Is the Patricia Kluge saga finally over? Let’s hope so, for our sake as well as hers.
The New York Post reported Monday that Patricia Kluge is no longer working at the winery she built into the largest in the Mid-Atlantic, if not the East Coast, before running it into bankruptcy with some poorly timed expansion. (2008, you’ll recall, wasn’t the best time to be building a luxury brand.) For three years the press and the blahblahsphere have been fascinated by the tale of an imperious rich woman down on her luck, her wealth and winery seized by creditors and sold at a fire sale auction for a mere $6.2 million to Donald Trump.
I’ll admit, posts with “Trump” in the title have been the most popular on my blog the past couple years. Yet when I heard rumors a few weeks ago that Kluge had been fired, I wasn’t in a rush to report it. I confirmed with Trump’s press folks that she had left in early May, that she had been employed on a one-year contract that ended in late April, and that she would continue to consult. Her husband, Bill Moses, is still employed by Trump Vineyard as general manager.
Whether her contract expired or she was let go may just be semantics, but quite frankly I couldn’t bring myself to use the obvious cliché headline, one that the New York Post couldn’t resist: “Trump: Kluge, You’re Fired.”
Enough with the schadenfreude, already. I know, she had a reputation as a horrible boss who didn’t pay her bills, and anyone who squanders a fortune that large can’t blame it all on bad luck. She certainly pissed off the bank enough that they were determined to put her out of business even if they ended up making a mess of the bankruptcy. But the more attention this story gets, the more solid becomes the public perception of Virginia wine as a playground for intemperate rich people.
Several months ago I shared a bottle of Kluge 2008 Blanc de Blancs with a few folks in the Virginia wine industry. The wine was excellent, but one of my companions despises Kluge enough for her reputation (and Trump for his politics) that she couldn’t bring herself to admit that it was even good. That’s how polarizing a figure Kluge is, and helps explain the glee some people feel over her fate.
The New York Post story mentioned that the winery is now run by Eric Trump, Donald’s son, “who has already produced award-winning wines.” Really? This is a guy who boasts of his agricultural experience grooming golf courses.
That award-winning wine was the Blanc de Blancs, which earned a gold medal in the 2012 Virginia Governor’s Cup completion and a place in the “Governor’s Case” of the 12 best Virginia wines. It was made under Kluge’s stewardship, just before her house of cards collapsed.
When I last met with Kluge in December, she explained that the wine had survived the bankruptcy and the rock-bottom auction of the cellared wines because the bank didn’t know what the unlabeled bottles of sparkling wine contained. Thousands of bottles conveyed with the property when Trump bought it.
Kluge told me this story with a bit of a smirk, delighting in sneaking one by the big evil bank. I wondered if she saw the irony in her role reversal.