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Foley Family Wines Buys Sonoma's Lancaster Estate

Sebastiani owner adds Alexander Valley winery to his growing wine company

Augustus Weed
Posted: November 9, 2012

There’s no slowing down for Bill Foley. The financial executive and vintner, who over the past two decades has built an extensive portfolio of wineries and vineyards under his Foley Family Wines name, is closing a deal to purchase Lancaster Estate in Alexander Valley. The sale includes the winery, the label, 42 acres of vineyards and Lancaster’s sister brand Roth. The terms of the offer were not disclosed.

Foley told Wine Spectator that he had been looking for a winery in Alexander Valley that could complement his Chalk Hill and Sebastiani brands. “One of my goals for some time was to have an Alexander Valley property that sets a high standard, and Lancaster does,” he said. Foley cited the reputation of the wines and the quality of the vineyard as the main reasons he decided to buy the property.

The deal will also increase Foley’s access to grapes in Sonoma. Lancaster founder Ted Simpkins focused predominately on Cabernet Sauvignon and the property is mainly planted to that grape, with a smattering of other Bordeaux varieties. Foley said he might use some of the Cabernet to bolster his other California brands while continuing to work with Simpkins' contacts in the region to buy more fruit.

But Foley doesn’t plan any major changes at either Lancaster or Roth. “I’m planning on continuing the process that Ted put in place,” he said. Foley will retain the current staff, including winemaker Jesse Katz and consulting winemaker David Ramey, who produces wines under his own Ramey label. Simpkins will remain a minority owner in both brands.

Simpkins approached Foley with an offer to sell because he couldn’t find enough time to manage the winery. The executive vice president of Young’s Market Company, a distributor, Simpkins entered the wine industry after serving in the military. Until 2010, he was executive vice president for Southern Wine and Spirits' California operation. Following the advice of the late Jess Jackson he purchased the Maacama Creek Winery and changed the name to Lancaster, releasing his first wine in 1995. Lancaster produces around 12,000 cases of wine a year, while the 35,000-case Roth brand makes wines from Alexander Valley and the Sonoma Coast.

The sale is the third acquisition for Foley this year. In May he purchased Sawyer Cellars in Napa Valley and closed a deal to merge his New Zealand firm, which includes brands such as Clifford Bay and Vavasour, with the New Zealand Wine Company.

Foley, who is chairman of Jacksonville, Fla.-based Fidelity National Financial and Fidelity National Information Services, jumped into the wine industry in 1996 when he established LinCourt Vineyards in Santa Barbara. In 2007 he began expanding, hoping to garner better distribution, and now owns more than 15 wineries on the West Coast and in New Zealand including well-known names such as Firestone Vineyard in Santa Barbara, Napa Valley producers Merus and Kuleto Estate, and Sonoma’s historic Sebastiani Winery.

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