I was perusing the wine section of my local Kroger, looking for the cheapest red I could find, when I saw a bottle selling for $26.59 with a label that read: “TRUMP.” Surely, I thought, it couldn’t be that Trump. Because this bottle was a local wine and why on Earth would Donald Trump come to Virginia to start a winery?
I looked it up and lo and behold, it turned out that there was a Trump Winery, purchased by Donald Trump in 2011, in Charlottesville. As it turns out, Donald Trump is my local winemaker, with his vines growing just an hour northwest of my house.
Could Trump’s wine be any good? Or was it “some $5 wine” like President Obama recently said? And could I drink it without letting my politics affect the tasting notes? I longed to find out for myself. So I took a day trip down to Charlottesville to check out the Trump Winery in person.
I was accompanied by my friends Andrew and Addison, both of whom work at the nearby University of Virginia. Andrew is a full-fledged wine connoisseur. We met in 2008 when we spent a semester in Europe studying humanities and literature. Before I went on the trip, I was a bit of a teetotaler. By the time I left Europe, I was anything but. Andrew was partly to thank (or blame) for that transformation.
Now, as a graduate student/teaching assistant, he has several memberships to Charlottesville wineries, cideries, and breweries–along with an extensive glass collection from his visits. Charlottesville has become a bit of a hub for wine in the past decade or so, and every time I visit Andrew, he takes me to another winery. Like the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the tastings are always spectacular. Still, knowing what we know of Trump, it was hard to believe that the string of very pleasant wine outings would continue.
Before setting off, I was advised by my editor not to antagonize anyone with my politics while I was there, and to instead focus only on the wine — which is also how I get through Thanksgiving family dinners. So, that’s what I tried to do.
Trump Winery is nestled between Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s plantation, and Blenheim Vineyards, which is owned by Dave Matthews. In March, Trump stated that his winery was “right next to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial” (which is, of course, in Washington, D.C., but we can assume he meant Monticello) and said that Trump Winery was the largest in the eastern United States, which isn’t true.
However, per acre, it’s the largest in Virginia. And one claim that the Trump Winery made is true: all of the grapes for its wines are grown on its 1,300 acres, and it’s the only one in the whole commonwealth to do so. Other Virginia wineries have to buy grapes outside of their vineyards to produce their wines.
Andrew, Addison, and I arrived at the Trump Winery at around noon, which is an hour after it opens. It was a Saturday, so the crowds were heavy. My eyes scanned around, looking for someone I could pinpoint as a blatant Trump supporter, but all I saw were yuppies and an errant bachelorette party. It looked like a normal winery, similar to any of the others in Charlottesville–with the exception, perhaps, of its available merchandise.
For $12, you get six tastings: two whites, one rose, two reds, and one fortified wine. By comparison, a similar tasting at Dave Matthews’ winery right next door is only $6, so this is definitely one of the most expensive wineries to visit in Charlottesville.
We started with the 2009 Sparkling Blanc de Blanc. This wine was described by our plucky-but-rushed wine steward as being bright and rich. It’s the wine for which Trump Winery is most known. Andrew and Addison swirled the wine around in their glasses and inhaled deeply. I chugged mine. I liked it. I said that I could taste citrus, which is the only description I could think of. “It’s balanced,” said Andrew. “There’s definitely a tartness.” “Good minerality,” said Addison.
Next, we moved on to the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc. And this time, I tried not to chug. Andrew and Addison were far more opinionated about this one, saying that the wine had a “funky, unpleasant nose” and smelled like an “over-ripened pear” or a “Glade plug-in.” On the tongue, however, it was flat. To me, it didn’t taste much different from a Charles Shaw Sauvignon Blanc.
The third tasting was the 2015 Rosé. It smelled intensely of strawberries, just as our wine steward said it would. Andrew claimed it almost smelled like kiwi, but I didn’t pick up on that. When you drank it, it was more floral than fruity, though as a big fan of rosé wines, I didn’t mind.
We quickly moved onto the 2014 Pinot Noir. It smelled like cinnamon and blueberries. When you tasted it, it had a slight amount of spice to it. But even though it was described as “light and elegant,” the effect on the tongue was more drying than I was used to. Andrew said that it was “velvety” on the tongue.
Our fifth tasting was the Meritage 2014. Side note: “Meritage” will surely be a common name for baby girls in 2036. It was fruity and chocolatey, but otherwise unimpressive to me, even though it was one of their many award-winning wines.
Then–surprise tasting! Our wine steward had to get rid of a wine that he poured for another table, so we got the leftovers. It was the Monticello 2013, and it was similar to the Meritage, but stronger due to having more Merlot in it. Unlike the guy from Sideways, I’m actually a big fan of Merlot, especially with hearty meats. This one was probably my second favorite after the Blanc de Blanc.
Finally, we ended with Cru. It’s a fortified chardonnay, made with brandy and aged in bourbon barrels. This one was the most intriguing to me, because it smelled like a smoky whiskey, but tasted like a sweet wine. Andrew and Addison didn’t seem to be fans, but I was.
Before we left, I asked our wine steward if he would be voting for Trump in the fall–much to the embarrassment of my more refined companions. He stuttered for a moment before responding, “I don’t… I just like to keep it about the wine.” I smiled at him. “That’s okay. It was excellent wine.” I left him a good tip.
And I wasn’t lying. It was good wine. Pretty interesting that a winery that makes such delicious wine was purchased by a man who claims he’s never had a drink. The winery isn’t technically owned by Donald J. Trump any longer–he gave the property to his son, Eric Trump, but that doesn’t stop him from shouting out the winery as one of his business successes (unlike Trump steaks or Trump vodka) in his campaign speeches.
Afterward, we walked outside on the patio. It was a strangely chilly day for the south in April, but had it been warmer, it would have been a good place for a few friends to spend an afternoon.
I commented to Addison and Andrew about how uneventful the patrons were at the winery, unlike at Trump rallies. There were no protesters, nothing out of the ordinary–which was disappointing to me as a rabble rouser. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Andrew remarked that on a previous trip to Trump Winery, he and Addison had been accosted by an older couple about who they were going to vote for. When they responded that they didn’t know, the man said, “You kids are too young to remember, but America used to be great. And Trump, he’s gonna make America great again.”
Personally, I am concerned that America is leaning more toward fear again, but I did have to begrudgingly admit that Trump made some tasty wines. Addison and Andrew didn’t think it was the best in Charlottesville, much less Virginia or the East Coast, but it was some of the best I’d had. In fact…
That’s right: I ended up buying a bottle, and kept the complimentary tasting glass, which I have now safely hidden away from sight, deep in the recesses of my china cabinet. When I came home from my outing, my husband was horrified. He jokingly accused me of contributing to Trump’s campaign, in the same way that Andrew and Addison teased me for being yet another member of the media giving free press to Trump.
I’m not sure when I’ll have the proper occasion to break out a $28 bottle of sparkling wine that says “Trump” on it. I certainly wouldn’t want to serve it to my friends at a dinner party–at least, not with the label visible. Maybe I’ll save it for election night if Trump loses. Or maybe I’ll just open it up tonight and toast a world in which, regardless of stark political differences, there’s still a lot of good wine out there.