Log In / Join Now

Foley Wine Group Buys St. Helena Winery

Historic Venge Vineyards winery will be used as production facility for Merus

Daniel Sogg
Posted: May 29, 2008

William Foley keeps on buying. The head of Foley Wine Group, which already owns eight brands, three production facilities and 1,100 acres of vineyards in California and Washington state, acquired the Venge Vineyards winery in St. Helena last week. The transaction includes the Venge production facility and 61-acre property, but not the inventory or brand rights. Terms of the sale were not disclosed.

This is Foley's second Napa acquisition in six months. Last December, he bought Merus, a respected Cabernet Sauvignon producer. At that time, Foley said he was scouting for a Napa winery that would be home for Merus, which has been made in a garage since it was established in 1998. "Once I acquired Merus, and with the launch of our second label, Altus, I had the brands to locate in the Venge facility," said Foley. "I didn't need the [Venge] brand or inventory."

The Venge facility, a refurbished 1891 barn that once served as a winery for Carlo Rossini, has a permit to produce about 8,000 cases annually. Merus, which makes a single bottling of Cabernet Sauvignon entirely with purchased grapes, will stay at its current annual output of 1,500 cases. Foley expects the new Altus brand to be in the range of 6,500 cases. The 61-acre Venge property also has 6,200 square feet of caves and six acres of Zinfandel and one acre of Petite Sirah. Depending on the results of soil tests, Foley says he hopes to replant that acreage with Cabernet Sauvignon, which could also be planted to an additional 9 acres on the property.

Kirk Venge, son of Venge Vineyards founder Nils, will continue to make the Venge brand at Silenus, a custom-crush facility in the Oak Knoll AVA of Napa. Nils will focus on his two Napa ventures, Saddleback Cellars and Envy Wines, as well as his several consulting jobs. "Now I'm out of debt for the rest of my life. I can live without that monkey on my back," said Venge.

William Foley is chairman of the Florida-based Fidelity National Financial Inc., which last year had gross revenues of $5.5 billion, putting it at No. 435 on the Fortune 500 ranking of the largest U.S. companies. In February 2008 he acquired a 60 percent share of Three Rivers Winery, in the Walla Walla region of Washington state. The previous August he bought Firestone Vineyards in Santa Barbara, where he already owns Foley Estate and Lincourt.

Foley anticipates additional acquisitions. "I'm still looking in Oregon, Sonoma and looking at a couple different properties and brands in Napa. I'm trying to round out the portfolio and have 10 to 12 different brands," he said.

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.