Monday, March 21, 2016

Don't attack Trump Wine

The media has begun scrambling to attack Trump wine. It seems like an easy target: the blowhard pastes his name on wine labels and brags about how great the wine is. Even President Obama jumped in the game, saying, "I want to know what that wine tastes like," before calling it a $5 wine in a $50 bottle.

There are a number of problems with this coverage, not least that some of the criticisms people are leveling at Trump wine could apply to maybe half the wineries in America. I'll get to my main objection to the coverage below. But first, here's a quick primer about what we know to be true about Trump winery:

* Trump bought the Kluge Estate winery in 2011 at a foreclosure auction for $6.2 million, far less than its appraised value.

* Trump says he doesn't drink and put his son in charge of running it. He did immediately put his last name on it.

* There were huge business mistakes in creating this winery, but they were made by the Kluges. They're familiar mistakes in the wine industry: somebody really wanted to make great wines like the ones they like to drink, so they jumped all in, spare no expense, without asking whether it was even possible. Patricia Kluge chose the site more for its beauty and location than its viticultural potential, planted the wrong grapes for the site, and spent too much on the facilities before she had a sales plan. She absorbed the losses and Trump was buying a distressed property at a great discount, which is what real-estate people do.

* Kluge Estate was, I believe, the largest estate vineyard on the East Coast. That's what Trump was trying to say when he called it the largest winery on the East Coast. I've seen people go to great lengths to try to call Trump a liar here. It's nitpicking. It's a big winery for the East Coast. Must we get into size again?

* I never liked Kluge Estate wine. It was far too oaky and out of balance. The whole project was a mistake. But could it be rescued? Sure. Now that construction costs are paid, it's a tourist-friendly winery in a convenient location. It will never make great wine. But it doesn't have to: it only needs to make competent wine.

* Sidebar: There is great wine in Virginia. Some people will mock Virginia wine as part of their attacks on Trump. Kluge Estate was never part of the Virginia quality wine movement. Try some wines from Linden Vineyards or RdV.

* Is Trump wine any good now? The media wants a Yes or No answer. But I'm sorry, it's never going to be that simple, as any wine lover knows. Is Opus One a good wine? I think so; I'm a fan. It's expensive. It gets terrific critics' ratings. By most measures it's a good, even great wine. But I know wine lovers, including some Master Sommeliers, who hate Opus One because they think it's too big and oaky. They would not agree that it's a good wine, and they are experienced wine experts.
Here's your wine-geek example: the most popular wine by the glass in the United States, for the second year in a row, is Meiomi Pinot Noir. I think it tastes like cherry pancake syrup. Most sommeliers hate it. But they keep their mouths shut and they sell it. So is Meiomi Pinot Noir any good?

* Trump called the wine, "the finest wine, as good a wine as you can get anywhere in the world." A lot of people have mocked this statement, which is very similar to what I've heard from a number of winery owners whose wines I disliked. You can't disprove it. I saw Politico try to do so by saying it's not in Wine Spectator's Top 100 list. DRC isn't either, though that would be a number of people's choice for best wine in the world. Wine Spectator doesn't have the authority to answer this question: nobody does. Meiomi Pinot Noir has a statistically based argument for "as good a wine as you can get anywhere in the world," but the LA Times recently described it as "like sucking on a tree." Wine appreciation is subjective.

* The Washington Post last week called Trump wine "pretty good" in a column written by a sommelier, Erin Scala, subbing for regular wine writer Dave McIntyre. She likes the bubbly, and implies that it was the winemaker's decision to make those, which means ownership/management was smart enough to push the decision down to the level of the person best qualified to make it.

* In case you're wondering, I haven't had Trump wine. I would try to be objective about it if I tried it, but that's hard. I'd rather taste it blind. Given the charged atmosphere around it, I simply would not listen to anybody saying anything, positive or negative, about the wine if they haven't tasted it blind.

Now, here are my objections to this as a story:

1) Disdain for all wine lurks not far below the surface of most of the anti-Trump wine stories

2) You could write the same "egomaniac with his name on a wine label" story about dozens of wineries that weren't purchased as a distressed asset at a foreclosure auction. Trump is among the LEAST ego-driven of all of those.

3) Trump Winery might turn out to be a great investment. He has a hotel there, they can do weddings. And his name will be a selling point for, what, 1/3 of Republicans? Most wineries have a much smaller niche to market to.

4) Before the election, we can only know if Trump Winery is a good investment, if he opens the books and it's now making money. That would make it a great investment. We cannot know, even if he opens the books, if it's a bad investment. He only bought it five years ago and turning around a  business takes time, especially a business where different grape varieties really should be planted. So in this election cycle, Trump Winery's business can only be good news for Trump.

