- #1 Top Producer at Terra Firma Global Partners
- Ranked Top 5 among all Napa Valley agents
- $500 + million in career transactional sales
- Recognized leader in winery vineyard estate sales
- Represented $30 + million off-market winery vineyard estate sales in 2016
“Everybody knows Henry”! This reserved and understated Wine Country realtor moves in all the right Napa Valley circles yet avoids the spotlight, all the while exuding a quiet confidence that helps explain his success in a region where ego, wealth and out-sized personality compete with home-grown love of land and grape and the community that nurtured them. A winemaker by avocation, his 94574 brand, with grapes sourced from a spectacular Rutherford vineyard, remains small at 500 cases, all sold locally. Yet it’s in the arena of estate sales that this development maven reveals his true colors—disarmingly competitive, obsessively prepared and discrete to a fault in a business where reputation rules.
On the early years
I was born and raised in the small town of Geyserville, in Sonoma County. I come from a family of rural land developers. After graduating high school, I attended Santa Rosa Junior College, took enology and viticulture classes, then moved to New York City in 1982 to work as a tennis pro, working with the Who’s Who of Manhattan and hitting tennis balls with the likes of John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova. I followed a client’s advice and attended Texas Christian University where I received a BS in Economics with a concentration in Art History.
I met my wife in Calistoga on a Friday night. She saw me walk past the window of a restaurant and followed me to another restaurant and introduced herself. It was love at first sight.
On getting into real estate
I went to work in real estate developing The Valley Club in Sun Valley, Idaho — a very high-end, exclusive, private club. I was the Director of Sales for land sales and memberships. Following that, I returned to Wine Country, where I was the Director of Sales for Calistoga Ranch from 2000-2006.
It came down to a career choice. It was either work with another development project elsewhere in the country or stay in Napa and do residential sales. The development world is very creative—lots of complexity, from entitlements, to financing, to design and construction. I really love that. My fear, getting into residential real estate sales, was that it wasn’t going to be challenging enough. I quickly learned that the opposite was the case. These country property sales are extremely complicated. There are major zoning issues, and when you throw in the complexities of a vineyard and a small winery, no deal is ever the same.
I joined Pacific Union in 2006 and that’s where I met Heidi Rickerd-Rizzo, who headed up the Wine Country office and who is now a founder-partner at Terra Firma Global Partners. Four years later, I left to join Sean Maher at Maher Advisors, a small, private M & A firm, specializing in the wine industry transactions and operating in a sweet spot that was too big for a traditional sales agent or broker, but too small for the big investment banks. So, I sank my teeth into vineyard and winery estate transactions. For example, I represented Chuck Sweeney and his son of Vine Cliff fame on a transaction with Jason Woodbridge and the 100-acre Wine Group that is famous for having secured three perfect 100 point ratings for its wines from Robert Parker.
On the Wine Country marketplace
High-end buyers are coming mainly from the Midwest and the East. This is probably a second or third home for them—they’ve got a lake or beach house in addition to their primary residence. They’ve worked their entire lives to be successful and they’re coming for three things: the weather, the lifestyle, and the proximity to one of the greatest cities in the world. They’re here to change their lives and to enjoy themselves. For many of them, this is their last stop. It’s primarily an end-of-career, retirement decision.
2017 is going to be very similar to ’16. Lower inventories. Lots of demand. They’re all-cash buyers who are very particular and they don’t want to do any work. The properties — the estates — need to be contemporary in design, newer in construction, and turn-key perfect. Move-in ready. Those are commanding the highest prices.
Vineyard prices are astronomical right now and I see tightening of inventory and continued high vineyard prices. When the smartest vineyard guys in the world start selling their mediocre vineyards, you know we’re at the top of the market. I would advise any of my clients who are contemplating a sale, to come to the market right now.
In northern Napa, for $10 million you’re going to be buying one of the nicest estates in Coombsville. In Yountville — you’ll buy five to ten acres with some mediocre vines and a brand-new, 8,000 sq. ft. spec house. Further north into Oakville and Rutherford, forget about it! Five minutes out of St. Helena, approaching Calistoga, prices start to drop again.
On the Schlangen style
I’m a Land guy. The license plate on my truck is DIRT NV. I understand the complexities of the land. But I specialize in four categories—wine country land, estates, vineyards and wineries. These are larger estate parcels, many with a beautiful Howard Backen house and a vineyard, and some with a small winery. And they’re complex transactions. You’d better know the zoning, the soils and how to conduct the deal analysis.
I win most of the competitive listing duals. The key is preparation. I’ve witnessed a number of listing presentations where the competition presents a “This is what I’ve done in the past” pitch. Mine is a complete treatise on the property. It’s already valued—the vineyard, vis a vis per-acre values, with all the comps. Or, per yield at price per ton. I slice and dice it every way possible. That becomes the basis of the listing presentation. Not many people do that.
What do I expect from other agents? Information. Thoroughness. Timely response. Graciousness. Respect. When I do transactions with agents I respect and trust, we work through the toughest times with no issues. There’s no emotion. It’s just back and forth until we reach consensus. Let’s find a solution and let’s fix it.
I won’t take on more than a handful of listings annually. It’s not a numbers game for me. I want to focus all my attention on completing the assignment in a timely manner for the highest price possible for my client. If you have 20 or 30 listings, you can’t. People at this level want to work with principals. They want to work with me, not an assistant.
On Henry, the man
I lead a simple life by Napa standards. I drive a 10-year-old truck. I don’t have a laptop and I don’t look at work when I’m home. I love to fish, and I wear boots and jeans every day. My priorities are family, health and mental well-being. Recently, I had a serious cancer scare. That’s why I backed off my work hours. I used to be the first one in and last one out—all day, every day. Not anymore!
When I was working in New York, I was introduced to Bernie Mendik a very major Manhattan real estate mogul, who subsequently became a friend and valued mentor. I remember an occasion when we were playing tennis and he was interrupted to take an important call. So, he takes the call. You could tell it wasn’t good news. I said, “Can you talk about it?” and he said, “Well, there is a younger guy in the real estate world, trying to make a name for himself, and he took advantage and did something he shouldn’t have done to me.” I said, “Are you going to get even?” He goes, “Oh no. That takes too much energy. But I’ll never forget.” I learned right then and there not to ever cross that bridge and do something that is shortsighted—to get a deal done and ruin your reputation forever.
I remember dinner at the home of a prominent winery owner known for having 2,000 cookbooks in his house. He cooks every day and has two full-time chefs. He throws parties for distributors or fundraisers and he’ll raise half a million dollars in a three-hour poker tournament at his house. On this occasion, it was 10-15 small plates. Everything was flown in— snow crabs and lobsters, for example. He’s got both chefs working, and we’re outside, hanging out around the smoker. We’re drinking $500 bottles of wine with the most fascinating people you can meet. That’s heaven!