Foley's sole control allows quick deals

One of the traits that sets Bill Foley apart from other wine executives is his ability to act quickly.

Unlike other major players, companies with shareholders, boards or sprawling family structures to consult, Foley alone makes the decision to act.

"When there's a core decision to be made, Bill usually fields that call," said Mario Zepponi, co-owner and partner at Zepponi & Co., a mergers and acquisitions firm. "He's used that to his advantage, when it comes to deals, because Foley Family Wines can react very quickly to situations. They can be very flexible."

He also is not afraid to own real estate. He owns more land and buildings than most other wineries that sell across a broad price range of $10 to $100 a bottle, said Joe Ciatti, a principal at Zepponi & Co.

"He is a constant player," Ciatti said. "There's no winery or label or vineyard that he will not at least give a look to. He's always looking for that opportunity out there, and he's very aggressive, in seeing value where other people don't."

When eying targets, Foley keeps his eye out for aging winery owners who don't have a succession plan for their business.

Longtime friend Ted Simpkins, who owned Lancaster Estate Winery, was one of them. Simpkins and Foley met at a golf club 20 years ago in Southern California and they've been friends ever since. Both men said Foley's purchase of Lancaster was the other one's idea.

"He was very fair. It wasn't much of a negotiation at all," Simpkins said. "Everyone's afraid to pull the plug. Not Bill."

Simpkins and his wife continue to live on the property and remain minority owners, and the staff at the winery is unchanged, Simpkins said.

Fred Furth, the class-action attorney who founded Chalk Hill, retained a villa and 30 acres of property when he sold his winery and estate to Foley.

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