Investing in Qupé: Entrepreneur Charles Banks Buys Into Legendary Winery

By Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on October 11, 2013)

Qupé, one of the most celebrated wineries in Santa Barbara County, has a new owner.  Charles Banks, an entrepreneur whose portfolio includes high-end wineries throughout the world, has acquired a majority stake in the well-known label, it was announced Thursday.  Its famous founder, Bob Lindquist, will stay on as a partner and as the project’s winemaker.

“It's no secret that the wine business has faced some challenges since the recession… and we've managed to hold our own,” Mr. Lindquist told me.  “This partnership allows me to focus on the vineyards and winemaking and not have to worry as much about the financial and sales side, so definitely a long-term strategic move.”
“Bob does what Bob thinks is best and doesn’t follow trends,” Mr. Banks added.  “I want to be a loud voice telling him to follow his passion, not marketing reports.”
Qupé’s legendary status among Santa Barbara County wineries has always hinged on Mr. Lindquist, himself, and his prominent presence in the wine region’s young history.  His stint in the late 1970s as a tour guide at Zaca Mesa Winery connected him with other wine futurists, like Jim Clendenen, Ken Brown and Adam Tolmach.  He’d go on to found Qupé in 1982 and, to this day, make his wine alongside Mr. Clendenen’s famous Au Bon Climat label in a facility on the grounds of Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley.  This partnership, which also includes mentoring up-and-coming winemaking personalities like Gavin Chanin, Joshua Klapper and Paul Lato, will continue.
Bob Lindquist and Charles Banks (photo by Jeremy Ball)
Specific numbers in the deal were not disclosed, but Qupé now joins a noteworthy list of international wine projects under Mr. Banks’ Terroir Selections portfolio, including Wind Gap, Cultivate, the Mayacamas and Leviathan labels in Napa, the Fable and Marvelous Range projects in South Africa and the Maison d’Orlee venture in France.  Qupé fits because the wines are a specific style and have stood the test of time,” says Mr. Banks.
Locally, Mr. Banks also owns the coveted Sandhi label in the Sta. Rita Hills region, a partnership with famed sommelier-turned-winemaker Rajat Parr, and the recently re-launched Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos, a four-way enterprise with his wife, Ali, and the husband-and-wife team of Chef Robbie Wilson and Emily Perry Wilson.
Qupé produces several wines, including grenache, viognier and chardonnay, but its claim to fame has always been syrah.  You can count on one hand the world's best red wine grapes and syrah is one of them,” claims Mr. Lindquist.  “Our focus is on cool climate syrah with balance, elegance and structure for aging. Santa Barbara County is an ideal place to grow syrah: long cool growing season and great weather in the fall for ripening slowly. I would include the southern part of [San Luis Obispo] County as equally ideal.”
Mr. Lindquist makes several vineyard-specific syrahs each vintage from properties throughout Santa Barbara County; he also crafts syrah from the biodynamically-certified Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, based in SLO County’s Edna Valley, which he owns with his wife, Louisa Sawyer Lindquist.
Sawyer Lindquist will continue to be one of our most important vineyard sources,” adds the winemaker, “along with Bien Nacido, which is still going to be our largest grape source.”
Mr. Banks shares his new business partner’s affinity for syrah.  “I have wanted to work on a meaningful syrah project for several years now,” he says.
Industry insiders often note that, despite its myriad attributes, from flavors to complexity, syrah can be a challenging sell in the marketplace; on the Central Coast, its demand may sometimes be overshadowed by red wine rival, pinot noir.  But Mr. Lindquist believes that “consumers love syrah – they just have to be educated on the right ones.”
And Mr. Banks adds, “I think the future is very bright for syrah.  The cooler-climate Santa Barbara syrahs are a perfect fit for wine lovers looking for balance and power.”
Just last week, the federal government gave the green light for Ballard Canyon, a relatively warmer growing region in the Santa Ynez Valley that’s become famous for syrah, to become the county’s next American Viticultural Area.  That designation goes into effect October 30th.  And while Mr. Banks agrees that the recognition bodes well for syrah’s continued upswing in popularity, he adds, “I hope we aren’t creating more confusion for the consumer with ever-increasing AVAs.”
Under the new partnership with Mr. Banks, Qupé’s production will remain the same, between 35,000 and 40,000 cases a year.  Mrs. Sawyer Lindquist will continue to assist with Qupé sales.  And the Verdad label, a separate project that Mrs. Sawyer Lindquist and her husband manage together, will not be affected.
Qupé (pronounced kyoo-pay) is the Chumash word for “poppy,” the bright orange blossom that is California’s state flower, and was chosen by Mr. Lindquist to honor the area’s indigenous dwellers.

