California-based vintner Bill Foley has agreed to acquire Sonoma County winery Ferrari-Carano in a deal that will add about 1,200 acres of vineyards and nearly a half-million cases in volume to Foley Family Wines, his expanding Golden State empire. The purchase price was not disclosed, but it's estimated to be in the range of $250 million.
Speaking to Wine Spectator, Foley called Ferrari-Carano a unique opportunity, which bolsters Foley Family Wines' position in the $15 and over price tier while significantly enhancing its grapegrowing and production capabilities.
"Ferrari-Carano is a well-respected, historic brand, and one of the original wineries in Sonoma County," Foley said. "The Fumé Blanc, which is about 230,000 cases, is all at $15 or more. Their Chardonnay is $20-plus and it's another 120,000 cases, so that also fits right in with what we're up to in terms of premiumization."
Based in Dry Creek Valley, Ferrari-Carano was opened in 1981 by Donald Louis Carano and his wife, Rhonda. Carano, who founded the Reno-based El Dorado resort and casino chain before venturing into wine, passed away in 2017, but not before establishing both the Ferrari-Carano brand and winery as mainstays on the Sonoma scene. The brand has earned numerous scores of 90 points or higher from Wine Spectator over the years.
Ferrari-Carano was also a trailblazer in terms of hospitality, adorning the winery property with an Italian villa called Villa Fiore, which drew a large number of visitors, and later purchasing Vintners Inn and its adjoining restaurant, John Ash & Co., in the Russian River Valley in 2000.
Foley noted that the deal, "gives us two additional production facilities that we desperately needed. Our Langtry and Sebastiani wineries are both older facilities and are going to require a significant investment. Ferrari-Carano has two very large facilities. Both of those really help us, because we can shift production to Ferrari-Carano and not spend tens of millions upgrading the older facilities."
Ferrari-Carano's vineyard assets also drew Foley to the brand. "When I combine their 1,200 acres with the 3,500 acres of vineyards I already own, we're really controlling the supply chain from grape to bottle," he explained. "It's not an inexpensive acquisition, but it does a lot for us and really takes us to the next level."
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With Ferrari-Carano in hand, Foley will continue his push to drive Foley Family Wines to his goal of 2 million cases. "Prior to COVID-19, we were on pace to do about 1.4 million cases this year," he said. "This adds another 480,000 cases."
The deal positions Foley as one of the largest players in Sonoma County. In addition to Sonoma icon Sebastiani, he owns five other brands there, including Lancaster Estate in Alexander Valley and Chalk Hill in the Chalk Hill AVA. He also owns the boutique Hotel Les Mars in downtown Healdsburg.
A canny businessman who originally found success in specialty finance, Foley leapt into wine when he established Lincourt in Santa Barbara County in 1996. Over the ensuing years, he steadily built a wine empire encompassing more than two dozen wineries and brands from California, Oregon, Washington and New Zealand. In 2019, Foley expanded his New Zealand holdings when he bought Mt. Difficulty winery for $35 million.
—with reporting by Augustus Weed