The news that American Bill Foley and his Foley Family Wines have agreed to buy a tidy little group of New Zealand wineries may not be as earthshaking as, say, when Constellation Brands bought the Robert Mondavi company a few years ago, but it could be a positive development. The wines and consumers could benefit significantly.
Foley, who made his fortune as chairman of a Fortune 500 company that specializes in insurance, is based in California. His wine company already owns such well known California producers as Sebastiani, Firestone, Merus and Kuleto, as well as his own Foley Estates and LinCourt Vineyards. Recently he picked up Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla, Wash. He keeps telling me he’s looking for a promising winery in Oregon, too.
Generally, Foley looks for wine companies that are doing well but, in his view, can do better with an infusion of cash, and can benefit from synergy with the rest of his wineries. That describes New Zealand Wine Trust Ltd., the company he agreed last week to buy. It consists of Vavasour (which also makes the Dashwood brand), Goldwater and Clifford Bay. All good brands, but they can get better.
Most of the production is centered on the South Island, in Marlborough, the country’s biggest and best-known wine region. Goldwater also has some vineyard acreage on picturesque Waiheke Island, across the bay from Auckland, on the North Island. In sum the wineries make 280,000 cases now and are positioned to grow. They own 247 acres of vineyards, mostly Sauvignon Blanc.
In a phone call, Foley said he was intrigued by the possibilities for New Zealand wine, which has already established a reputation for distinctive and popular Sauvignon Blanc. “I’m excited about what could happen when all the winemakers get together,” he said. “We might learn something about making our Sauvignon Blancs from our new colleagues in New Zealand. And our success with Cabernet and Pinot could benefit them.”
That’s the potential good news for consumers. The wines are already pretty good. The Clifford Bay Sauvignons are consistently good values. Vavasour has some special single-vineyard wines that can tip over into the vegetal range of flavors, but always have something distinctive to offer. Dashwood is more of a crowd-pleaser. If the synergy with the U.S. winemakers can improve quality through the company, we’ll all get more bang for the buck.
Sandy Fitzgerald — Centennial, CO — August 11, 2009 11:26pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — August 12, 2009 12:41am ET
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