Foley Family Wines of Santa Rosa President Hugh Reimers abruptly leaves company

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Hugh Reimers, a hard-charging Australian wine executive, abruptly left his position this week as president of Foley Family Wines of Santa Rosa less than two years after being hired to bolster the company’s position in the marketplace.

Founder Bill Foley brought Reimers on board in September 2017, looking for Reimers to replicate the success that he had at rival Jackson Family Wines of Santa Rosa. Foley promoted him to president in January 2018.

Reimers departed to pursue other opportunities, said Foley spokesman Gerard Thoukis, who noted it was Reimers’ choice to leave and his last day was Tuesday. Reimers could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

In a 2017 interview after hiring him, Foley said he believed Reimers would “do a fantastic job.” When promoting him to president, Foley noted Reimers’ “leadership and strategic vision has laid the groundwork toward our transformation to being a top luxury wine producer.”

Under Reimers, Foley made a splash last year by acquiring a majority stake in Healdsburg-based Banshee Wines, a popular pinot noir brand with millennials. It also last year acquired Oregon’s Acrobat wine brand from King Estate Winery in Eugene, Oregon, and the brand added a line of aluminum cans this year.

To replace Reimers, Shawn Schiffer was hired to be president of Foley Family Wines and CEO of Epic Wines & Spirits, the company’s wine distribution arm.

Schiffer had been senior vice president of global sales at WX Brands, a Novato-based firm that is a major provider in the private label wine market for retailers looking for their own wine brands.

Before joining Foley, Reimers had been president of Jackson Family Wines until a management reorganization in early 2017 and was credited with helping Jackson grow its portfolio in Oregon’s coastal wine region.

In 2015, Reimers was promoted to president at Jackson, filling a role held by Rick Tigner, who became CEO. But in 2017, Reimers said in an interview he was ready for a new challenge and decided to go to work for Foley.

“It’s like being given the keys to the Ferrari,” he said then of the opportunity to work with billionaire Foley.

Foley previously acknowledged that he has had a difficult time in finding the right executive to run his wine empire that he started in the late 1990s. That came after a lucrative and successful career in title insurance, notably with Florida-based Fidelity National Financial, and later as an investor in hotels and restaurants.

Foley’s wine company is the 19th largest in the United States, according to Wine Business Monthly, producing 1.5 million cases in 2018. It owns properties such as Chalk Hill Estate winery, Foley Sonoma in Alexander Valley and Foley Johnson in Napa Valley.

In recent years, the appointment of a top wine executive has taken on greater urgency as Foley has turned much of his attention to his National Hockey League franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights, which reached the 2018 Stanley Cup final in its first year in the league.

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