Chalone Vineyards, the isolated California winery known for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, has a new owner. Bill Foley, head of Foley Family Wines, tells Wine Spectator he has reached a deal with Diageo to buy Chalone, its winery and its 1,000-acre property in Monterey County, including 240 acres of vines. Foley did not disclose the purchase price.
Chalone is extremely remote, nestled in the Gavilan mountain range in Monterey County, near the jagged rock formations of Pinnacles National Park. "I want a place—and a sense of place—with each of my brands," said Foley. "That's my strike zone—that's what I like to do." He says the winery's consistent quality and history were part of the transaction's appeal.
Chalone was originally planted in 1919, but was largely abandoned until Richard Graff purchased the vineyard in 1965. Graff and Philip Woodward founded the modern version of Chalone in 1972, and the brand became known for estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as Chenin Blanc made from the historic vines.
The sale is the latest move in global drinks giant Diageo's retreat from the wine business. Last October it sold most of its U.K. and U.S. wine assets to Australian company Treasury Wine Estates for $600 million. Last week it announced it had sold the former Acacia winery facility in Carneros to Napa's Peju Province Winery.
Chalone has changed hands on numerous occasions. At one point, it was part of the Chalone Wine Group, a company that went public in 1984 and included California brands such as Acacia, Echelon and Provenance, as well as Washington's Canoe Ridge and Sagelands. In 2004, Diageo purchased the company for $260 million.
Foley says that Robert Cook will remain as winemaker. He believes part of the Chalone story that needs to be told is that its Chardonnay was the third-place white in the 1976 Judgment of Paris, and the 40th anniversary of that event gives him a marketing opportunity to promote the brand. "The one thing [Diageo] didn't do, was they didn't promote the brand," he said.
Foley is chairman of Fidelity National Financial and Fidelity National Information Services, one of the nation's largest mortgage and title insurance companies. But since 1996 he's become a major player in the wine business, building an impressive portfolio on the West Coast and in New Zealand, including Chalk Hill, Firestone, Kuleto, Lincourt, Merus and Sebastiani in California, Vavasour, Clifford Bay and Martinborough Vineyard Estates in New Zealand, and Three Rivers Winery in Washington. Most recently, Foley acquired Oregon Pinot Noir specialist The Four Graces in 2014.