Bill Foley received his B.S. degree in Engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1967, received an M.B.A. degree from Seattle University, earned his J.D. degree in 1974 from The University of Washington School of Law and served in the U.S. Air Force, where he attained the rank of Captain. After quite a successful career as a businessman and attorney in the corporate world, he turned his passion for wine into a family business in 1996 when he launched Lincourt Vineyards, the first of a collection of wineries that would become Foley Family Wines. Success brought more success as he built a wine empire that now includes 20 highly respected and major award-winning wineries in the major appellations throughout California, Oregon, Washington and New Zealand that spans 4,500 acres of vineyards. 

Foley proved to be an innovator and pioneer in the wine industry and also in professional sports, as he became a hero to the city of Las Vegas in 2016 when he helped bring in not only hockey but the first major professional sports team to the Las Vegas Valley with the National Hockey League’s 31st franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights, of which he is Chairman, CEO and Governor. 

Both enterprises are thriving and now his wine empire is positioned to reach throughout Southern Nevada, as it has entered into a partnership with the Valley’s largest distributorship, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Nevada. 

We sat down with Bill Foley to talk wine, hockey, family and the bright future in store for Las Vegas and Foley Family Wines. 

How did you get into the wine business?

I’ve been a wine aficionado for quite some time. Back in the mid-80s I really got interested in white and red burgundies and in the mid-90s moved to Santa Barbara and thought it would be interesting to get into the wine business and really learn it and try to make great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I ended up buying property in what is now Santa Rita Hills even before the appellation became an appellation. So it really was a love of white and red burgundy—Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—and that’s how it all started. 

How has the industry changed since you founded Foley Family Wines with the launch of Lincourt Vineyards in 1996?

The changes have been dramatic. Number one, the industry is much larger, more dynamic and is dominated by very large producers. Back in the late 90s when we were so tiny, you could be a little winery and if you didn’t get too big you could sell through your wines and it wasn’t quite as stressful. And then as we started moving forward and buying more wineries, I decided I needed to get larger to be more into the distributor network and that’s where our growth story started. I always thought we were too small and we’re finally getting some mass now, but it’s taken 22 years. 

You currently have wineries in California, Oregon, Washington and New Zealand. Any plans to expand?

Worldwide we have about 4,500 acres. Our goal has been to be in all the key appellations and to make the best wine we can. Historically I’ve been a value buyer, picking up distressed properties and turning them around, but I don’t want to do that anymore. Now I’m looking to buy quality properties that I can grow and just make better. I’m currently interested in some properties in Sonoma and Napa, which I like because it’s close to my infrastructure.  

What do you hope your brand accomplishes in the next five years?

Our goal is to get to three million cases. If we do that we’ll be a size large enough to have a presence in the distributor network. We’re starting to get there now. Last year we grew about 20% and did about 1.2 million in the US and more than 500,000 in the rest of the world, and right now are on a growth pattern to do about 25% this year. So, we’re not that far off. It’s going to take a few more acquisitions and some organic growth. I feel like we have the right price points and right products to penetrate the market.

What are some of your favorite varietals you enjoy personally?

I’m a New World Chardonnay guy; the Chalk Hill Estate Chardonnay is probably my favorite: It’s a big round, buttery wine.  And I love Pinot Noir, which we make in Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County, Oregon, Russian River and Carneros, so we’ve got a really strong group of Pinot vineyards. 

Can you tell us about some of the awards your wineries have earned that you are most proud of?

We’ve gotten two or three top 100 awards from Wine Spectator, lots of Wine Enthusiasts and Wine Spectator Best Buys and tons of 90-point wines. Every year we generally have ten or twelve 90-point wines. I was Man of the Year for Wine Enthusiast in 2010, so was pretty proud that they recognized me and our wineries. 

I know many of the names of your wineries have special meaning, such as your Two Sisters being named for your two daughters. Can you talk about the significance of the naming of your wineries?

All the kids have vineyards named after them—Lindsay, Courtney, Patrick and Robert—and Foley Johnson, which is our premiere Napa property, is named for my wife Carol’s maiden name. It’s a family business, so it’s a legacy and I have people to pass this business on to.

How did you bring the Golden Knights to Las Vegas, the NHL’s 31st franchise, but more importantly, the city’s first major professional sports team, and what motivated you to do so? 

I spent some of my elementary school years in Ottawa, Canada and learned to play hockey and have always loved hockey. I decided I needed to do something more than just the wine business. I thought about pro sports and wanted to be somewhere that I wanted to live because if I’m not there working it, I don’t have the confidence it’s going to be successful. The hockey idea was brought to me for Las Vegas and we went through a long process with the League and the League wanted to make sure we had an arena, good financial support and the town could sustain hockey. We spent a year doing research and proving to the League that Las Vegas could be a really good hockey town. And it actually is one of the best hockey towns in the world, and certainly in America. It’s been great for Las Vegas and I know the residents of Las Vegas have been enjoying the Knights.   

It must have been quite a ride last year as they made it all the way to the Stanley Cup. What do you think of the team’s prospects for this season?

The players we drafted were the team last year and we’ve added a few this year, and I believe we have a better team, if they are healthy, than we did last year. And, I believe we’ll be better next year as we keep on trying to improve and never be satisfied.  

What collaborations do you do with the hockey team and your wines?

We do promotions for our season ticket holders to go to wine events, wine tastings and visit our wineries, so I believe we’re doing a really good job cross-marketing.

You and your wife Carol are recognized as being very generous philanthropists. Can you tell us about some of the worthy causes you support?

We’re fortunate, so we’re trying to give back. I’ve built a practice facility for the Army football team at West Point, we are involved with Opportunity Village here locally and the Golden Knights Foundation, which last year raised about $2 million, of which we gave $1 million to Metro PD for equipment. We also have the Founded Flag Foundation, which benefits the families of servicemen and women that have been killed in combat. To date we’ve given about 400 scholarships and stipends, but we’re just starting. Our goal is to raise $50 million a year to help every surviving spouse and child. So, we’re both very involved in trying to help people.   

Can you tell us about how your collaboration with Larry Ruvo and Southern Glazer’s came about?

I’ve known Larry and have been a big admirer of him for many years. Once the team came here I started talking to Larry about having a stronger and deeper business relationship because he has a great cause with the Cleveland Clinic, which I know I can help him with, and Southern Glazer’s has so much presence here and really controls the Nevada market. It’s a great place for our wine business to be located. I’m thrilled that Larry was able to work it out to bring us over from another distributor and have us be involved with him and Southern Glazer’s. He’s a high class, quality guy. 

How do you think being with Southern is going to benefit your wine business?

We moved over with Southern on January 4 and being affiliated with Southern Glazer’s will really allow us to penetrate the market. We’re having kickoff meetings, training sessions and functions with the sales people and management, and are committing the resources to make sure his staff really understands our products and what we’re about, and Larry’s all in and committed to supporting it. I’m very confident this is going to be a very, very good partnership.