William Foley wins the Wine Enthusiast 2022 Wine Star Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Founder & Owner, Foley Family Wines
Through steady, strategic investments in vineyards, wineries and brands over 26 years, and a parallel progression in winemaking quality, William Foley has become one of the most influential vintners in California.
The company he founded in 1996, Foley Family Wines, now includes in its portfolio such iconic wineries as Chalk Hill, Sebastiani, Firestone, Ferrari-Carano, Chateau St. Jean, Silverado Vineyards and many others in California and the Pacific Northwest, as well as investments in New Zealand, France and Argentina. Foley is Sonoma County’s third largest vineyard owner and estimates that his planted vineyard acreage in California and Oregon totals 7,000.
Foley Family Wines was ranked No. 20 this year in sales volume among U.S. wineries by Wine Business Monthly, before the recent addition of Silverado, and will soon reach two million cases.
Numbers like those might tie some owners into knots as they try to keep all the moving parts moving. Not Foley. The 77-year-old entrepreneur loves his role as a vintner, even when that job comes in addition to being executive chairman of the board for Fidelity National Financial and principal owner of the Vegas Golden Knights NHL hockey team.
“I’m at the fun stage now in the wine business world,” Foley says. “We have a home at Chalk Hill, and I get to be involved in blending sessions and barrel tastings at some of the wineries. So, it’s just an exciting business. I really enjoy it.”
The CEO of the largest U.S. wine and spirits distributor Wayne Chaplin, readily acknowledges this enthusiasm. “Bill Foley’s success is truly driven by his love for wine and passion for the wine industry. With that as a foundation, his creativity and adventurous spirit have driven him to acquire and build one of the most notable wine portfolios in the industry. I’m honored to know him, work with him, and to have Southern Glazer’s sell his incredible wines.”
Foley got into wine after much success in the title insurance business. In 1996 he and his wife Carol bought a 1,000-acre property in the Sta. Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County, founding Lincourt Vineyards. Foley Estate wines followed in 1998, but the portfolio really began to grow in 2007 with the addition of Firestone Vineyard in Santa Barbara. Since then, acquisitions have closed in 11 out of the past 14 years.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing at first, and I bought Firestone and didn’t really understand it,” Foley reflects. “I bought a bunch of distressed properties, trying to be a bottom feeder, but I moved away from that. I am now the other way. I am trying to buy really nice properties. Maybe they were not managed quite right, but in terms of the quality of the vineyards and the quality of the production facilities, they’re great.”
He cites Chalk Hill, in Sonoma County, as the most improved property. The beautiful, rolling grape and horse ranch is celebrating its 50th anniversary and recently hosted the Sonoma County Wine Auction. Nearby in Dry Creek Valley, Ferrari-Carano is in great shape, he says. The most recent acquisition, Silverado Vineyards in Napa Valley, is not showing its full potential yet, while Chateau St. Jean in Sonoma Valley and Chalone Vineyard in Monterey County, he says, are getting needed upgrades.
The Foley family has been philanthropic on many levels, including donations totaling more than $5 million in wine country communities over the past five years.
In addition to his wine estates, Foley has proven his success in professional sports, private golf clubs, residential communities, boutique hotels and a ski resort. He is able to combine all of these ventures with the Foley Food & Wine Society for his customers to have luxury experiences at the intersection between sports, wine, travel and hospitality.
After a lifetime of success, what’s next? “Now I’m mature as opposed to just starting out,” he says. “But I’m really focused on quality, improving what we have, making it better. Because I like to be proud of what I’m involved in, and I am proud of our wine business, but we’re making it better every year.”
For all his work in stewarding important wine properties, for striving to give consumers the very best wine for the price, and for having fun while doing it, Wine Enthusiast is proud to honor William Foley with the Lifetime Achievement Award for 2022 and will be honored at Wine Star Awards on Jan 30th in San Francisco.
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