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William Foley Buys Majority Stake in Napa's Kuleto Winery

Mogul continues wine acquisitions by taking controlling interest in restaurateur's St. Helena estate

James Laube
Posted: February 26, 2009

Additional reporting by Augustus Weed

William Foley has struck again. The head of Foley Family Wines is buying a controlling interest in Kuleto Estate, the Napa Valley winery owned by restaurateur Pat Kuleto. The deal, which will give Foley a 70 percent share in the brand, winery, inventory and part of the vineyard, is expected to close next week, according to Foley, who heads up his family-owned wine company. Neither side would disclose the terms of the agreement. "It's a lot of money," said Kuleto.

Kuleto Estate, located above Pritchard Hill, east of St. Helena, is in one of Napa's elite winegrowing areas, home to Bryant Family, Colgin, Chappellet, David Arthur and Ovid's vineyards.

"We're pretty excited," Foley said today. "Pat is a great guy, we get along well and we're looking to him for creativity, vision and ideas. The vineyard and view are spectacular."

Kuleto's 750-acre property has some 150 acres of vines, planted primarily to Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties. The winery makes about 7,500 cases a year, Foley said, with plans to expand to 12,000 to 14,000. Foley added that he was acquiring some of the Kuleto vineyard, and that the winery would purchase the remaining grapes from the part of the vineyard that Kuleto is hanging on to. Winemaker David Lattin will remain with the winery.

"We're doing this joint venture to keep this as a family-type operation," said Kuleto. "I'm going to still be the face of the business, going to all the events, and I'll be the one you'll see at all the tastings. I've been working at this for 18 years, [but] to be honest, I just got caught by the economy. It's a good strategic move to keep all these dreams alive."

Kuleto Estate should fit in well with Foley's other recent acquisitions, including Merus, a 1,500-case brand whose 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet made Wine Spectator's Top 100 list last year, and Sebastiani Vineyards, which Foley purchased in December.

Chairman of the Florida-based Fidelity National Financial Inc. and Fidelity National Information services, Foley jumped into the wine industry in 1996, purchasing Lincourt vineyards in Santa Barbara County and establishing the Foley Wine Group. He went on to purchase the J. Carey winery and vineyards in Sta. Rita Hills, which is now the site of his eponymous winery. With the acquisition of Kuleto, he now owns nine brands, as well as more than 1,000 acres in California and Washington.

"This will kind of wrap things up. With the Sebastiani deal, I think we'll take a breather, get our sales force and national distribution [houses] in order," said Foley. "I think there are other buying opportunities out there [in California], but the big issue [for would-be buyers] has been financing."

Kuleto is a familiar face on the fine-dining circuit. He has worked on more than 185 restaurants around the world, the majority of which are located in California. The restaurateur and designer first gained recognition in 1984 after working on San Francisco's Fog City Diner. Kuleto is also the principal owner of several high-end restaurants, including Boulevard, Farallon and the recently opened Waterbar and Epic Roasthouse in San Francisco, Martini House in St. Helena and Nick's Cove & Cottages on Tomales Bay.

A Los Angeles native, Kuleto founded Kuleto Estate in 1993. He initially planted mostly Sangiovese grapes but eventually turned production over to 11 different varieties, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Syrah.

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