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Gaylon M. Lawrence Jr., owner of a business empire that includes Arkansas farmland, Tennessee banks and Florida citrus groves recently added another business to his list, Heitz Wine Cellars near St. Helena in California's Napa Valley.

There were rumors in the wine industry for months about the possible sale before the Heitz family announced the new owner April 18.

The value on the acquired property and winery was not disclosed by Heitz nor the Lawrence Group. Napa County officials said they don't yet know details of the transaction.

Napa County Assessor John Tuteur said the sale was in the form of a stock transfer.

Trade publication Wine Business.com reported the 57-year-old winery could carry a $180 million price tag.

Lawrence may be a newcomer to the wine world, but he's familiar with agribusiness. The New York Times reported his 75-year-old family firm, the Lawrence Group, owns more than 165,000 acres of farmland in Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi and Arkansas.

The company also owns most of the town of Wilson, Ark., in Mississippi County. The Nashville-based group holds seven banks with 31 offices in southeast Missouri, Tennessee and northeast Arkansas, including Farmers Bancorp, Inc. of Blytheville.

Neither Lawrence nor a representative with Lawrence Holdings responded to a request for an interview.

Kathleen Heitz Myers, the former chief executive, said in a prepared statement that the timing was right for another family to take over the business.

"When we met with Gaylon, it seemed a perfect match," she said. "In the wine business we are all farmers and with the Lawrence family's history in agriculture we feel Heitz Cellars will be in good hands."

With a new owner, comes changes. Robert Boyd, formerly of Joseph Phelps Vineyard and Jackson Family Enterprises, has been appointed president and chief executive officer of Heitz Wine Cellar.

In a prepared statement, Boyd said he looks forward to "safeguarding the Heitz family legacy and all that goes with it."

Founded in 1961, Heitz championed single-vineyard wines and crafted the sought-after Martha's Vineyard Cabernet, which retails for about $250 a bottle. Heitz's agricultural operations sprawl 1,100 acres with 425 planted acres of grapes.

Lawrence's purchase does not affect the ownership of Martha's Vineyard, owned by a different family, but Heitz will continue to distribute wines from the vineyard's fruit, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Heitz is one of the few remaining Napa Valley wineries still offering on-site complimentary tastings.

Just days into the new role, Boyd said there's no interest in making significant changes to the winery.

Houlihan Lokey Capital Inc. acted as financial adviser to Heitz, while Arnold & Porter LLP and Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty P.C. served as the family's legal counsel. Sebastian Lane served as adviser and Carle, Mackie, Power & Ross LLP served as legal counsel to Lawrence.

Business on 04/28/2018

Print Headline: Business with ties in state expands

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