After mixing for an hour with the crowd, Trump and son departed in dramatic fashion.
Trump, Kluge, Trump
The hottest ticket in Virginia last week was the grand opening of Trump Vineyard Estates, with scores of public officials among 500 wine-happy citizens clamoring for a peek at the relaunched vineyard– as well as a peek at the real estate mogul turned reality television star known as The Donald.
Despite proximity of fewer than two hours south of Manhattan via private helicopter, a close advisor asserts that the October 4 event marked the first time The Donald himself set foot on the southeast-of-Charlottesville property, which Trump bought earlier this year after banks seized the place from Patricia Kluge.
"Donald has become the wind beneath my wings," a smiling Kluge told the crowd. "I feel that I gave birth to this place, and there is nothing more pleasing than to know that it's in the hands of someone I've known for 30 years."
"I'm going to put a lot of people to work," said Trump, who has hired Kluge and her husband, William Moses.
"Patricia did a amazing job," Trump said as he began explaining why he'll succeed where Kluge went bankrupt. "I don't have a mortgage."
Public records show that Trump paid $8.55 million for 871 acres including the pavilion, the Farm Shop on Blenheim Road, and a former carriage museum– a complex that Trump vows to make a thriving center for wines and weddings.
But questions remain about the elusive final piece of his puzzle: Albemarle House. Trump has surrounded the 24,000 square-foot mansion with no-trespassing signs, an effort that has drawn a lawsuit from the owner, Bank of America. What would he do with it?
"What kind of question is that– would you buy it?" he asked the questioner, Hook editor Hawes Spencer, with Kluge finally breaking the silence by quipping, "He couldn't afford it."
Trump's son, Eric, who is heading up the Virginia project, clarified things somewhat afterwards: "We often acquire things and then decide what to do with them."
Another reporter asked Trump about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's decision to stay out of the presidential contest. "A very good friend of mine," noted Trump, who added that the Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell would make a "fantastic" Republican vice presidential candidate.
McDonnell spent much of his time on the podium extolling the recent growth of the Virginia wine industry (employer of over 3,000 and the nation's sixth largest wine grape producer), and the governor offered his hope that additional tax revenues will soon flow like wine.
A Spencer question on what the governor will do for the little wineries– now forced to sell via middlemen– was politely acknowledged but not specifically answered. Instead, McDonnell enthused that success can't help but follow the Trump brand.
"Put that on the Kluge wine," said the governor, "and that's a match made in heaven."
Eric Trump (whom Kluge calls "baby face") noted the high regard for Kluge's wine and why they won't all be rebranded. "You go into Le Cirque, and you see the Kluge wines."
After the press conference, guests eagerly pressed to be photographed with Trump. When he was busy, they settled for pictures with his helicopter.
Reporters counted all but one member of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors, with City Council represented by Mayor Dave Norris, Holly Edwards, David Brown, and Kristin Szakos. There was no shortage of state delegates, sheriffs, and Central Virginia real-estate moguls such as Wendell Wood and Hunter Craig.
Also partying was Frank Friedman, president of Piedmont Virginia Community College, an institution still owed part of a $1.2 million pledge that Kluge and Moses made a few years before declaring bankruptcy. Friedman declined to venture a guess about whether PVCC– which put the couple's name on a science building– will eventually see the unpaid $480,000.
Just one hour into the two-hour reception, Eric and Donald Trump strolled out to the whirling helicopter and took off in a whoosh of blowing leaves and tousled hair. On the evening in which the enterprise she built officially became Trump Estate Winery, Kluge revealed no mixed emotions about how she felt after losing everything she owned to save her venture.
"Elated," said the former mistress of the estate.
–edited for print publication at 3:22pm, Thursday, October 6.
–Correction: The print version of this story listed a chapel as among the features of the property purchased by Trump; however, the brick chapel is part of the Albemarle House tract which Trump has not yet acquired.