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Foley acquiring Chalk Hill Winery

  • 3/8/2009:D1: [Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards]

    PC: Photo by Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards & Winery. 6/13/2004: 22: The vast expanse of the Furth family's Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards is a dominant feature of the area's signature winery. The estate is avirtual wine village, with not only vineyards, gardens, a maintenance shop and road-building crews, but an indoor equestrianarena.

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.

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