By BRENDAN FITZGERALD
Mere weeks before the auction that will convey Patricia Kluge’s wine empire to the highest bidders, 20 former employees of the Kluge Estate Winery & Vineyard continue to maintain the foreclosed property’s vines and facilities. The workers, says winery employee Tim Rausse, are touching up everything from a 34,000-square-foot carriage house to an unglamorous “modular office” before the auction. The hum of a pressure washer is audible; Rausse explains that an employee is cleaning the winery production building.
The Kluge Estate Winery & Vineyard, divided into six tracts totaling roughly 900 acres, will be sold at absolute auction on April 7—an event that may attract business tycoon and potential bidder Donald Trump, reportedly a friend of the Kluge family.
When a winery doesn’t make bank, then the bank takes back the winery. However, after Farm Credit of the Virginias foreclosed on the Kluge operation, the subject of a $34.8 million lien, a December foreclosure auction failed to attract a sufficient bid. The bank bought the winery back for $19 million and plans to offer the business and property in six separate tracts, totaling more than 900 acres, at an April 7 absolute auction. The farm and winery equipment will be auctioned the following day.
Gregory Brun, former director of winery and vineyard operations at Kluge Estate, now serves as Chief Operating Officer for Grand Cru Properties, a limited liability company launched by Farm Credit to manage the property until its sale. “Right now, Farm Credit is not making wine,” says Brun. However, he says, the current staff is “doing what needs to be done at the winery.”