Foley Family Wines Bullish on Industry Growth and Innovation
Photo Credit: Foley Family Wines
Part of an artform that’s evolved over millennia, Foley Family Wines is a relatively new player on the field. But since its founding in 1996, what started as a single vineyard has grown into a global enterprise, encompassing dozens of labels across California and the Pacific Northwest all the way down to South Island, New Zealand. Relative to its time in the industry, Foley Family Wines has grown at breakneck speed, and despite a whirlwind year of wildfires, a global pandemic and resulting business closures, doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon.
Foley Family Wines was built on passion, its growth reflective of an ambitious mindset fueled by Founder and Vintner Bill Foley. While his ownership of the Vegas Golden Knights has garnered substantial fame across the Las Vegas Valley in recent years, it was Foley’s keen eye for a good business deal that got him to a position to make such a purchase. The Air Force vet made his mark on the business world when he bought and turned around the then-struggling Fidelity National Financial. Now, nearly 50 years later, he remains Executive Chairman of the Board, and applies the same acumen that’s garnered such success into other areas he’s passionate about.
Any Golden Knights fan can attest to the team’s incredible milestones and the positive impact they’ve made on the city. Wine aficionados can say the same with Foley Family Wines.
“As I began researching [Bill], I realized that the Foley family and Foley Family Wines organization was committed to investing in the business for the long-term and striving for success in the luxury wine market,” said Gerard Thoukis, Chief Marketing Officer at Foley Family Wines. “The portfolio is comprised of a long list of iconic winery estates that have rich pedigrees and deep rooted stories, derived from some of the world’s most renowned wine growing regions.”
That portfolio is the product of a relentless series of acquisitions, made year after year, geared to grow and diversify Foley Family Wines while preserving the natural art and culture of each label they take under their wing.
“The key to managing such an expansive and diverse portfolio is prioritization and maintaining authenticity,” Thoukis said. “From an authenticity perspective, it is imperative that each brand in our portfolio maintains and shares their unique, compelling brand story and maintains product profiles that are consistent with the brand’s history, heritage and place of origin.”
“From a prioritization perspective, [we have] identified key brands and even individual SKUs to focus our attention and investment. This prioritization enables all FFW functional areas, our wholesaler partners and customers to clearly understand which initiatives are
Overseeing that many labels and perfecting each of those brand stories to uphold a reputation of ‘distinct style and legacy’ is much easier said than done. But the portfolio keeps growing, and Thoukis is among those at the helm looking out for the next great acquisition.
“Early in my tenure, Bill asked me to compile a list of brands which would be great additions,” Thoukis said. “When evaluating potential acquisitions, it is imperative that we look for brands that fill a gap in our existing portfolio.”
One of the more recent brands that filled that gap is Sonoma County-based Ferrari-Carano, knowns for its Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and a Tuscan-style red blend. The deal adds more than 1,200 acres of vineyard and an estimated 480,000 cases of annual output to the Foley Family Wines umbrella. Bill Foley’s goal is to get to 2 million cases.
But Thoukis is adamant about the company’s preservation of each label’s legacy. This mission doesn’t just apply to the wine itself, but the tasting experience as well.
“We’re in the process of revamping the consumer experiences at all winery sites,” he said. “Our objective in doing this is to ensure that each onsite winery experience reinforces the authentic, unique stories for each specific winery and location to consumers.”
Thoukis has dedicated his career to the wine world, taking after his father, who served with E. & J. Gallo for 45 years, retiring as VP of Winemaking, and his grandfather, a wine and spirits maker in Cyprus. Thoukis himself became enamored with wine as a child, not by drinking it of course, but seeing how it brought together his family and their friends, symbolizing the best of times. Now, with a 21-year stint of his own with E. & J. Gallo behind him, Thoukis is in his third year with Foley Family Wines and his second year as CMO. He was recently nominated for the “Wine Executive of the Year” Wine Star Award from Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
The deep industry experience that got him into the C-suite and a revered nomination is what’s also allowing Foley Family Wines to navigate its way through the ever-evolving digital age. E-commerce is somewhat of a low-hanging fruit at this point, not to say that it’s easy to manage from an operational or financial perspective.
“Today’s consumer has an expectation of purchasing what they want, when they want it,” Thoukis said. “As a result, e-commerce has become a growth avenue for many in the wine industry, including us.”
But Foley Family Wines’ initiatives go far beyond basic online sales. In a time when in-person tastings have all but disappeared, the company is leveraging another one of its arms, the Foley Food & Wine Society, to take consumer engagement to another level.
“We’ve developed and launched virtual tasting capability featuring some of the world’s most-celebrated wines, and hosted by the wine world’s greatest wine experts,” Thoukis said. “Virtual tasting packages bring the elegance and exclusivity of a private cellar tasting directly to a consumer’s home.”
The Foley Food & Wine Society is a luxury lifestyle community where members gain access to a variety of culinary, travel and entertainment experiences, as well as highly acclaimed wines. Started by Bill and Carol Foley, the community is another example of personal passion becoming a reality for others through mindful execution.
But it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for Foley Family Wines, or anyone growing in California for that matter. The pandemic has forced countless restaurants, hotels and other business partners to close their doors indefinitely, inevitably hurting sales. Thoukis did note that he’s seen some resurgence in recent months, however.
And as if a global pandemic wasn’t bad enough, wildfires have been scorching California’s wine country for months. With the potential to wipe out entire crops, these fires could prove fatal for many in the area. And while the Foley Family vineyards located in California, Oregon and Washington seem to be largely unaffected, the company is nevertheless supported by its broad geographic diversification.
“Unfortunately, wildfires seem to have become the new normal in wine growing regions,” Thoukis said. “Over the past few years, we’ve had a few properties touched by wildfires. Fortunately, due to extraordinary and selfless work done by first responders, no [Foley Family] wineries have been destroyed.”
Thoukis is also optimistic about the wine industry continuing to move forward, with an eye set on innovation. Even in a field that’s existed for thousands of years, he sees a breadth of areas ripe for change.
As consumers continue along their wine journey and become more and more comfortable with wine, I see continued growth of the category over the next five years,” he said. “But in order for my projection to be true, the wine industry must continue to innovate. Flavor innovation, packaging innovation, lower-alcohol offerings, marketing innovation, especially around digital consumer outreach and engagement, all must take place for the wine industry to attract and retain the next generation of wine consumers and drive growth.”
Foley Family Wines has become a dominant force in the wine world over the last 25 years. Now, with an army of labels in tow, there’s a new corner to turn, and that’s the art of effectively communicating these masterfully-crafted brand identities to an increasingly digital consumer with an elusive palate. And as we eye a hopeful recovery from a pandemic that’s put the hospitality industry effectively on pause, brands have had substantial time to think about how they’re going to approach this next generation of consumer, whose habits have inevitably changed as well amidst the lockdowns.
Finding the exact channels and engagement tools will continue to be a priority for Thoukis and his team. But for a group founded on passion, they will undoubtedly continue to lead the field.
For more information on Foley Family Wines, visit FoleyWines.com. For more information on the Foley Family Food and Wine Society, visit FoleyFoodAndWineSociety.com.