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Interview, Part 2: Bill Foley of Foley Family Wines

July 11, 2017

In the second part of our interview, Bill Foley discusses the tightening California grape market, efforts in the fast-rising direct-to-consumer space and the progress of his California wholesaler, Epic Wines & Spirits.

SND: What percentage of your wine is sourced from your own vineyards?

Foley: About 80% of our 1.3 million cases is sourced from company-owned vineyards, which represents an increase over the last five years. We were probably 50-50 five years ago. In today’s times, with vineyard pricing going where it’s going and companies like Gallo and Kendall-Jackson acquiring major vineyard properties, I’m glad we are where we are. If you don’t own the supply source, I believe the next few years will be a problem for some of these smaller wineries.

SND: Direct-to-consumer sales have been a growing source of revenue for many wineries. How is that part of your business progressing?

Foley: Last year, we were up about 20% on direct-to-consumer. This year, we’re up about 23% so far, but we had a tough winter. It rained a lot, so I was pretty pleased that we were up. Now we’re getting ready for the good months. I brought in new management about two years ago for all the tasting rooms, for direct-to-consumer, for our wine club and then our Foley Food & Wine Society. The latter is an online, multi-brand program where you can order from 15 different wineries on one site.

SND: How has your California wholesaler, Epic Wines & Spirits, performed in the last year?

Foley: I bought Epic about two and a half years ago, and it’s been a struggle. We started going down the wrong road, and we forgot who we were. Epic is really a fine wine company. We got involved with some spirit suppliers and lost track of some of our good winery customers. About nine months ago, we moved away from spirits and back into wine. We’re emphasizing individuals with a strong wine background, and so Epic, for the first time since I’ve owned it, is now doing okay. We just brought in the Gamble properties over in Napa Valley. We have a sparkling house coming over, which is really encouraging. Moving forward, it’s going to be all about bringing in solid wineries with a story around their brand. That’s our goal.

SND: Epic is also an importer, correct?

Foley: Yes. And in addition to Epic being an importer, Foley Family Wines has been developing some import relationships where we’re an agent. We have three or four really strong importer relationships, including Piccini from Tuscany and Nieto from Argentina (both with Foley Family Wines), and Albrecht from Alsace (Epic). We’re excited about that. These are good products that fit well with our own portfolio.

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