(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.”
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 newspress.tv 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)
(Photos by Brent Winebrenner)