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Exclusive: Bill Foley Expands Empire With Sonoma Jewel Ferrari-Carano

June 9, 2020

California-based vintner Bill Foley has agreed to acquire Sonoma County winery Ferrari-Carano in a deal that will add about 1,200 acres of vineyards and nearly a half-million cases in volume to his expanding Golden State empire. The purchase price was undisclosed, but it’s estimated to be in the range of $250 million.

Speaking to SND, Foley called Ferrari-Carano a unique opportunity, which bolsters Foley Family Wines’ position in the $15-and-over price tier while significantly enhancing its grape-growing and production capabilities. “Ferrari-Carano is a well-respected, historic brand, and one of the original wineries in Sonoma County,” he said. “The Fumé Blanc, which is about 230,000 cases, is all at $15 or more. Their Chardonnay is $20-plus and it’s another 120,000 cases, so that also fits right in with what we’re up to in terms of premiumization.”

Based in Dry Creek Valley, Ferrari-Carano was opened in 1981 by Donald Louis Carano and his wife Rhonda. Carano, who founded the Reno-based El Dorado resort and casino chain before venturing into wine, passed away in 2017, but not before establishing both the Ferrari-Carano brand and winery as mainstays on the Sonoma scene.

Beginning in the late 1980s, Ferrari-Carano garnered a following for plush estate Chardonnays, its Fumé Blanc, and its Sangiovese blend. The brand has earned numerous scores of 90 points or higher from Wine Spectator over the years. Ferrari-Carano was also a trailblazer in terms of hospitality, adorning the winery property with an Italian villa called Villa Fiore—which drew a large number of visitors to the estate—and later purchasing Vintners Inn and its adjoining restaurant, John Ash & Co., in the Russian River Valley in 2000.

Foley noted that the deal “gives us two additional production facilities that we desperately needed. Our Langtry and Sebastiani wineries are both older facilities, and were going to require a significant investment. Ferrari-Carano has two very large facilities, including a 500,000-case authorization in Dry Creek, and another 500,000 cases at the Prevail winery in Alexander Valley. Both of those really help us, because we can shift production to Ferrari-Carano and not spend tens of millions upgrading the older facilities.”

Ferrari-Carano’s vineyard assets also drew Foley to the brand. “When I combine their 1,200 acres with the 3,500 acres of vineyards I already own, we’re really controlling the supply chain from grape to bottle,” he explained. “It’s not an inexpensive acquisition, but it does a lot for us and really takes us to the next level.”

With Ferrari-Carano in hand, Foley will continue his push to drive Foley Family Wines to his goal of 2 million cases. “Prior to Covid-19, we were on pace to do about 1.4 million cases this year,” he said. “This adds another 480,000 cases.” While the pandemic resulted in significant sales declines in April and May, Foley has seen a rebound so far in June, with sales increasing year-on-year through the first part of the month.

Among the brands driving growth recently are Chalk Hill Sonoma Coast Chardonnay and red blend, which will account for about 150,000 cases this year; Roth Alexander Valley Cabernet; and Oregon labels Four Graces and Acrobat. Four Graces, acquired four years ago, has expanded fivefold to 60,000 cases since the purchase, while Acrobat is tracking at around 150,000 cases for 2020, up from 100,000 cases when it was acquired in 2018. “Ferrari-Carano fits right in with those growth brands,” Foley said.

The Foley Family Wines portfolio also includes Sebastiani, Chalone, Merus, Firestone, Lincourt, Foley Johnson, Foley Sonoma, Guenoc, Kuleto, Langtry, and Clifford Bay, among other brands. In addition to his wine interests, Foley is the chairman of commercial data and analytics firm Dun & Bradstreet and title insurance giant Fidelity National Financial, and majority owner of the National Hockey League’s Vegas Golden Knights.—Daniel Marsteller

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