The Santa Barbara wine world is buzzing about the recent sale of Firestone Vineyards to William Foley of Foley Estates Vineyard & Winery. The deal, part of a plan by Foley to build a wine producing and distribution empire, has fueled speculation about what the founder and chairman of Fidelity National Financial Corp., a multibillion-dollar title insurance and claims-management services company based in Jacksonville, Fla., will buy next.
"Bill's idea is to put together a consortium of six or seven wineries and develop his own wine distribution and sales company," says Foley Estates general manager Alan Phillips. Before the Firestone deal was announced, Foley purchased the 220-acre Las Hermanas Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills as an estate vineyard for his Lincourt Winery. With the acquisition of Firestone, Foley owns 760 planted acres in Santa Barbara.
Firestone's 330 acres of vineyards, winery facility and 250,000 cases of unsold wine aren't prize properties. The attraction, says Phillips, was Firestone's national sales force. And it was a plus that Firestone's $8 wines don't compete with Foley's $35 to $50 Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. "Firestone needs polishing," he says. "We want the wines to stay the same price but to be the best in their category."