Trump says he didn't fire Kluge, but she's out either way

Eric Trump stands with Patricia Kluge at a celebration marking the opening of Trump Winery on her own auctioned-off and rebranded estate in 2011. Kluge worked as vice president of operations at the vineyard for the last year, but her contract wasn’t renewed. (Photo by Nick Strocchia)

Patricia Kluge is no longer working at the vineyard estate she used to own, but the new owners of Trump Winery said she wasn’t fired—the year-long contract that made her vice president of operations has simply expired.

Billionaire Donald Trump, a close friend of Kluge and her husband Bill Moses, bought the couple’s 900-acre Kluge Estate Winery for $6.2 million at a foreclosure auction last year.

Trump’s son Eric became president of the winery, and Kluge was given a one-year contract to help with the transition. There was never any expectation that she would stick around long-term, Eric Trump said.

“It’s what we always agreed we would do,” said the younger Trump, speaking from his office in New York City. “A year ago, we said, you’re going to help us transition [the estate] from a bank-owned asset to an asset that’s up and running under our organization. She was able to do so really effectively.”

Kluge established Kluge Estate Winery in 1999 with settlement money from her 1990 divorce from billionaire John Kluge. At the time, she said she aspired to take Virginia wine-making to a new level and establish the state as one of the premier wine-making regions in the world. Within a decade, Kluge Estate was the largest winery in Virginia.

But things turned sour when Patricia Kluge and Moses, her third husband, defaulted on bank loans after their revenues did not reach projected levels. Facing foreclosure on the vineyard and other properties, they declared personal bankruptcy in 2011. A few months later, the elegant estate became the latest addition to the Trump empire.

Under Eric Trump, Kluge was largely in charge of wine-related matters.

“I think that’s the thing she’s best at,” Trump said. He added that he’s close to both Kluge and Moses, whom he said will stay on as general manager of the winery. And while Kluge is no longer a direct employee, she’ll still work with the winery as a consultant, Trump said.

Despite a New York Post article suggesting otherwise, he said there’s no bad blood between his family and Kluge. Other news reports back him up. In a recent interview with The Hook,

Bill Moses said the break was planned and friendly, and that his wife had other projects she wanted to focus on. Kluge herself told the Washington Post there was “no rift,” and said she was grateful to the Trumps for saving the vineyard she loved.

“She helped us make the transition, and she’s going to go on to different things in her own life,” Eric Trump said. At this point, there’s no need to fill her position, he said, “given that we’re up and running and doing amazingly well.”—Ryan McCrimmon

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