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.

"I wake up, and I can look at all those vineyards I created, and I can enjoy it for the rest of my life," Furth said. "I think he's a perfect gentleman, and very charming personally. He has a very good business mind, and he's able to make good business deals because he states the obvious in a non-pejorative way."

When an investment goes wrong, or mistakes are made, Foley doesn't dwell on the problem. He moves on, friends and associates said.

That was the case with Foley's investment in Crushpad, the custom-crush winery that became crippled by its debts. Foley had invested "in the mid-six figure range," he said, and could have traded in that debt to take over the company when it was facing bankruptcy, but he decided it wasn't worth the hit to his reputation.

"Wrote the check and lost the check," Foley recalled. "I just decided to lose the money and forget about it, because I didn't want to get into the position that I was not paying growers that should have been paid."

Like his Texas ancestors who drove herds of cattle across the west 150 years ago, Foley puts the past behind him and focuses on moving ahead.

"Always put one foot in front of the other," Foley said. "Keep on moving forward. And if something doesn't work right in the path, forget about it. Try and fix it on a go-forward basis, and don't worry about something that happened yesterday. That's been one of my philosophies."

You can reach Staff Writer Cathy Bussewitz at 521-5276 or