Charles Banks Acquires Historic Qupé Winery

Santa Barbara County, CA- Charles Banks and Terroir Selections have acquired a majority stake in Santa Maria Valley’s iconic Qupé winery, long considered one of America’s finest Syrah producers. Founder and winemaker, Bob Lindquist, will assume the role of partner, while Louisa Sawyer Lindquist will continue to assist with sales. Moving forward, both parties are committed to improving quality at Qupé. 
Bob Lindquist, Charles Banks (by Jeremy Ball)
“I am thrilled to work alongside a gifted winemaker and legend like Bob Lindquist,” says Banks. He continues, “Bob has been a steadfast visionary of Syrah for decades. Few have done as much as Bob to advance awareness for Syrah in the United States. I love Syrah and have wanted to work on a meaningful Syrah project for a number of years now. With an infusion of capital from Terroir Selections, Bob and I are both confident that we can strengthen Qupé’s future allowing it to remain the benchmark in American Rhone-inspired wines.”
Lindquist has long been considered one of Santa Barbara wine country’s visionaries. While a tour guide in the late ‘70’s at Zaca Mesa, Lindquist learned to make wine from his co-workers and friends; Jim Clendenen, who at the time was assistant winemaker, Ken Brown, who was winemaker, and Adam Tolmach, who was the enologist. All three, who became successful winery owners themselves, worked at Zaca Mesa during Santa Barbara wine country’s nascent era.
Founded in 1982, Qupé will continue to share a winery with Clendenen’s Au Bon Climat on the esteemed Bien Nacido vineyard; an agreement that was made between Lindquist and Clenenden in1989, when they brought their winery projects together under one roof. Lindquist and Clendenen continue to mentor a new generation of winemakers, including Paul Lato, Gavin Chanin, Gary Burk, Josh Klapper and Rajat Parr, among many others.
Banks adds, “My wife, Ali, and I have been in Santa Barbara County for 13 years, and we’ve set down some roots here, first with Jonata, and later with Sandhi and Mattei’s Tavern (a four-way partnership between Ali and Charles Banks, and Emily Perry Wilson and Chef Robbie Wilson) and now with Qupé.
Qupé Winery will join Banks’ Terroir Selections portfolio, which includes Sandhi (Sta. Rita Hills, with celebrated sommelier-turned-winemaker, Rajat Parr), Mayacamas and Leviathan (Napa Valley), Wind Gap (vineyard designates throughout California), Mulderbosch, Fable and Marvelous Range (South Africa); Maison L’Oree (France), and Cultivate, a philanthropically-minded brand sourcing fruit from around the world.

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Club Takes Off: Foley Food & Wine Society Hosts Official Launch

By Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on September 30, 2013)

Attendance impressed even the event’s organizers.  Saturday’s (September 28, 2013) launch of the Foley Food & Wine Society drew more than 1200 guests.  And ,insiders say, had ticket sales not been halted earlier in the week, the crowd could have swelled by hundreds more.

The afternoon affair took place at Bacara Resort & Spa, with the crowd meandering through the Forbes Four-Star resort’s expansive ballroom and outdoor, ocean view courtyard.  The foodie draw here was the wine: this was the first time that 15 top-tier wine labels were made available for tasting and buying under one roof.  Among them were the coveted Foley Winery from Santa Barbara County, Kuleto from Napa, and Sebastiani from Sonoma.

These wineries, all considered to be among the industry’s most celebrated, have something in common: they’re all owned by the same man – Bill Foley – and they’re all part of the brand new Foley Food & Wine Society.

Though Saturday’s event became its first public splash, this unique lifestyle club launched in June, and marketing began in earnest last month.  In that short time, it’s managed to secure 40,000 members; many of them were grandfathered in as members of the affiliate wineries’ clubs.  But Mr. Foley, who attended the weekend launch event with his wife, Carol, is aiming “for 100,000 – or more – by the end of the year.”

