Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Rise and Fall of Patricia Kluge

The Rise and Fall of Patricia Kluge Former billionaire spouse turned vintner is now facing foreclosure.

It's the kind of story from which movies are made. Sad ones, that is. A beautiful young woman marries a billionaire, divorces and uses her hefty settlement to strike out into a celebrated business, only to lose it all. Rather than a contrived film plot, this is the real-life story of Patricia Kluge.

Last month Kluge, now 62, bid adieu to Albemarle, a beloved Charlottesville, Va., manse. That's when the 200-acre, 45-room estate became the subject of a foreclosure auction on the courthouse steps in downtown Charlottesville. By its ending, creditor Bank of America (NYSE: BAC - News) had repossessed the property for just $15.3 million.

The sales was just the latest in a string of ups and downs for the former heiress. Raised in Iraq under British rule, Kluge worked early in her career as a nude model for first husband Russell Gay at Knave magazine. On a trip to New York City she met John W. Kluge, the founder of Metromedia. The two were married in 1981. By the time they divorced nine years later, Kluge, the husband, was ranked by Forbes as the world's richest man, worth more than $5 billion.

Patricia walked away with a paltry settlement by comparison, estimated to have come to less than $1 million a year, plus Albemarle. The 24,000-square-foot neo-Georgian home boasts a helipad, wine grotto, stables and two kitchens. It is nestled in the Virginia countryside near Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate.

The seeds of Kluge's financial downfall were sown in 1999 when, along with second husband William Moses, she established the Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard on 960 acres near Albemarle. The couple's plan: Create vintages that would establish Kluge Estate, and subsequently Virginia, as an East Coast mecca for fine wine.

The Kluge Estate Winery quickly won critical acclaim for its bubbly vintages and red-wine blends. Soon Kluge wines were making their way to the dinner tables of society darlings and upscale restaurants. They even graced the menu for Chelsea Clinton's multimillion-dollar wedding weekend last July.

Perhaps intoxicated by her success, Kluge decided to expand aggressively. Over the past five years she took out $65 million in loans, according to public records. The money went into expanding wine production and building a super-luxury subdivision called Vineyard Estates, which was to include 24 multimillion-dollar homes with pools, outdoor kitchens, tennis courts, horse trails -- and even space for private vineyards.

That's when the housing crisis hit. Vineyard Estates failed to draw buyers. Property values plunged.
By: Morgan Brennan

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