5) A lot of this might sound like I'm a Trump supporter. I'm not. I think he's a fascist and he must be stopped (though he still would be better than Ted Cruz.)
The problem with attacking Trump Winery is that it's the wrong argument against Trump.

Trump Winery, to my eyes, looks like a business gamble worth taking. Even if the winery fails, he's got the real estate. If you don't like Trump, you might want to keep harping on Trump University, which is defunct and facing multiple lawsuits. Or you might want to talk about how his economic statements don't make any sense. Or you might point out that the only way to get Mexico to "pay for the wall" is to bomb and/or invade Mexico, which if you think that's a good idea, well, not much I can say is going to convince you to vote sensibly.

Donald Trump is a fascist who is ignorant of national economics and international politics, and he's dangerous. Voters can't hold a lot of arguments in their head. Stick to what matters.

And President Obama? If you really want to know what Trump Wine tastes like, you're the President. Order a bottle.

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Unknown said...

The Wall Street Journal recently reviewed Trump-branded consumer products on their “Opinion” page:

“Donald Trump, Meet Your Customers;
Trump say he’s the tribune of the common man.
I read 26,000 online reviews to find out what the common man thinks of his products.”

By Joseph Rago
[member of The Journal’s editorial board]

Excerpt on Trump wine(s):

Mr. Trump says he’s the candidate of the common man, and, well, the common man now regularly shares online his opinions of the stuff he buys. By coincidence, a few weeks before Mr. Trump’s [election-night] speech, I wondered what the amateur critics who contribute to websites like TripAdvisor, Yelp and Amazon were saying about his consumer-facing products, and I started to comb through their reviews whenever I had a spare half-hour.

According to my spreadsheet, I’ve now read about 26,000 individual reviews. It has been slow, bleary-eyed scutwork, trust me, and remember, kids, this is what happens if you go into journalism.

. . . I went with a friend to get lunch at the notorious tourist trap that is the Trump Grill, in the gilded atrium of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. My review: This place couldn’t make a Gentleman’s C at Trump University.

A lobster ravioli appetizer ($14) appeared to be frozen food, which offered reassurance: “unlikely to be poisonous.” Meat was riskier. To the cows that gave their lives in vain for the Gold Label cheeseburger ($20) and the Trump Tower steak sandwich ($23), we apologize.

Our glasses of “red wine blend” from Trump Winery — a Meritage, the 2013 vintage ($11), and a 2012 New World Reserve ($16) — also disappointed. The esophageal burns [*] speak for themselves. . . .

[*From its presumably high ABV level? ~~ Bob]

W. Blake Gray said...

Bob: What a crap article. I can find a few negative comments on Yelp about any business at all. This is the kind of crap article I'm talking about.

Bob Rossi said...

An excellent piece. I disagree with only one statement: " Trump is among the LEAST ego-driven of all of those." I'd say he's right at the same level. No more ego-driven, but no less.

NapaLife said...

I have visited Trump Winery and tasted most of the wines. I'd call them pretty good overall, certainly better than many made in the east. I think Jonathan Wheeler is a talented winemaker to make them considering the challenges presented by the weather.

They're also reasonably priced, mostly $14-$20.

It's a beautiful place, too.

I agree that Linden and LdV make better wines, as does Barboursville and Glen Manor. I was pointed to them bu Jim Conaway, who knows wine well.

LdV is good, but overpriced and the owner is a brash Napa-style venture by a rich guy with a big ego.

That said, I can't say anything about Donald Trump that many respected people haven't already said.

But that has nothing to do with the wine Wheeler makes, just like the social views of the owners of Domino's, In'n'Out and Chick-Fila-A have to do with their products (Domino's stinks, In'n'Out is great and you can't buy Chick-Fil-A here yet but the line to buy one was about 100 people long in the midwestern airport where I tried).

W. Blake Gray said...

Napa Life: I don't know if there's a safe space in San Francisco to admit this, but I used to like the chicken salad sandwich and carrot salad at Chick-Fil-A. Duck and cover!

NapaLife said...

I noted a sign for Chick-Fil-A in a Fairfield mall as I drove by Saturday, but it was breakfast time and I assume that they weren't open anyway.

jason Carey said...

The Trump wines are "fine" for what they are, in line with most other over-prices VA wines. My only point is I won't buy it cause I am not giving one cent to that family, period. I would not care if it were DRC quality at 20 dollars a bottle, I would still not buy it.

Andy said...

Had the 2013 Chard at $16 per bottle. its was fine, nice detail, a bit thin ...Miles would call it "quaffable but not transcendent". I am still shocked that we are discussing Trump at this level. Did anyone ever watch "The Apprentice"? He might be a decent business man but he is a buffoon. A Trump presidency would make me long for the salad days of Bush 2