People using their political positions for personal gain seems to be a simple fact of life these days, and the wine world is no exception. Thomas Barrack, president-elect Donald Trump’s chairman of the presidential inaugural committee, featured his own wine on the exclusive Chairman’s Global Dinner menu on January 17.
The black tie dinner was held for the Trump campaign’s top donors. On the menu was mustard glazed black cod or filet mignon with four wine pairing options. Three of the wines were from Napa Valley, and one was the Piocho Bordeaux Red Blend from Barrack’s personal vineyard on the central coast of California.
Perhaps Barrack’s wine is just that much more suited to the menu options than any of the more than 9,000 wineries in the United States. Serving his own wine, however, is a conflict of interest by dictionary.com’s definition of the term: “The circumstance of a public officeholder, business executive, or the like, whose personal interests might benefit from his or her official actions or influence.”
Admittedly, this isn’t at the top of our list of egregious acts. It’s about a $32 bottle of wine, not some unthinkable conflict of interest like the Health and Human Services Secretary owning stock in a medical company, or the president making business deals with the same countries he’s making political deals with.
Barrack’s relationship with Trump goes back to 1988, when he sold New York’s Plaza Hotel to Trump. He endorsed Trump back in February, donated a lot of money, and now heads the committee responsible for planning all official events and activities having to do with the inauguration.
Barrack is the head of an international investment firm and purchased the Piocho Ranch in 1992 “out of a love for the countryside and a ranchers (sic) life,” according to the Piocho website. It’s in the Santa Barbara American Viticulture Area, and it’s also where the Barrack family blends their “passion for the game of polo with the art of making wine.”
The website also adds that the property “attracts the best Polo ponies, the best Polo athletes, and consistently produces some of the best bordeaux varietal wines in the world.” If that’s the case, no wonder Barrack and his team of planners went with his wine instead of some hoity toity expensive premier cru from Bordeaux!
Update: A statement attributed to Thomas Barrack was sent to VinePair from deputy press secretary Natalie Strom. It reads:
“I am humbled to have been chosen by the President-elect to lead the 58th Inaugural. It was my honor to have donated wine from my personal vineyard, completely free of charge, to the Chairman’s Global Dinner last night, where President-elect Trump and Vice President-elect Pence put their first fingerprints on the global canvas of diplomacy and outreach.” – Tom Barrack, Chairman, Presidential Inaugural Committee
While Barrack didn’t receive financial compensation for the wine, he did receive free exposure. Exposure matters when it comes to presidential event wine lists. Soon after President Barack Obama served Peza do Rei at the Gala de la Hispanidad, the wine completely sold out.