Dennis Foley, longtime friend and associate of The Underground Wine Journal and an important figure in the world of rare wine and gastronomy for over 40 years, passed away Thursday, November 26 at the age of 74 in San Francisco. Dennis had a wide-ranging career in rare wine and food as an authority, writer, consultant, judge, appraiser, auctioneer, educator, and chef. Dennis’s articles about his wine events and recipes appeared in both The Underground Wine Journal and Rarities both of which were offshoots of The Underground Wineletter which was first published in 1979. Dennis was the founder and co-editor of Rarities. His writings also appeared on our website www.undergroundwineletter.com , which is the reincarnation of the original Underground Wineletter founded by John Tilson in 1979.
Wine was a passion for Dennis, as well as a vocation. He visited many of the world’s wine-growing regions but was most knowledgeable in California and the European wine regions. Beginning in 1963, he worked for Esquin Imports Wine Merchants in San Francisco. He was involved with professional wine auctions from 1970 to 2004 and charity wine auctions and events from 1979 to 2002. He worked for Christie’s wine department in Chicago beginning in 1980, followed in 1985 with his founding the Butterfield & Butterfield wine auction department in San Francisco. Subsequently, he returned to Christie’s where he functioned as a rare wine consultant until joining Zachy’s Auction House in New York as a rare wine consultant, appraiser, and auctioneer. He has conducted many charity wine auctions and wine seminars all over the United States and Puerto Rico for over 35 years. He consulted regularly on building and appraising wine collections throughout the U.S. Also he regularly set up wine tastings and dinners and went on journeys in search of wine.
One such journey was to Spain in what was to be known as “The Sherry Caper.” Dennis had heard of a large collection of old Spanish Sherry located in Spain. The details were sketchy but the number of bottles was estimated to be a very large number. Dennis got a price and then came to John Tilson and a few others to finance the purchase. When the wine arrived a lot of it was Sherry made with salt which had very little value or appeal. There were also dry sherries and sweet sherries and liqueurs such as old Chartreuse (green and yellow) and old Benedictine. Many of the old liqueurs John Tilson still has in his cellar. On another occasion some 40 years ago, Dennis heard from Michael Broadbent of Christie’s that there was an upcoming sale of Magnums of 1870 Lafite Rothschild taken directly from the cold cellars of Glamis Castle in Scotland where they had been cellared since release. 1870 was one of the greatest ever vintages in Bordeaux and widely coveted. He approached John Tilson, Ed Lazarus, Geoffrey Troy, and a few others for money to bid at the auction in London. The instructions were to bid whatever it would take to buy the wines. He then went to London where he was the successful bidder for many magnums of the 1870 Lafite. These bottles were drunk by John Tilson, Ed Lazarus, Geoffrey Troy, Dennis, and many others such as the late Barney Rhodes who was a great wine connoisseur and a big fan of Lafite. Every magnum was stunning.
Dennis was charming and delightful but a bit of an absent-minded professor known for occasional bumbling. Shortly after Christine Graham took over the publishing of The Underground Wine Journal in the early 90s, she and Dennis arranged a trip to Europe to visit Champagne, taste the Vin Clairs, visit Georg Riedel and his glass factory and tour Germany. Dennis was to make all the arrangements for the trip including plane reservations. However, a couple of days before the trip, when questioned, Dennis informed her that he had forgotten to make her reservations. On another occasion, when Christine and Dennis were in Puerto Rico for the Celebration of Vintage Hospitality and Cigars, Dennis said he knew of a great place for hamburgers. He requisitioned a bus to take a group of friends to this place. However, he could not remember where it was, but after close to three hours of wandering about in the hills of Puerto Rico, he found it. Unfortunately, the cost of the food was about $100 a plate. Dennis loved sweets. When Christine and Dennis were in Paris, having dinner with Christophe Salin of Chateau Lafite, Dennis ordered all the desserts on the menu, about seven, most of which he consumed, leaving him feeling ill the next day. Another time, Dennis had seen an article on a famous donut place in Glendora, on Route 66, east of Los Angeles. So Christine took him to The Donut Man where Dennis ate half a dozen donuts, with the end result being the same.
There are a lot of other Dennis stories. Despite all the misadventures, Dennis left a considerable mark on a lot of lives. He was full of life, energetic, and vibrant. And despite whatever happened to him, including the last four and a half years of his life which were spent in the Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, suffering from Parkinson’s and Cancer, his disposition never changed. He was always pleasant and cheerful, never angry, upset, or even aggravated.
Dennis was a member of the Bohemian Club in San Francisco and a lifetime member of the Society of Bacchus. He is survived by his wife, Victoria Johnson Foley. Dennis was truly a unique individual and will be missed by all who knew him.
If any of you who knew Dennis, would like to offer any comments or thoughts and wish to share them with us, please send them and we will post them on the website.