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Foley Buys Chalk Hill Winery

Florida finance executive adds a top Sonoma property to his rapidly expanding wine portfolio

James Laube
Posted: June 10, 2010

William Foley has found his next California wine acquisition, announcing today that he had signed a letter of intent to purchase highly regarded Sonoma County producer Chalk Hill Winery.

Terms of the offer were not disclosed, but Foley, the chairman of two Florida financial companies, told Wine Spectator the acquisition came in two separate deals. First he is buying the 45,000-case winery, inventory, label, equipment and 278 acres of vineyard, all in the Chalk Hill appellation between Santa Rosa and Healdsburg. He also is personally buying the home and property owned by Chalk Hill's founder, Fred Furth, for $20 million and intends to reside there. That acquisition includes another 500 acres.

Foley believes Chalk Hill, which produces critically acclaimed Chardonnay, Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah, adds a marquee name to the Foley Wine Group. "It has an iconic name," Foley said, adding that it also gives him a stronger presence in Sonoma, where he also owns Sebastiani Vineyards. The vineyards and winery are built to grow to 60,000 cases, which is Foley's goal.

Furth and his then wife, Peggy, bought the property in 1972 and started making wine there a decade later. Furth discovered the property when he rented a plane and scoured the land between Napa and Sonoma looking for a place to start a vineyard. As he was flying over the Russian River Valley he spotted Chalk Hill and decided to purchase 242 acres of land. The property has grown to 1,260 acres with 278 acres planted to grapes. It includes a fermentation building, the main winery with offices and a tasting room, as well as an equestrian pavilion used for special events.

Furth, 76, believes it was time for him to get out of the wine business. "I'm getting a little long in tooth," he said. "My main reason in selling to Foley is I wanted a family to own it. It's always been a family winery." Furth and his wife also recently divorced.

Since 1996, Foley has bought numerous wineries and vineyards. The chairman of two Jacksonville, Fla.-based firms, Fidelity National Financial, the nation's largest title insurance company, and Fidelity National Information Services, he has amassed an impressive portfolio under the Foley Family Wines name.

He founded LinCourt Vineyards in Santa Barbara in 1996 and then purchased the 460-acre Rancho Santa Rosa, in Santa Rita Hills. In 2007, he began a buying spree, purchasing the 220-acre Ashley's Vineyard, also in Santa Rita Hills, and renaming it Las Hermanas, then grabbing the well-known Santa Barbara property Firestone Vineyard, Napa boutique Cabernet brand Merus (and Merus' second label, Altus), the medium-size Three Rivers Winery in Washington's Walla Walla and, ultimately, a Napa winery owned by the Venge family.

In 2008, Foley purchased Sebastiani Vineyards, followed almost immediately by a controlling interest in Napa Cabernet producer Kuleto Estate. Alexander Valley's Wattle Creek Winery is also in his portfolio. Last year, he acquired the publicly traded New Zealand Wine Fund and its related brands, including Vavasour, Goldwater, Clifford Bay and Dashwood.

Richard Moreland
Milford, MI —  June 11, 2010 2:16pm ET
Is Mr. Furth sure he sold it to a "Family", or a family of wineries?

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