eric Trump and his employees are busy envisioning what the place could be, and sometimes the ideas border on the outlandish. Kerry Woolard, the winery’s general manager, said that one concept included a Trump Trolley that would pull visitors around the vineyard, and that another would involve a man jumping out of an airplane, draped in an American flag, on the Fourth of July. She turned down both ideas.
“This is not a celebrity vanity project,” Ms. Woolard, 38, insisted. “I feel like we have the greatest gift ever. We have the resources, and we have the leadership.”
More people are also having the wines shipped to their homes. Ms. Woolard said the winery’s wine club had grown by 30 percent in the past year, to 1,500 people. They include “Hillary supporters,” she said.
“If wine can’t bring people together,” she added, “what can?”
So far, there have been only subtle gestures of protest. A sign with the word “Resist” was posted nearby early this year, and a campaign mounted against the wines in February backfired: When organizers tried to stage a boycott against Wegmans grocery stores for selling the wine, the chain’s stores around Virginia began selling out.
Jonathan Wheeler, the 35-year-old winemaker, has made wine here since it was a fledgling business run by Ms. Kluge. He said a Trump in the White House had not changed his approach to his work.
“I’m the guy who makes the wine,” Mr. Wheeler said, “and I haven’t noticed anything different.”
Even in a winery where employees say they do not notice politics, they are aware of the news coverage surrounding the Trump name. Ms. Woolard said reports that the winery had hired foreign workers to help harvest the vineyards, despite the Trump administration’s hard-line stance on immigration, were overblown. The Trump winery is planning to hire 23 Mexican workers through the H-2A visa program, she said, up from 16 last year. (Other reports have put the number closer to 30.)
“There were 3,500 visas last year,” Ms. Woolard said, “and of those 3,500 visas, we had 16 of them.”
Outside the winery, feelings are mixed. Annette Boyd, who works in marketing for the Virginia Wine Board, said that the Trump Winery was “in the top five in terms of volumes of wine produced” in the Virginia area, but that the product’s name divided people.
“There are people who never drank a bottle of Trump sparkling wine,” Ms. Boyd said, “and now that’s all they drink. And then you have other people who refuse to drink it because of their politics.”
T. J. Mosley owns an events business and tends bar in downtown Charlottesville, a college town in a county where the majority of residents voted for Hillary Clinton. When he works an event where Trump wine is on the menu, he said, people tend to lose their nerve when asking for a glass.
“People say, ‘Can I have a glass of the wine I’d rather not name?’” Mr. Mosley said.
Steve Eder and Eric Lipton contributed reporting.
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