This story originally appeared in the Press Democrat.

Bill Foley, who has sought to emulate the late wine magnate Jess Jackson while building Foley Family Wines into one of the largest wine companies in Sonoma County, has recruited one of the top executives at Jackson Family Wines to run his growing Santa Rosa wine business.

Hugh Reimers, president of Jackson Family Wines until a management reorganization earlier this year, was named chief administrative officer of Foley Family Wines this month and has been placed on a track to become president of the company, which owns 27 labels and farms 3,000 acres of vineyards.

“I believe he will do a fantastic job. Obviously, his progression is to become president of the company if he does the job that he is capable of doing,” Foley said in an interview at his Chalk Hill Estate winery. “So far, everything he is doing has validated what I had hoped to see out of Hugh.”

Foley Family Wines was the 18th largest wine company in the United States last year, selling about 1.1 million cases of wine, according to Wine Business Monthly. In contrast, Santa Rosa-based Jackson Family Wines was the ninth largest, selling 6 million cases.

Like Jess Jackson, Foley is an ambitious former lawyer who made major inroads in the premium wine market by focusing on land acquisitions and the production of quality wines, and then found another late-stage career by investing in a passion for sports.

Just as Jackson, who died in 2011, ventured into thoroughbred horse racing, Foley is now devoting more time to his NHL franchise, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, which begins its inaugural season in October. Hiring Reimers to supervise day-to-day operations at his wine company will free Foley to concentrate more on hockey.

Foley, who brings an outsider’s perspective to the wine industry, made his fortune through title insurance, notably with Florida-based Fidelity National Financial, and later with hotels, restaurants and other ventures. He readily acknowledged that former winery presidents have not worked out to his expectations, and he has become more selective in his choices for top management.

“I really have been looking hard, as I know if I get the right leader in here then everything else falls into place,” Foley said.

Reimers, a 45-year-old Healdsburg father of two, said he believes Foley Family Wines is at the same stage Jackson was about 25 years ago. More importantly, he said, Foley is willing to invest to grow the business after spending more than $200 million from 1996 to 2012, picking up North Coast properties at good value in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

“The nice thing is that everyone knows what they want to do, but not everyone has the pockets to do it,” said Reimers. “But Bill does.”

An Australian native, Reimers previously served as chief winemaker at Constellation Brands, the country’s third-largest wine company. He moved to Jackson in 2009, working primarily in production positions before being named COO in 2011.

In 2015, he was promoted to president, filling a spot held by Rick Tigner, who became chief executive officer. But in February, Reimers listed his position as executive vice president on his LinkedIn account. Tigner now serves as president as well as CEO, a Jackson Family Wines spokeswoman said Thursday.

Reimers said he “loved” Jackson Family Wines, especially singling out chairman and proprietor Barbara Banke, Jackson’s widow, but that he was ready for a new challenge. “It’s like being given the keys to the Ferrari,” he said of Foley.

This story originally appeared in the Press Democrat.

Reimers was noted in recent years for spotting vineyards and wineries in Oregon to add to Jackson’s portfolio, such as Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, a well-regarded pinot noir producer, and Gran Moraine vineyards in the Yamhill-Carlton region. The vineyards provide fruit for Jackson wineries in Oregon and some of the company’s other brands, such as La Crema and Siduri. Foley also has been active in Oregon, buying in 2014 The Four Graces winery and the Doe Ridge Estate Vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton.

Foley will likely look for more properties in the Beaver State, Reimers said, noting that Oregon wines can produce a good profit margin as premium bottles typically sell for $30 or more. “You don’t have big companies like Gallo or Constellation running up there yet,” he said.

His other mission is to ramp up sales in the very competitive retail market, where supermarkets and distributors are undergoing consolidation. Like Jackson, Foley has its own distributor, Epic Wines and Spirits, which distributes its wines within California. The goal is to offer enough products at premium price points to get the attention of large chain, and to generate additional income by increasing scale, shooting for a target of 2 million cases.

Foley said his company is on target to do 1.6 million cases this year.

Supermarkets are especially critical. For example, Reimers said, the Vons supermarket chain in Southern California sells bottles for as much as $100. Albertsons is now the largest wine seller in the country after its 2015 acquisition of Safeway, overtaking Costco.

“It’s becoming more important in our strategic relationship with key retailers,” he said of the company’s mission.

The changes at Foley to boost sales should come soon, Reimers said. “He’s (Foley) is not going to sit around and wait,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.