Foley Johnson Winery is one of three Napa Valley based wineries owned under the parent company, Foley Family Wines Holdings, Inc – the others being Kuleto Estate and Merus along with a Foley Food & Wine Society tasting room located at the Vista Collina Resort, just south of the city of Napa.
Chairman, CEO, President and namesake for his company, Bill Foley II graduated from West Point in 1967 and later earned his law degree from the University of Washington in 1974. Long since invested in a diversity of businesses – wine is only one of his passions. He is also owner and founder of the Las Vegas Golden Knights National Hockey team. And in 2018 the team shocked the world of hockey fans by making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first year.
Foley Johnson (named for Bill Foley and his wife Carol Johnson Foley) was originally home to Sawyer Cellars founded by previous owners Charles and Joanne (died 2013) Sawyer. The first vintage of Sawyer Cellars was from 1991, merely 120 cases of a Cabernet Sauvignon. They purchased 40 acres on site from long time Napa Valley growers and vintners, the Yaeger family in 1994 and over the next few years, made improvements including renovating the old 1930s era barn, digging an underground barrel room and opening the winery – all in time for the 1999 vintage. The Sawyers sold the winery and surrounding property to Foley Family Wines in 2012. However, they did not sell the the Sawyer Cellars label and continue to produce these wines at a business park location south of the city of Napa.
Almost 50 acres of estate vineyards are planted on the property which surround the winery. The winery becomes ‘newer’ moving east on the property (it was built in stages over the years). Walking away from the tasting room and continuing the east, one soon reaches the newest part of the winery – a state of the art wine making production facility that was built by Foley Johnson.
Bill and Carol’s son Patrick was the winemaker until very sadly, he passed far to young at age 31 in 2018 (from a freak accident involving head trauma while in Montana). Patrick’s first harvest was in 2011 at Chalk Hill Estate in neighboring Sonoma County. Like other young winemakers in the valley he had a fair share of international wine making experience with stints in New Zealand and Mendoza, Argentina.
Two selections of wines are available for tasting and purchase – the Napa Valley (made from estate fruit from their nearly 50 acre estate property) and Handmade, wines from some of the other wineries in the Foley Family Wines collection.
The 2013 Foley Johnson Estate Cabernet Sauvignon reveals an elegant bouquet with notes of chocolate and cherry aromas – tending towards the darker fruits. An earthy characteristic also shows on the bouquet, more muted but there nonetheless. This is an extremely balanced wine for being so young at the time of our tasting – (just released). Mouth watering acidity – lingering flavors of cherries with structurally pleasing somewhat dusty tannins.
The 2011 Foley Johnson Rutherford Petit Verdot (from a small block of this variety on site) shows sweet floral driven aromas interwoven with intriguing fruit including raspberry and blackberry – and a touch of sage. This wine has very good acidity and a noticeable red cherry, red currant tartness that lingers on the finish for some time. The tannins are mouth filling and are also persistent.
They also make what they call the “fun wine” in very small quantities. Its a rosé of Merlot with nice wild strawberry and raspberry flavors on a light to medium bodied palate but with a rather intense finish. This is a good pool and patio sipping wine on hot days.
The 2006 Sawyer Cellars Estate Sauvignon Blanc shows a bouquet followed by a flavor and mouth feel that might lead you to believe you are drinking Chardonnay. Not so. This is a somewhat unusual Sauvignon Blanc in the Napa Valley in that it was aged in oak Sur Lie for 8 months, which means it has a creaminess and weight on the mid palate one doesn’t normally find in Napa Valley produced Sauvignon Blancs. Rather than the cut grass and herbaceous flavors one sometimes finds with Sauvignon Blancs, this wine is robust with its nutty aromas, almost caramel like which turn to pineapple after the bouquet opens up. This is followed by a smooth palate of pear and apricot flavors with some very nice mineralities.
The 2004 Sawyer Cellars Estate Merlot is 100% varietal and is a well balanced wine. Note the hint of oak and spices especially towards the finish. Our favorite wine from our first tasting at Sawyer Cellars was the 2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2004. The nose hints at a fruit forward wine with elegant well integrated aromas of blackberry, and cherry with a palate that also contains hints of vanilla. The finish is smooth and long.
