Imagine Trump Winery.
You're probably picturing a "yuge" and sprawling complex with over-the-top, gaudy decor; maybe there's lots of gold. Surely there's a multi-story fountain out front. And the name "TRUMP" is blaring and blinking in 50-foot-tall neon letters.
Here's the reality: When you pull up to Trump Winery, situated on the outskirts of Charlottesville, Virginia, you're met by a relatively understated and surprisingly small building. The only gold to be seen is a capital gold 'T' on the modest sign marking the entrance. The vineyards appear to be under construction. The parking lot is dotted with potholes.
Could this possibly be the largest winery on the East Coast, as Donald Trump has claimed? (No. Trump Winery is the biggest in acreage in Virginia at 200 planted acres. But ranked by case sales, which is the more common measurement, Trump Winery is only in the top five for the state.)
Trump Winery is actually registered under Trump's son's Eric Trump Wine Manufacturing LLC, which, as the winery's very website points out, "is not owned, managed, or affiliated with Donald J. Trump, The Trump Organization, or any of their affiliates." Donald Trump, who has claimed complete ownership of the winery and cited it as one of his great business successes during his 2016 presidential run, reportedly only stops by a few times a year to take a look at the grounds.
I visited Trump Winery on a recent Saturday — and despite the low-key appearance, found the place absolutely packed. People, it appears, do actually drink Trump wine.
There was a couple with a baby, what appeared to be a bachelorette party, and some groups of friends all sidled up to the big rectangular bar in the middle for tastings, and some others tucked away at the few tables in the back. The walls were lined with bottles of Trump wine for sale, except for one small section that was reserved for Trump campaign merchandise. Amid the all-wood interior, Trump's signature "Make America Great Again" hats — available in pink, red, white, tan, navy blue, and camouflage — added some splashes of color. After a brief wait, we were able to snag a spot at the bar for a tasting.
For $12, we got to taste six wines: two whites, one rose, two reds, and one that was some sort of a Trump special blend, and, of course, a complimentary Trump Winery glass.
I'll say this much: Trump's wine was better than Franzia. The Sparkling Blanc de Blanc wasn't half bad! (And lucky for me, the wait staff, while attentive and congenial, accidentally poured us a second tasting of it in their rush to attend to everyone.) My brother was a big fan of New World Reserve and my sister-in-law liked Trump Winery's award-winning Meritage well enough that she actually contemplated buying a bottle. Hey, maybe Trump Wine was actually pretty good!
A few tastings in, our scorecards turned into sketchpads, where we each tried our hand at drawing the best portrait of Donald Trump.
As we readied ourselves for our sixth and final tasting, our opinions of Trump the man hadn't changed. But our opinions of his wine — which we'd expected to be average, if not below average — certainly had.
And then we tasted wine number six: Cru, one of Trump Winery's finest dessert wines, which was basically a mixture of chardonnay and brandy that had been aged in bourbon barrels. Although this technique actually turns out to be common in dessert wine-making, Cru really missed the mark. My brother and sister-in-law each swallowed their tasting down in one big gulp, practically gagging and diving for the free crackers afterwards.
Aside from that last sip of Cru, the experience was not all that memorable. Trump had talked up the winery — his winery — to be one of a kind, unforgettable, absolutely incredible. We'd expected an experience to phone home about. But what we found there was a building that was nice, though unremarkable, and wine that, while not all that bad, wasn't particularly unique either. Trump had built our hopes up so high. We'd expected something grand, or at least gaudy. But like so much in Trump World, the product simply failed to live up to the sales pitch of its unofficial marketer-in-chief.