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Family sells Firestone Vineyard

August 18, 2007|Molly Selvin | Times Staff Writer

A Los Olivos, Calif., vineyard whose founding family includes a legendary tire innovator, a longtime politician and a star of TV's "The Bachelor" is being sold.

Firestone Vineyard told its employees this week that William P. Foley, a Florida title insurance executive who owns two other vineyards in Santa Barbara County, is buying the company.

The management transition began this week. The sale is expected to close in September, said founder Brooks Firestone, who declined to disclose financial details.

"The winery had reached a point in its progression where it was getting beyond our family," said Firestone, a Santa Barbara County supervisor and former member of the state Assembly.

"Bill Foley makes good wine, has a lot of integrity and is local," he said. "This just seemed to be a very logical thing to do."

Negotiations over the deal began in May with a call from Firestone's son Adam, Foley said Friday. No major changes are expected in operations, staffing and distribution.

"My goal is to become a little bit bigger player in the wine business," Foley said. He will take over the Firestone Vineyard and Prosperity Wines brands, along with the Santa Ynez Valley winery and 480 acres of land, most of it vineyards.

The purchase is the first in a series of planned acquisitions, he said. "Firestone is a much bigger producer. They have a national sales force, and they can sell more than what they're currently selling."

Foley said he was exploring opportunities in Sonoma County, Napa County, Oregon and Washington, aiming to create "a decent-size company."

The Firestone family will retain its other properties, which include Curtis Winery, Firestone Walker Brewing Co., a new family winery in Paso Robles, Calif., the Jarhead Red and Rock Hollow wine brands and 400 acres in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Foley is chairman of Fidelity National Financial Inc., a Jacksonville-based title insurer. He also founded Foley Estates Vineyard & Winery as well as Lincourt Vineyards in California.

Brooks Firestone's sons, Andrew and Adam, have been helping to run the firm along with their sisters, Polly and Hayley.

Andrew, who became famous starring in the third season of "The Bachelor" reality show, will continue to manage the family's Paso Robles winery. Adam will continue as co-proprietor of Firestone Walker Brewing Co.

The Firestones are heirs of Harvey Firestone, whose Ohio-based Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., founded in 1900, pioneered the mass production of automobile tires.

His son Leonard, a former ambassador to Belgium, established the family ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley in the early 1970s. Leonard, joined by his son Brooks, planted a vineyard and founded the county's first estate winery.

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molly.selvin@latimes.com

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