WineInk: A winemaker goes for the Cup
What do Marc-Andre Fleury, William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault have in common with Sebastiani Vineyards, Lancaster Estate and Lincourt Vineyards? Well all are significant players in the broad stable of interests owned by Bill Foley, one of the most important figures in American wine.
If you follow the National Hockey League you likely know that the first three names are actual players, as in stars, on the Vegas Golden Knights, who are currently in the Stanley Cup Finals. And if you follow wine you might also know that the second three names are wine estates that are part of Foley Family Wines, the burgeoning wine company. Bill Foley is the principal owner the Golden Knights and the owner of Foley Family Wines. A West Point graduate, and one-time financial services entrepreneur, Foley has spent the second half of his life indulging in business ventures that mirror his personal passions.
First, about the Golden Knights. The team is in the midst of the most successful debut in American sports history. This week they are competing against the Washington Capitals to become the first first-year franchise to win not just a Stanley Cup, but also any major championship. Consider that the NHL gave its blessing to Foley to begin operations, for a $500 million fee, on June 22, 2016. That means if the Golden Knights win Lord Stanley’s Cup, they will have gone from contract to Cup in less than two calendar years. Remarkable.
Since 1960, there have been 64 expansion teams in the NFL, NHL, MLB and NBA, and Vegas is the first expansion team to even have a winning record. They began the season as a 500-1 long shot to win the Stanley Cup at their hometown Westgate Sports Book.
But beyond their groundbreaking achievements on the rink, the team has been a focal point for a city that was crushed by the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas. Though no one associated with the team will take credit for being a part of the healing process, their inaugural game in Las Vegas on Oct. 6 was a moment of honor and remembrance for the 58 people who died. In March of this year the team retired the number 58 forever as a memorial to that day.
It is ironic that Foley’s third act threatens to overshadow his accomplishments in his second act, the wine business. In 1996, he bought a small Santa Barbara winery in a region that was perhaps best known for chardonnay. Over the next 20 years, he created a company that owns over 3,000 acres of prime vineyard land and boasts in excess of 50 different brands making a broad spectrum of wines.
Foley Family Wines was listed as the 20th-largest wine company in America on the Wine Business Monthly Top 50 list in January, with global sales of 1.7 million cases — and growing. The wineries include brand names like Chalone on the Central Coast of California, Merus in the Coombsville appellation of Napa Valley, the aforementioned Sebastiani and a plethora of Sonoma County wines not far from his Healdsburg home. His Sonoma focus has been on Chalk Hill and the Alexander Valley.
Further afield he has made acquisitions in New Zealand to the south and in Washington in the Great Northwest. He attended the University of Washington School of Law, so he is familiar with the region. Those investments reflect his business philosophy of growth by acquisition and buying for value with the intent of improving the potential of the properties he owns. It is a plan that has worked for him in the past.
The Foley Family Wines name is apropos, as two of his children are now winemakers in the family business. His daughter, Courtney, oversees the production at Foley Sonoma in Geyserville and his son, Patrick, makes the wines for Foley Johnson wines in Napa. A third sibling, Robert, works in the front office for the Golden Knights.
Since 1896, when the Winnipeg Victorias defeated the Montreal Victorias, yes both were Victorias in the 1890s, to win the fifth Stanley Cup, there has been a tradition of drinking Champagne from the top of the Silver Chalice. If the Golden Knights defeat the Caps you can be sure that wine entrepreneur Bill Foley will be there to partake in the long-revered winners tradition.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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