Foley Johnson doesn’t sit right on Highway 29 as some of the other nearby wineries so visitors driving by on Highway 29 should keep a close look out when approaching the winery. For reference, the two closest wineries to Foley Johnson are Sequoia Grove (to the south) and Peju Winery (to the north).
Foley Johnson concentrates their wine making efforts on a number of estate wines sourced from their surrounding vineyards. Several tasting experiences are offered including the Estate (wines from the property) and Handmade, featuring very small production wines from select properties within the Foley Family Wines organization.
Tastings are by appointment only, but if you are here during a slow time you may be able to schedule something that day or within the hour (the regular tasting). Visitors interested in a more in depth experience and education can reserve either a Sensory Tasting Seminar or a Blending Seminar in which you help create wine that will then be aged for you at the winery. A tour and tasting combined along with a vineyard tram tour round out the select experiences offered The original barrel room is built below the winery/hospitality area and now serves as a space for private tastings.
Should you happen to be here during harvest you might even be put to work for a few minutes on on their sorting table, sorting jacks (grape stems) and other debris that don’t belong in wine! Total production is relatively small at just over 4000 cases. Check their website for pricing, tasting specials and or discounts.
The wine hosts are friendly, knowledgeable & sincere. This is a tasting room that “cares” and that is big in our books.
Foley Food & Wine Society
As of our latest update to this review, proprietor William Foley II and his wife Carol Johnson Foley own 25 wineries or tasting room spaces in neighboring Sonoma County, Lake County, on California’s central coast, in the Pacific Northwest and in New Zealand. Collectively these wineries are under the ‘umbrella’ of the Foley Food and Wine Society.
This lifestyle collective combines wine, food and experiences. Members earn points based on how much money spent at any of the Foley properties which can then be redeemed. In addition to wineries, members can enjoy other Foley owned properties including Hôtel Les Mars in Healdsburg, California or Wharekauhau Luxury Country Estate in Palliser Bay, New Zealand, golfing at either Rock Creek Cattle Company in Montana or The Club at Rock Creek, next to Lake Couer d’Alene in Idaho, taking in a Las Vegas Golden Knights game in Las Vegas with premium seating or skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort in Montana. And the society has arranged partnerships with other select non-owned Foley for members.
Foley also founded and operated Epic Wines & Spirits, headquartered in San Rosa, California until selling in early 2021 to Southern Glazer’s. They work with numerous domestic and international brands – distributing their wines, spirits and other alcohol.
Foley Wine Society at The Village at Vista Collina
In summer of 2018 a large parcel of land directly to the south and across the street from the Meritage Resort opened as Vista Collina Resort and the next door The Village at Vista Collina – featuring a large green space (with environmentally friendly turf) surrounded by four stories containing 145 Tuscan-styled guest rooms, 9 stand alone tasting rooms on the ground floor, a luxurious Vintner’s Room (for special vintner member and other community and private events) and the Village Food & Wine Center where chefs teach a variety of culinary seminars and host other culinary related events. The Village at Vista Collina held its grand opening on August 4, 2018.
And the Fivetown Gourmet Grocery and Deli is an integral part of the The Village experience. Named after the five towns within the Napa Valley including Yountville, Rutherford, Oakville, St. Helena and Calistoga – this upscale market features a variety of farm-fresh local ingredients and home made products. Plenty of seating outside the grocery – one can also picnic on the lawn area.
The ‘lawn’ area is also ideal for hosting a variety of events including concerts. Umbrellas inserted into the ground can easily be moved and seating arrangements are highly flexible.
The Foley Food & Wine Society tasting room is fairly prominent as compared to several of the other small 9 tasting rooms. The interior is spacious and visually intriguing – with its contemporary look – anchoring one side of the courtyard with its own sizable space. The focus of the tastings here are on select wines from a number of wineries within the Foley Family portfolio including from Napa (ALTVS/Merus, Foley-Johnson and Kuleto Estate), neighboring Sonoma County and Central California.
For more information and to join their wine club, visit: www.foleyjohnsonwines.com