Tell Us Everything, Winemaker Patricia Kluge
Patricia Kluge, 61, is probably best known as the former wife of Metromedia billionaire John Kluge, although their divorce happened nearly 20 years ago. It takes a while for folks to forget about that much money. In the 1990s they were said to be the wealthiest couple in America known for their lavish parties and high-profile friends like Malcolm Forbes, Frank Sinatra and Katherine Graham. But more recently the English-Iranian Kluge has put her fortune to work.
Ten years ago she began planting grapes on her 1,800 acres of rolling Albemarle County, Virginia property - one of the most enviable plots of land in all of Virginia. Her ambition was to become the most prestigious winery on the East Coast and with advice from Robert Mondavi, top wine consultants from France and a state-of-the-art winery, she's getting there. Her wines, which sometimes seem a bit ambitiously priced, have done well in competitions (especially the Blanc de Blancs sparkling Chardonnay and sparkling rosé), are now available in 16 states and China, and she has one of the most lovely tasting rooms in the area.
Most recently in the news for putting her 25,000-square-foot, 45-room estate on the market for $100 million, Kluge and her husband, William Moses, are downsizing, but still keeping 1800 acres and the winery. They had architect David Easton build them a 6,500-square-foot "old Virginia"-style home on another portion of their land which they've designated to be "Vineyard Estates," an über-high-end community of which, they'll be the first residents.
On the 10 anniversary of her Kluge Estates winery, we asked Patricia to tell us everything:
1. What made you want to go into winemaking 10 years ago?
I've always loved wine, particularly the art of pairing wine and food. I'm an avid gardener and consider myself a steward of the land so I was not surprised to learn, when studying my genealogy, that I have farmers in my ancestry. For some time I would look out over the rolling hills and the many acres surrounding my home and felt that creating a vineyard and winemaking operation was a natural choice. I also researched this very thoroughly, studied the soils, consulted with experienced individuals within the industry. Their affirmation of my dream proved that my gut was pointing me in the right direction.
2. For many in Virginia a vineyard is something of a gentleman farmer's pursuit but from the start you have been very serious about making Kluge world-renowned. Did you ever consider just dabbling in it as a hobby?
Although I have hobbies, gardening for instance, I don't do anything halfway. I really throw myself into every endeavor and try to be as educated as possible. So to enter into the wine business with anything less than 100 percent commitment, the utmost passion and excitement never crossed my mind.
3. How close are you to your goal?
The problem with goals is that I keep raising the bar! When we started we had about 30 acres and a handful of varietals. We launched with three wines. Kluge Estate now has over 220 acres under vine, 8 varietals planted and 4 brands. My new goal is to see our wines available in all 50 states.
4. What have you learned in that time about the art/science of winemaking?
In addition to our fabulous vineyard staff and winemakers at Kluge Estate we work with two great consultants from France: Michel Rolland for our red program and Laurent Champs for our sparkling program. Their time in the field and blending in the cellar prove that there is an art and a science to it. There is a saying that anyone can be a cook but a handful of people study and train to become great chefs. There is that difference when working with an experienced winemaking team.
5. What's a common misunderstanding about wine?
I think people can take wine very seriously, to the point where the fun is taken out of it. As a business I do take it seriously but wine is meant to be enjoyed, shared and it can enhance an experience much like music. When I think of a meaningful evening, a great meal or special celebration, there is always wine involved.
Gallery: Kluge Estates Vineyard
In terms of the flavors and palate that I prefer, therefore the style in which I try to make our wines, my taste is more Old World. Kluge Estate's planting and blending methods are more French than our West Coast counterparts. Both of our consultants and Kluge Estate's head of winemaking operations are French, which lends a decidedly European flavor to the endeavor. And I came to the U.S. from England, so we come by this Old Word approach honestly!
7. What's new at the winery?
Kluge Estate's sparkling program has really taken off and achieved a level of success in sales and popular opinion that thrills me. Now that we have a larger stable of wines we have started the Kluge Estate Wine Club. It is exciting to share our wine with people who might not be able to visit or don't have local wine shops or restaurants that carry our wines.
8. Robert Mondavi has acted as your mentor, what's an invaluable piece of advice he's offered?
His encouragement and enthusiasm for Virginia was the seal of approval that I wanted to hear. He said something along the lines of, "When I started in California people thought I was crazy and now look at Napa, Sonoma, Russian River Valley. If I were 30 years younger I would be exploring winemaking in Virginia." What else did I need to hear?!
9. What did you drink on New Year's Eve?
New Year's Eve we had Kluge SP Blanc de Blanc 2003 - a spectacular sparkling and the best vintage of the decade - with American caviar.
10. Aside from Kluge, what are some other wineries you'd suggest to our readers for a visit?
Charlottesville is a great place to visit. There is history, music, sports, art, food and, of course, the Monticello Wine Trail, which is home to over 20 wineries.
11. What does the future hold for Kluge Estate?
The future looks bright for all Kluge Estate brands as sales and territories increase each year. I am particularly proud of our unique aperitif / digestif called CRU. It is made from Chardonnay juice with eau de vie added, which makes it 100 percent Chardonnay, then it's aged in Jack Daniel's barrels. The result is something totally versatile and unique – and beloved. CRU can be served on its own, with sparkling, as a mixer, with appetizers or dessert. It's a chameleon! CRU and our sparkling wines are our main brands – and they are something special.
In addition to growing our brands we aspire to improve in viticulture and enology, as consistency and quality are critical, and to open new markets in China, India and Europe.