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Interview, Part 1: Gerard Thoukis, CMO, Foley Family Wines

March 30, 2022

Sonoma, California-based Foley Family Wines (FFW) has been an aggressive acquirer within the premium wine space in recent years, with notable acquisitions including Ferrari-Carano and Chateau St. Jean.

 Company volume crossed the 1.6-million-case mark last year, according to Impact Databank. Chief Marketing Officer Gerard Thoukis provides an update to SND on how the company’s recent moves are boosting overall sales and propelling the business forward in the upscale wine space.

SND: How has the overall Foley Family Wines portfolio been performing lately?

Thoukis: The FFW portfolio as a whole has been growing quite rapidly. As 2021 wrapped up, we were up more than 27% across all channels. The most important piece for us are our 10 priority growth brands, priced $15 and above, and those were up 57% at the end of 2021. The next priority for us are our luxury estates, which grew 16% last year despite challenges with the Covid-19 environment and on-premise not being at full capacity. The pieces of our portfolio that are most important to our success and future are outpacing overall growth.

SND: Which FFW brands have the most potential moving forward?

Thoukis: We made a strategy change several years ago to focus on where we have opportunities to win, and fortunately it aligns with wine consumer behavior today: not necessarily drinking more but drinking better. The vast majority of our sales case-wise and by a dollar standpoint are in the $11-and-above segment. Even within those 10 priority growth brands, there are four we’re really focused on: Banshee, led by Pinot Noir; Chalk Hill Estate, led by Chardonnay; and Ferrari-Carano, led commercially by Fumé Blanc and Chardonnay. All those are from Sonoma County. The last one is Acrobat, which is one of two FFW offerings from Oregon and one that’s focused on Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir.

SND: FFW acquired Ferrari-Carano in June 2020. How has its integration progressed?

Thoukis: Ferrari-Carano is performing as we planned when we identified opportunities for it. At the end of last year, Ferrari-Carano was up more than 25% across the portfolio. We look forward to continuing that trajectory this year. It’s been a big win on a lot of different business fronts—it helped us with our distributor network alignment, our customer alignment, and just overall growth of the brand. Ferrari-Carano is built on aromatic white wines, primarily Fumé Blanc, which was a gap in our portfolio from a scale perspective. The Chardonnay was also quite large in scale relative to other wines that we have. FFW has been a leader and pioneer in Chardonnay, so we knew we could continue the trajectory and quality winemaking in Chardonnay.

SND: The acquisition of Ferrari-Carano preceded last December’s purchase of Chateau St. Jean from Treasury Wine Estates. Is that brand showing similar promise?

Thoukis: Yes. We’re thrilled to acquire a Sonoma County brand with so much history and legacy in quality winemaking. The property is 50 years old and was renowned for exceptional luxury winemaking in Sonoma. Our intent is to reposition Chateau St. Jean to where it was in its heyday. We’re making adjustments from a brand architecture perspective and focusing on certain AVAs and sub-AVAs in Sonoma County, making it not only unique to the overall wine space but unique to our portfolio. We’re revising the lifestyle, packaging, and branding, and looking to introduce a new Chateau St. Jean in 2023. It’s a huge redevelopment project but we’re focused on re-establishing Chateau St. Jean as the preeminent Sonoma County luxury wine producer.

SND: In addition to FFW’s luxury acquisitions, the company also partnered with Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits last February. How is that partnership going so far?

Thoukis: We’ve had a really smooth integration into Southern Glazer’s. Not only with integrations of our portfolio into their network with a national alignment, but also from a customer perspective, all the way down to the state level. Clearly, they’re exceptional at what they do. They provide FFW access to substantially more accounts, both on-premise and retail accounts across the country. And they’ve hit the ground running with our portfolio.

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