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Building an empire, winery by winery

  • Bill Foley is the chairman of Foley Family Wines, which recently acquired Chalk Hill Estate Winery, and acquired Sebastiani Vineyards and Winery in 2008.

Billionaire Bill Foley's pending purchase of Chalk Hill Winery in Sonoma County adds the prestige and clout that his growing wine empire needs, he said Tuesday.

"I'm trying to build a portfolio of really fine wineries," said Foley, president of Foley Family Wines. "Chalk Hill Winery is an iconic brand."

His deal with Chalk Hill owner Fred Furth, disclosed two weeks ago, signaled his highest profile move into the wine industry.

But Foley, 65, said he doesn't expect to stop with Chalk Hill Winery. He is looking to acquire a Napa Valley winery of equal size and prestige.

"I still need a Chalk Hill-type property in Napa to round out my portfolio," he said Tuesday from his small administrative offices in Sonoma.

Together, Chalk Hill Winery and the right Napa Valley winery would give Foley Family Wines greater recognition in the wine industry and the ability to push its lesser-known brands, he said.

Foley plans to live on the Chalk Hill estate. He said his transition into the wine business was really a lifestyle choice, and he was quick to joke about his age and inexperience in the industry. But when it comes to the financials, his eyes sharpened and he was all business.

"I'm making money, and I intend to continue making money."

He has centralized the financial management of all his wineries into the small Sonoma headquarters, and he shows little tolerance for what he considers redundant jobs or people who don't meet his goals.

"I really think you need to be an efficient operation," he said.

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