Foyt Family accelerates in the winery race

From Indy Cars to Cabs

By Rachel D. Russell & Chi Sherman | November 13, 2016
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Harvest at Mount Veeder, Vineyards of Foyt Family Wine.
Harvest at Mount Veeder, Vineyards of Foyt Family Wine. Photography courtesy of the Foyt Family.

The cool interior of the Foyt Wine Vault welcomes visitors as soon as they walk through the door. Barstools bound in smooth, dark leather, complemented by brick walls and hardwood floors, give the room an elegant feel. Bottles of Foyt Family Wine are featured throughout, along with photos of racing legend A.J. Foyt, including a photo wall creating a timeline from the 1930s to today of the four-time Indy 500 winner and the actual IndyCar he raced in 1993. A small room to the side of a merchandise area awaits a family gathering, perhaps to taste wine or enjoy a meal around a long table while seated on plush, cream-colored chairs.

The vault, located in Speedway, is the business venture of Larry Foyt and A.J. Foyt IV (also known as AJ4), grandsons of the champ. Open since May 2015, the vault was built “to showcase Foyt Family Wines and give appreciation to A.J. Foyt, his career and what he did for our careers,” AJ4 says. “Lots of people know the man behind the wheel of the race car, but he’s got a gentle heart. He’s the funniest guy I’ve ever met, for sure.”

The business began in 2008 with the opening of Foyt Family Wines. Larry Foyt and AJ4, ages 39 and 32, respectively, had both been involved in racing, competing in the Indy 500 and NASCAR events. The cousins were getting out of racing at the same time and, according to AJ4, they have always been very close and they wanted to continue with a new adventure together.

“We wanted to show we were making good wines right away,” he says. “We started slowly, using our resources and minds to make things happen.”

The duo teamed up with co-owner Chris Perry, who works for the business full time in Sonoma, California, where all of the family’s grapes are grown and made into wine. The owners meet in California from time to time to watch wines being mixed and, of course, stick around for tastings.

“It’s a fun process to get to learn,” AJ4 says, marveling a bit at how much a wine can change between its creation and bottling. “Making the wine doesn’t ever stop,” he says, referencing Perry and how he monitors trends and ventures the Foyt family might want to explore.

As a race car driver, AJ4 was focused on driving, not business. Being a small-business owner has helped him grow and learn. He looks at business ownership differently now that he has firsthand experience.

“I’ve learned a lot in a short period of time,” he says. “I always have ideas about increasing the ‘wow’ factor. We definitely listen to what our customers want.”

AJ Foyt and family.
A.J. Foyt IV and Larry Foyt, partners in the Foyt Family Winery.
A.J. Foyt IV, AJ Foyt and Larry Foyt at the Indy 500.
Photo 1: AJ Foyt (third from right) and family. Photography courtesy of the Foyt Family.
Photo 2: A.J. Foyt IV and Larry Foyt, partners in the Foyt Family Winery. Photography courtesy of the Foyt Family.
Photo 3: A.J. Foyt IV, AJ Foyt and Larry Foyt at the Indy 500. Photography courtesy of the Foyt Family.

The vault currently offers 14 varietals, including several types of Cabernet, Riesling, rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, red Zinfandel and a Port-style dessert wine. The business started with “a few cases of Cab,” which both Larry and AJ4 enjoy, along with Pinot Noir and Viognier. AJ4 enjoys the No. 14 Speedway Cabernet the most. Why the No. 14? All of the Foyt wines are given numbers that speak to an important year in A.J.’s racing career; maybe one of the years he won the Indy 500 or because it was his race car number. The No. 14 was his grandfather’s racing number and also his. Turn over each bottle of wine and you can find the family’s story behind the wine, including the number’s significance. If you want to truly be steeped in Foyt family history, try the No. 77 Cabernet Sauvignon, a nod to the year A.J. won his fourth and last Indy 500.

One way the Foyts keep customers happy is through membership in Club Foyt. Levels are based on racing names, including Heat, Feature and Champion. Members can order anywhere from two bottles to a case, specifying their preference for reds, whites or a mixture of both. During quarterly pickup parties, members gather to enjoy a free glass of wine in the vault’s cozy confines, some piano and a tasting when Foyt Family Wines releases a new varietal.

Family is strong when it comes to the business of winemaking. Much of the Foyt family resides in Texas, including A.J. Foyt and his wife, Lucy, whom AJ4 calls Nana. During the holidays, family members gather in Houston and stay over on Christmas Eve so they can wake up together on Christmas morning, a tradition AJ4 remembers from his childhood and has now passed on to his three young children and wife, Casey Irsay.

“It’s a good time for everybody,” AJ4 says. “Everyone can see what we’ve been doing and what we’ve been making.” Nana keeps the family “close and strong” with a big Christmas Eve meal and a matching Christmas Day breakfast, and has recently begun accepting more help with holiday preparations from AJ4’s mom and aunt.

The house is always stocked up on Foyt Family wine, AJ4 says, and around the holidays they enjoy a healthy assortment of reds, like Cabernet, which pairs well with the season and reflects their beginnings as a business that began with a just “a few cases of Cab.”

“[Our grandfather] has always been very supportive of us. We’ve always done business right and I think he’s appreciated that. We made sure the wine is good. We’re protecting the family name and reputation … we always made the decision to not go the cheap route or depend on our name to make a sale. We really want people to enjoy what’s inside the bottle. We want to be around for a long time.”

AJ4 says to expect a new wine release just before Christmas this year.

To taste Foyt wines, visit their Speedway location where you can sample a variety of wines and enjoy charcuterie, cheese boards, truffles from The Best Chocolate in Town and read Foyt family history on the back of each bottle.

Foyt Wine Vault |1182 N. Main St., Speedway |317.672.4246 | FoytWineVault.com 

Article from Edible Indy at http://edibleindy.ediblecommunities.com/shop/indy-cars-cabs
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