Bill Foley
The Foley Food & Wine Society is a conglomerate of myriad wine, cuisine and travel companies, and members get access to them all through exclusive invitations, events and discounts.  On the wine front, the 15-plus companies include Mr. Foley’s local endeavors, including the Foley and Lincourt Wineries that he founded.  In the 15 years since, Mr. Foley has acquired – both aggressively and strategically – an impressive portfolio of upscale projects in coveted wine growing regions.  That includes Santa Barbara County’s Firestone Winery, which he bought in 2007, and the four Napa wineries, Merus, Altus, Foley Johnson and Kuleto; the latter, a 90-acre property planted to 11 grape varieties, poured a luscious and balanced 2009 estate Zinfandel at Saturday’s event.  Foley’s Sonoma properties include Chalk Hill, Lancaster and Sebastiani, whose 2010 Alexander Valley merlot wowed attendees with its robust and supple mouth feel.  The Society’s Washington State property is Three Rivers Winery.  In New Zealand, it produces award-wining wine under the Vavasour, Clifford Bay and Te Kairanga labels.  And in Paso Robles, it owns Eos Winery, which satisfied the sweet tooth Saturday with a honeyed 2011 Late Harvest Moscato and an elegant 2009 Zinfandel Port.

Mr. Foley, who’s the Chairman of the Board at Fidelity National Financial Inc., admits that he’s got a few more buys in the works, including potential winery and high-end hotel deals in Napa.  He’s also got significant development plans for Langtry Estates & Vineyard, an expansive Lake County property which will see 800 acres of new vineyard plantings and the development of a handful of onsite boutique wine brands in the years to come.  But he admits that “it’s really not about acquiring right now.  It’s about making all of these brands work together and to make them all more accessible.”

And that’s the push behind his new Society, which aims to enhance members’ experience by also offering unique access to the various resorts that Mr. Foley has either partnered with or acquired in the last several years.  That includes the 78-acre Bacara Resort and other properties of the boutique Meritage Collection, like the AAA 4-Diamond Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa in San Diego and the posh Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach.  Crossroads Estate is also in the mix; the four-bedroom, historic 5,000-square-foot property, which was once home to Brooks and Kate Firestone, is located in Los Olivos.  And members get dibs on stays at upscale resorts in Montana, Idaho, Napa, Sonoma and New Zealand, as well.

On the food front, membership includes high-end eateries throughout the West.  “And we have four chefs under our umbrella that we can call on to put on special events anywhere,” adds Mr. Foley.

Bacara Resort is also home to the Society’s first physical location, a beautifully decked out tasting room adjacent to the lobby that’s open to the public and open daily from 11am to 7pm.  It offers tastings of more than 70 wines from the Foley portfolio, and the onsite concierge can also schedule educational seminars and cooking classes for members.  Mr. Foley is looking to open brick-and-mortar outposts at other resort properties in the near future.

The entry level membership to the Foley Food & Wine Society, or FFWS, is free.  Members who sign up receive a regular newsletter, special event invitations and exclusive discounts; membership knocked $20 off the $60 tickets to Saturday’s events.  There’s a top tier, reserved for members who spend at least $12,000 a year on wine, hotel stays and events and who get rewards redeemable for future purchases with every dollar spent.
Saturday’s affair brought Society members out in force.  “I love that I can travel around California and pop into any of the other wineries under this umbrella,” said Frank LoMonaco of Santa Barbara.  His wife, Barbara, added, enthusiastically, “The tastings are free and we can bring friends!" 

“I like that I’m being exposed to great wine,” said Shirley Edwards of Lompoc.  “Plus, I love to travel.”

Andrea Smalling, chief marketing officer for FFWS, described membership as exposure to the finer things “with a safety net.”  She added, “Experiences are intimate, you know the level of quality is going to be high and you’re discovering little gems under one roof.”

Saturday’s launch included a bevy of food stations, including a few manned by Bacara’s own chefs; Chris Turano, who became  executive chef at the resort’s Bistro by winning a grueling competition on Food Network’s Chef Wanted, doled out melt-in-your-mouth short ribs of beef braised in Barolo wine.  Invited gourmands included local catering star Chef Michael Hutchings, who served up his signature potato cakes with caviar, and Chef Stephanie Rapp of SBCC’s School of Culinary Arts, who presented endive barquettes with salmon caviar and crème fraiche.

Proceeds from this event will go to scholarships at the City College’s School of Culinary Arts, under a non-profit endowment that bears Julia Child’s name.

The open-to-the-public launch party was preceded Saturday by a VIP reception inside the FFWS Tasting Room sponsored by the producers of The Inn Crowd.  The cooking show, which stars Ballard Inn & Restaurant Chef Budi Kazali and which airs on both and KEYT, starts its third season on October 24th.  The Foley Food & Wine Society is its new title sponsor.

For more information on FFWS, click here.

(Photos by Brent Winebrenner)