Imagine my surprise when Donald Trump’s son sends me a half case of wine. No – not the start of a joke, a true story…

Eric Trump, President of Trump Winery, out in the estate vineyards. Photo: Courtesy Trump Winery

Eric Trump, President of Trump Winery, out in the estate vineyards. Photo: Courtesy Trump Winery

On the other side of the continent there’s a 30-something fellow by the name of Eric and he’s the new owner of Trump winery in Charlottesville, Virginia (, formerly Kluge winery estates). He also happens to be Donald Trump’s son and a force to be reckoned with in the real estate market and now the wine industry as recognized by his “Rising Star” award at the Wine Enthusiast 2013 Wine Star Awards (

Eric has a talent for sniffing out great deals; he’s grown the Trump interest in  golf resorts from 3 to 11 total properties in a decade and is actively working on more deals. It looks like that talent covers finding undervalued wineries as well since the company took over the winery for a fraction of its true value. When socialite Patricia Kluge put the mansion, for instance, on the market in 2009 is was for the jaw-dropping price of $100 million dollars.

The Trumps picked it up for about $6.5 million.

Gives the word “trump” a heck of a lot of context, doesn’t it?

The exemplary 2008 Trump Sparkling Blanc de Blanc. Photo: ©2014 Kristof Gillese

The exemplary 2008 Trump Sparkling Blanc de Blanc. Photo: ©2014 Kristof Gillese

But does all of this money acumen translate at all to wine? You know me; I eschew corporate greatness when it comes to wine as I feel, in almost all circumstances, it is the diametric opposite to greatness in the grape. Grapes/wine crave a personal touch. Vines are like any living thing and crave light, food and love… a daunting list for most Big Business.

And yet now I sit and eat my humble pie for Eric Trump is presiding over billions of dollars of real estate and still manages to provide exactly what his vines require. Take special note of the team he has assembled: Katell Griaud who oversees the still wine program with an impressive two, yes two, master’s degrees in winemaking from prestigious Universite de Bordeaux and Jonathan Wheeler who has been with the estate since 2006 and oversees the stunning sparkling selection. Jonathan has honed his skills throughout Marlborough, Monterey, Sonoma and the Finger Lakes but it is his complete empathy with this site that is perhaps his greatest strength.

But enough about the Trumps, what about the wines? Truly the sparkling wine was the star for me, and I’m no easy sell. These are not only brilliantly crafted but also incredibly (for the vine age) articulate expressions of their terroir. I am well impressed and the highest praise I can give is that I understand, now, how it is that they beat the formidable Gloria Ferrer in two American blind tastings last year and why Wine Enthusiast bestowed upon them the highest rating ever given to a Virginia still or sparkling wine.

Please enjoy the reviews and check the sparkling wine section for my “How-To” recipe on creating a Provençal meal that is simply sinful with the Blanc-de-Blanc or the sparkling rosé!

2013 Trump Winery Rosé
90 points, Excellent Value
Blend of 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc
Vine age: 8 years
Production: 605 cases

… keen mineral precision, well-concentrated savory berry and wild scrub-brush tones; this wine is exemplary in its execution. Enough acid to make the lips pucker a smidge with enough ripeness to the fruit to allow the senses to perceive residual sugar, of which there is none. Truly  crafted for the heat of summer, this wine is both refreshing and substantial. I cracked it open on a muggy, steamy July evening towards the end of dinner and needed nothing more than good company as the pairing. If I had to pair it with food I would choose Parmegiano-Reggiano risotto with seared venison flank steak and sweet pea emulsion… a novel pairing for rosé to be certain, yet the acid in the wine will love the creamy texture rice, the bright red berry tones is perfect for venison and the peas will bring out the light notes of herb/undergrowth that the young vines are struggling to express.

2013 Trump Winery Sauvignon Blanc. Photo: ©2014 Kristof Gillese

2013 Trump Winery Sauvignon Blanc. Photo: ©2014 Kristof Gillese

2013 Trump Winery Sauvignon Blanc
89 points, Very Good Value
Vine age: 7 years
Production: 950 cases

… a lean wine, this drinks more like Sancerre then New Zealand: all minerality with hints of lemon zest and the background of little summer flowers. Vine age certainly comes into play here, with the secondary and tertiary aromas/flavors being very juvenile at present but speaking with the promise for greatness. This is a natural for anyone who loves fresh fish: pike or pickerel from the Prairies, shark from either coast, halibut for those with a budget or cod for those without… the fresher the better and just a dab of butter to season. Be wary though: this wine needs to be served chilled; anything above 16C/60F and the acids will present themselves as being unbalanced.

2013 Trump Winery Chardonnay
89+ points, Very Good Value
Vine age: 8 years
Production: 2350 cases

… reminding me of Petite Chablis, this is New World crafts(wo)manship to be certain. Brilliantly articulate, it expresses clean minerality, warm straw, ripe lemon zest and subtle savory herb nuances on the nose. On the palate the lean yet balanced acid offers that same expressions and is lacking only in vine age to further the concentration. Absolutely perfect for grilled/roast chicken this made me think of a Provençal dish I made just the other day: Meaux mustard, roasted garlic and fresh dill grilled chicken. Grilled baguette. Salad of bitter greens, grilled sweet peppers, steamed green beans, olives, capers and tomato. It was a simple meal but the intensity of the flavors was washed clean, and complimented, by the utter freshness and piercing minerality of this lovely Chardonnay

As much as Provence is a place, to me it is even more importantly a state of mind: fresh, local, seasonal. Lucky for me, living in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, I have a growing season that almost stretches year round. Here I was in June with a bounty of fresh veggies and as I had a mate in France I decided to bring some of that ideology to my own picnic table. Local lettuces, ripe tomatoes, fresh sweet peppers and peppery little radishes… the only thing not local here was the olives.

