William P. (Bill) Foley II has come a long way from his West Texas, Lonesome Dove, cattle ranching roots. The former head of Fidelity financial and current Chairman of the Fidelity Board of Directors wanted to create a legacy for his family and had a love for wine. In 1996 bought what is now Lincourt Winery in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County, California. From there he created Foley Estates Vineyard and Winery. Set on 480 acres, of which around 230 are planted with vineyards, Foley produces classic and highly regarded Burgundian style Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from their estate fruit in the Santa Rita Hills of Santa Barbara County.
With his legacy in mind the creation of Lincourt winery was in honor of his two daughters, Lindsey and Courtney, on a former dairy farm not far from the home estate. Lincourt has given Foley the opportunity to experiment with many more varietals than those he produces at Foley Estates, from crisp and lively Pinot Gris with balanced acidity and a subtlety not often found in Pinot Gris; to Pinot Blanc filled with pineapple, banana and pear; to a very drinkable and bold Merlot filled with spice, cedar and black plums which is nice to see since this is Sideways country.
I visited the picturesque Foley Estate recently and enjoyed a 2 hour tasting of 23 of the different Lincourt and Foley wines led by Foley’s knowledgeable and gracious manager, Jesse Barter. Over our lingering tasting we discussed how Bill Foley went from a successful owner of Foley Estates and Lincourt Winery to one of the most influential and powerful winery conglomerates, with labels such as Merus, Kuleto, Chalk Hill, Sebastiani and Three Rivers under their umbrella.
In 2007 Bill Foley purchased Firestone Vineyards, a well respected and loved winery also in Santa Barbara County. Mr. Foley promised the Firestone family that he would not change the tradition that Firestone started, that he would allow the winery to maintain the operation they had established years before, including making sure a visitor to the winery never felt that they were in anything but the Firestone winery. The heritage was maintained, with the focus always on delivering the highest quality product and experience possible to the guests. In 2008 he stepped in to help the fledgling Sebastiani winery, once one of the highest production wineries in California. A promise was also made here to keep the traditions established by the winery intact, but they had to improve the quality which came by scaling back their production. Today production is around 80,000 cases a year, previously the production was well into the millions under Turner Road Vintners. Last winter I visited Kuleto Estate, a member of the Foley Family of Wines. Though a part of Foley Family Wines the experience was 100% Kuleto. Foley’s hands off approach, while imparting impeccably high standards, allows each winery to shine.
As we talked we tasted….I appreciate Foley Estates focus on only Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, understanding that these are the best two varietals for their vineyards and their dedication to making it the best they can, and with several different options of each Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to suit different tastes almost ensuring that every palate will find one of their wines that will fit their preference. Here are a few stand outs from the bunch.
The 2009 Foley Steel Chardonnay is a completely stainless steel, no oak wine with fresh floral, honeysuckle and pear aromas with almost a green straw color and clean pear, green apple and honey flavors. It reminded me of some unoaked Washington State Chardonnay with big fruit, easy drinking characteristics and though not the most complex is a great every day white. The Bar Lazy S Chardonnay is aged 20 months in French oak displaying dried stone fruit and ripe pear flavors with a layer of caramel and cream on the finish. The Barrel Select, Rancho Santa Rosa Chardonnay is a classic California Chardonnay made from the best 15 barrels of Chardonnay produced each year from vineyards with morning fog lingering into the afternoon and coastal breezes blowing off the afternoon fog and drying the fruit. The fruit has long hang times, with harvest occurring later than some areas in California. This doesn’t seem to be a problem since their rainy season doesn’t start until December.
The best Chardonnay of the day was the Two Sisters. Only three vintages have been produced from the best clusters of the vineyard created in honor of Foley’s two daughters planted with Courtney Chardonnay and Lindsey Pinot Noir. Since they only use the best clusters from the vineyard production varies each year from a few cases to a few hundred. An elegant and aromatic Chardonnay filled with aromas of nutmeg, coconut, pear and a touch of cinnamon flowing into ripe pear, apricot and marshmallow flavors. Incredibly silky with a long, velvety finish that requires additional sips.
The Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir is their highest production Pinot Noir, around 5000 cases produced, from grapes planted right around their tasting room. Filled with cola, cherry and strawberry with layered spice notes on the finish. An approachable Pinot Noir that would pair well with everything from salmon to steaks. The Bar Lazy S Pinot Noir has a slightly more fruit forward palate with lots of red, ripe cherry and rhubarb on the palate. The Two Sisters Pinot Noir, from the best clusters in Lindsey’s half of the vineyard, is a delicate yet complex wine with layers of raspberry, strawberry, cherry and slight herbal notes with a long elegant finish.
Foley Family Wines continues to grow with 25+ brands in their portfolio today from wineries all over the world. The beautiful Foley Estates tasting room is open from 10am-5pm daily.