Kris Curran, maker of some of California’s most exciting Pinot Noirs at Sea Smoke Cellars, has been lured away by William Foley II, an insurance executive who is quickly building a wine and vineyard empire.
Curran is the new winemaker at Foley Estates Vineyard & Winery, in the same Sta. Rita Hills appellation of Santa Barbara County in which Sea Smoke is located. She will oversee Bill Foley’s Foley and Lincourt brands and a new label, Two Sisters, and consult for other brands in the Foley Wine Group, including Firestone, also in Santa Barbara, and Merus, in Napa Valley.
Sea Smoke’s general manager/viticulturalist, Victor Gallegos, will assume the director of winemaking post; Curran’s assistant, Don Schroeder, was promoted to winemaker.
After buying J Carey Cellars in Santa Ynez Valley from Firestone Vineyards in 1997 and naming it Lincourt, Foley then purchased a 450-acre horse ranch in Sta. Rita Hills, named it Rancho Santa Rosa and planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for his flagship brand, Foley Estates Vineyard & Winery.
In 2007, the chairman of Fidelity National Financial Inc kicked into acquisition mode, purchasing the former Fess Parker Ashley’s Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills in April (yes, the Daniel Boone/Davy Crockett Fess Parker), Firestone Vineyards in Santa Ynez Valley in August (yes, the tire and The Bachelor tv show Firestones), including 300 acres of vines, and Merus, a tiny yet high-scoring Cabernet Sauvignon label, in December.
Merus founders Marc Herold and Erika Gottl will stay on as winemakers. They owned no vines, and Foley is said to be looking for vineyard land in Napa to support the brand.
He now owns more than 700 vineyard acres in Santa Barbara County, including 120 acres of Pinot Noir and 103 acres of Chardonnay at Rancho Santa Rosa, with grapes going to the Foley wines, and 154 acres of Pinot and 30 of Chardonnay at Rancho Las Hermanas – formerly Ashley’s – for the Lincourt and Two Sisters wines.
Curran replaces Alan Phillips, who left Foley/Lincourt to start his own brand and direct winemaking at Terravant, an artisanal custom-crush facility in Buellton, in Santa Ynez Valley.
These days, a weekly scorecard is needed to keep up with all the players.