My Provence inspired salad of fresh vegetables. Photo ©2014 Kristof Gillese

My Provence inspired salad of fresh vegetables. Photo: ©2014 Kristof Gillese

This salad is Niçoise-styled, meaning that to a traditionalist it may not fit all the criteria but contains many of the key ingredients. What I like to do is treat each of those ingredients separately to enhance their natural flavors:

…steam the new potatoes, toss with great olive oil
…grill the sweet peppers, just salt and pepper
…marinate the tomatoes in vinegar and fresh herbs for 10 minutes
…steam the green beans and drizzle with balsamic reduction

But one of the true keys is in that Lyonnaise marinade that is brilliant with poultry but also works a charm on pan-seared oysters: roasted garlic, Meaux mustard, olive oil, cracked pepper and fresh herbs *(can be dill, parsley, rosemary, thyme). I let the chicken marinate like that for the entire afternoon then grill it until the skin is “cracklin’ crisp” and the internal temperature is 180F which took me about 15-20 minutes for bone-in thighs on my 400F gas barbeque.

Grilled chicken, fresh baguette, Niçoise salad and a couple of bottles of beautiful wine. What else could one want? But yes – I did have the company of my beautiful family as well, and so, I had it all.

Provence inspired summer table setting with Trump Winery Sparkling Blanc de Blanc. Photo: ©2014 Kristof Gillese

Provence inspired summer table setting with Trump Winery Sparkling Blanc de Blanc. Photo: ©2014 Kristof Gillese

2009 Trump Winery Sparkling Rosé
90+ points, Excellent Value
Blend: 92% Chardonnay, 8% Pinot Noir
Vine age: 8 years
Production: 2000 cases

… 100% estate fruit and it shows; this is an incredibly concentrated and nuanced wine for such a young vineyard. The aromas are rich with tones of red currant, cranberry, raspberry and that ever-present Trump Winery tight/lean/focused minerality. Mouth-watering vivid currant acid is enriched by a creamy, persistent mousse and the synergy of fruit just ripe enough to give the impression of sweetness. Delightfully dry though, this is the perfect foil for prawns, king crab, grilled scallops and most anything from the sea. Consider this your new sushi wine!

2008 Sparkling Blanc-de-Blanc
91+ points, Excellent Value
Vine age: 7 years
Production: 8,000 cases

… Delighted by this consummately professional methode Traditionale sparkling Chardonnay: classic creamy fine mousse, concentrated mineral aromas blending in harmony with straw/nougat/almond and Anjou pear tones. The brisk palate captures concise minerality again yet carries a richness from ripe fruit that brings dry acid to brilliant balance. A gem; exceptional value! I served this with the 2013 Chardonnay for our Provençal themed meal and it truly over-delivered on quality!

2012 Trump Winery Meritage
88 points
Vine age: 8 years
Blend: 45% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot
Production: 2,758 cases

… heavily spiced red fruit tones leap from the glass in this ultra-traditional Bordeaux styled blend; cinnamon stewed plums, red currant jelly, raspberry tart… simply massive aromas with a sugary background that is not altogether unpleasant. The medium+ red currant acid presents itself as well integrated and the medium+ fine tannin give credible weight to the wine. To me, the fruit is a tad too ripe and overpowers the gentle secondary aromas/flavors that are emerging: wild herbs, sous-bois or undergrowth are hidden behind those bold fruit tones and more than a hint of alcohol though it is a (relatively) modest 13.8%. Enjoy now, and slightly chilled (not over 18C/70F), as this young wine will not develop appreciably in bottle. For the Bordeaux enthusiasts in the audience this is, to me, more like Haut-Medoc without the pencil shavings/graphite mineral edge. A fine effort from a young vineyard.

Provence inspired summer table setting with Trump Winery Sparkling Blanc de Blanc. Photo: ©2014 Kristof Gillese

Photo: ©2014 Kristof Gillese

Many thanks to Hopcott’s meats where I purchased the excellent locally sourced chicken (  and to Kerry Woolard at Trump Winery ( for the generous sample bottles.

As always you can find more recipes, free wine reviews and my notes on premium distillates and cigars:

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About Author


Kristof Gillese: trained chef, certified wine steward, journalist and proud father. In these articles it is the human story that takes priority: to tell the tale of common people accomplishing uncommon goals. In the world of wine these tales are prolific. It has been Chef Kristofs privilege to have worked with luminaries such as Pierre-Henry Gagey of Maison Jadot, Nik Weis of St Urbans-Hof, Ray Signorello of Signorello Estates and Ezra Cipes of Summerhill Pyramid Winery; leaders in the industry. With almost 3 decades of experience working with the synergy between food and wine, Chef Kristof is proud to share the stories of these amazing stewards of the land. These articles are written with a profound reverence for the family aspect to winery culture as, to this writers understanding, nothing has ever had a more far-reaching effect than the love and devotion for a parent to a child. All great wineries are built by parents for their children and it is because of this that Chef Kristof writes.
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