Chalk Hill Winery, the high-end wine estate of famed class-action attorney Fred Furth, is being sold to insurance magnate William Foley, Furth confirmed Thursday.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but sources estimate the sale price could approach $100 million, making it one of the largest deals for a single California winery in recent years.
Foley, who purchased Sebastiani Vineyards in 2008, and Furth have signed a letter of intent to purchase the winery in the hills east of Windsor. The deal is expected to close next month.
"Life has its phases and you've got to move on through the phases," said Furth, 78. "I love Sonoma County and I hope to make a contribution here in other ways."
The sale involves the entire 1,270-acre estate and all its buildings, including the 40,000-case winery, a pavilion, equestrian center, and several homes, including the main residence, a palatial home dubbed "Furthheim." The property contains 278 acres of vineyards amid stunning oak-studded hillsides.
Chalk Hill Winery is known for its award-winning chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, but also produces several red varietals. The bulk of the wines sell for between $20 and $50, but reserve wines reach into the hundreds of dollars.
Foley did not return calls for comment. He told the Wine Spectator that he plans to live in the main home, which he was purchasing separately along with 500 acres for $20 million. His Sonoma-based wine company, Foley Family Wines, would purchase the winery and vineyards, he said.
The acquisition would be the crown jewel in Foley's fast growing wine portfolio and establish Sonoma County as the heart of his wine empire.
Foley is chairman of the Florida-based Fidelity National Financial, one of the largest title insurance firms in the nation. He founded Foley Family Wines in 1996 when he bought his first vineyard in Santa Barbara County.
He later added Firestone Vineyard in Santa Barbara, Three Rivers in Walla Walla, and Kuleto Estates in Napa, among others. Following the purchase of the historic Sebastiani winery in 2008 for an estimated $47 million, Foley moved management of the wine group to Sonoma.
Last fall he added a 280,000-case New Zealand wine group, New Zealand Wine Trust, to his growing portfolio. All told, Foley Family Wines now produces about 800,000 cases of wine annually.
Chalk Hill, however, is in a class of its own, combining a world-class winery with opulent residences and world-class equestrian center.
"Chalk Hill is certainly one of the preeminent wine estates in Sonoma County, in fact, in California," said industry analyst Jon Fredrikson. "It has a great reputation for making outstanding high-end wines that are marketed at high prices, and therein lies the rub."
The winery has probably struggled to sell its wines in the past few years as the recession has caused consumers to spend less on luxuries like high-end wine, Fredrikson said.
A recent divorce from his second wife, Peggy, probably didn't help the situation, either, Fredrikson said.
Furth acknowledged the market challenges facing all high-end producers, but he said that isn't the reason he's selling. He noted that his children are pursuing other interests, and he felt he'd taken the winery as far as he could take it. He called the Foley family "a good wine family who'll protect the place."