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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, May 21, 2012, 11:01 am

Foley buys Sawyer Cellars property in Napa Valley

Winery to be home for Foley Johnson brand

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    Sawyer Cellars barn

    Foley Family Wines will continue to sell the Sawyer Cellars brand from this Prohibition-era converted barn that houses the winery and tasting room. (Sawyer Cellars photo)

    RUTHERFORD — Foley Family Wines purchased the vines and facilities of Sawyer Cellars, located between Rutherford and Oakville in Napa Valley.

    The purchase included the 49-acre property with 40 acres of Rutherford appellation vineyards, a 20,000-gallon-a-year winery — roughly 6,000 cases — and a tasting room fronting on Highway 29. The deal didn’t include Sawyer brand, but it will still be sold in the tasting room, according to Foley Family Wines. The purchase price wasn’t disclosed.

    “We’ve been looking for a home along Highway 29 for our Foley Johnson winery,” said proprietor Bill Foley. “This purchase provides us with a great location for our tasting room, an excellent winemaking facility and 40 acres of superb vineyards in the heart of the Rutherford appellation.”

    Healdsburg-based Foley Family Wines now has 10 wineries producing nearly three dozen labels in the North Coast, Central Coast, Washington state and New Zealand. Mr. Foley also is chairman of the board of directors for Fidelity National Inc. and executive chairman of Fidelity National Information Services.

    The Sawyer Cellars winery and hospitality center are housed in a converted redwood barn said to date to Prohibition. There is also an underground barrel room, wine library and a modern gravity-feed cellar.

    Charles and Joanne Sawyer

    Charles and Joanne Sawyer

    Sawyer Cellars proprietor Charles Sawyer said he and his wife, Joanne, will miss the past 18 years in the wine business.

    “There is no place like Napa Valley for its beauty, incredible terroir and climate for growing wine grapes, but the hidden treasure of Napa Valley is its people,” Mr. Sawyer said. “We will miss this life, our friends, our incredible staff, wine club members and our visitors terribly. The upside is we have left the winery in good hands with the Foleys, and we are confident they will be great stewards of the land. We wish them much success.”

    After their first bottling of 120 cases in 1991, the Sawyers purchased the vineyard in 1994 and started renovating the barn three years later.

    Brad Warner

    Brad Warner

    Brad Warner, Sawyer Cellars winemaker since 1999, will become the head winemaker for the Foley Johnson brand. He started his career in 1967 at Charles Krug, moved to Robert Mondavi Winery  three years later and stayed there for 30 years.

    The Foley Johnson wine brand has two tiers, Napa and Handmade. The Napa tier focuses on wines from the high-profile estate vineyards in the valley. The Handmade tier has small-lot wines from Foley Family Wines’ California winemakers Camille Benitah of Merus and Dave Lattin of Kuleto in Napa Valley, Lisa Bishop Forbes of Chalk Hill and Mark Lyon of Sebastiani in Sonoma County, Paul Warson of Firestone and Leslie Mead Renaud of Lincourt on the Central Coast, and Mr. Warner.

    Started in 1996, the Foley Family Wines portfolio also includes Merus, Kuleto and Altvs in Napa Valley, Chalk Hill near Healdsburg, Sebastiani in Sonoma, Foley Estates in Santa Rita Hills, Lincourt Vineyards in Solvang, Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla Valley, Firestone Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley, Eos in Paso Robles and New Zealand wineries Vavasour and Clifford Bay.

    A year ago, Mr. Foley formed a joint venture with Australia-based Wineinc, which produces the brands Gotham, Wine Men of Gotham, Stalking Horse, Rusty Gate, Mastermind and StepXStep.

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