Right in the heart of Napa Valley, just a mile or so from the famed Oakville Grocery, it would be easy to say that everything old is new again, a bit of Napa history in the making and really, a truly welcoming winery that begins to reveal itself only as you arrive and begin to explore the wines and the somewhat hidden grounds, well shaded and beautifully landscaped.
Foley Johnson is just five years old and relatively small by any standard. No surprise if you’re not familiar with the winery or the wines, but you will be. It’s a family affair, named jointly in honor of founder Bill Foley and his wife Carol Johnson Foley, with son Patrick Foley at the helm of winemaking after stints in Argentina, New Zealand and the Chalk Hill district in Sonoma. Pat’s first Foley Johnson wine, a 2014 Estate Meritage Red Blend, earned a 92 Point nod from famed critic Robert Parker, a hint of what’s to come.
The winery and tasting room are easy to find, and a nice neighborhood to be in with notable names like Peju and St. Supery framing the 50-acre estate, a bit deceiving from Highway 29 since the long side of the property runs west to east towards the Napa River. Surrounded by vineyards planted mostly to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with small blocks of Malbec, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, Foley Johnson features two principal winery buildings in a rustic farm style, with the major winery built after Bill Foley acquired the former Sawyer Cellars in 2012. Vineyards are young, averaging 15 years in 21 distinct blocks.
Experience the Modern Elegance of Foley Johnson
Foley Johnson exemplifies the modern elegance and casual warmth of Rutherford, Napa Valley. As you turn off Highway 29 and enter the Foley Johnson driveway, a modern vine sculpture framing the front of the winery building gives you a peek into what’s to come.
Enter the tasting room through a canopy of lush wisteria and find a modern, spacious room with a large granite bar fronting an impressive wall of wine. In the vaulted ceiling above hangs a vine-inspired chandelier, purchased at an art-and-wine auction. There are two basic opportunities to explore the wines. One option focuses on the Rutherford Estate wines, beginning with a crisp and inviting Sauvignon Blanc. Most of these wines are produced in small lots of just 10 barrels (the highly rated Meritage wine was just 75 cases at release) and include Estate Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The other tasting option features wines from the Handmade collection. Look closely at the labels and you’ll find a thumbprint identifying mark, symbolic of the hands on winemaking style.
Unlike the Estate tier of wines, the Handmade wines hail beyond Napa Valley and include appellations such as Chalk Hill, Santa Ynez Valley and Sta. Rita Hills. These small-lot bottlings are produced in very limited quantities, so the tasting line-up often varies. These wines give guests a chance to taste some of the best vineyard sites throughout California.
Reservations are preferred and greatly appreciated, since it allows the winery to properly prepare for your visit. But in this laid back environment, same day appointments are acceptable, and groups are welcomed. In fact, there’s a VIP tasting room just off the main lobby, and an almost secret (but now you know) library tasting room downstairs. Your next visit to Rutherford should include a stop at Foley Johnson to experience award winning wines in America’s preeminent wine growing region.
Picnic at Foley Johnson
The winery grounds offer a great setting to picnic! Although the winery does not sell food onsite, guests are encouraged to pack their own picnics (remember how close by the Oakville Grocery is?) and enjoy a bottle of wine from the tasting room. At the front and northern side there are tented tables, and the rear of the facility opens to a stone patio and lawn outfitted with picnic tables and bocce ball court. Well behaved dogs are welcome. You might even see winemaker Pat Foley’s three year old Yellow Labrador Nala (who gets excited when other dogs arrive). Be sure to inquire about availability of picnic areas, as they are popular among those in the know, one of Napa’s secret spaces.
Estate Tasting $35: Five wines, offered daily
Handmade Tasting $45: Five wines, offered daily
Tasting fees waived with a two bottle purchase per guest
Picnic Areas are available for wine club members without charge
Small charges for Picnic areas waived with wine purchase
Be sure to taste: Malbec, one of Napa’s future stars