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Napa winery deal signals return of lifestyle buyers

A Southern California couple bought a small Napa Valley winery on Monday, besting other would-be buyers by agreeing to close within 10 days and paying all cash for the $4.7 million property on Silverado Trail near Calistoga.

Monday's deal is the latest indication that lifestyle buyers, people who are more focused on creating a hobby business in Wine Country than making a substantial profit, might be returning to the market after a two-year absence.

"We had the winery on the market for a year, and nothing," said John Bergman, a Forestville real estate agent who represented both the buyer and seller. "And then all of a sudden we had six offers."

Michael and Sandra Davis, owners of Applied Computer Solutions in Huntington Beach, purchased the Napa Valley property that is permitted to produce 20,000 cases of wine and includes 106 acres of land and 9 acres of vineyards.

They represent the rarest category of buyers in today's market — wealthy individuals more concerned with creating a certain type of lifestyle than focusing on the bottom line.

"This is a whole new endeavor for them, a change in lifestyle," Bergman said. "This is supposed to be a fun project."

These type of buyers largely disappeared in 2008 when the stock market crashed and the premium wine industry began sliding into a historic slump. Now, like an endangered species on the rebound, a few lifestyle buyers are starting to reappear along the North Coast.

"You've got some well-to-do people circling back into the market, looking at some small wineries and vineyards," said Joe Ciatti, a winery broker with Zepponi & Company in Santa Rosa. "Don't misinterpret this for a heated market. But we are past the bottom."

Ciatti's company assisted on the sale of Moon Mountain winery in Sonoma, which was purchased in January by a San Francisco-based investment banker for his personal use, according to county land records. In April, a San Francisco couple who made a fortune in social networking bought a 360-acre vineyard estate overlooking Sonoma for $13.6 million.

The Napa Valley property was sold Monday by AEGON Americas, a large insurance and investment company that foreclosed on the property in 2009, according to Bergman. The property had been owned by the Saviez family since 1900.

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