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Car collector's trophy home set for auction

A wine country estate features three auto barns

As fans and collectors flock to Monterey for the annual Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, a vineyard-estate that previously housed an impressive collection of hot rods and muscle cars is headed for the auction block in Northern California.

Found in the Suisun Valley, an area east of Napa Valley in Solano County, the property known as Villa De Madre is owned by Willis Johnson, the self-made millionaire who founded the auto-parts auction company Copart.

The gated estate occupies 80 acres in Fairfield with a Georgian-style manor, a caretaker's house and 63 acres of Cabernet vineyards. The nearly 22,900 square feet of living space features a vaulted foyer, a chef's kitchen, a living room and an exercise room with a steam shower. Among its amenities are a billiards and game room, a 250-bottle wine cave and a distinguished dining room with gilded leaf wood trim and a Swarovski crystal chandelier.

The real attraction, however, is Johnson's car facilities, which have been expanded over the years to accommodate his growing car collection. The property counts three auto barns including a 24,000-square-foot main garage. A smaller, 8,195-square-foot garage sports three maintenance bays, lifts and a retro gasoline station complete with an office and restroom. A 12,000-square-foot garage comes complete with “Vintage Main Street USA,” a row of 1920s storefronts and a fully functional retro diner.

“I guess you could say I'm addicted to cars,” said Johnson, who started auto collection back in the 1990s, building some from scratch and obtaining others at auctions. “I started with the first building, he said. “Then I needed more space, so we added the second, then the third.”

Two of the buildings have air conditioning and heating and can be converted into a wine-making facility, which would be a natural progression for an area that Johnson said is growing fast. The area's maritime microclimate is known for producing Rhone-style varietals.

Of the 63 acres of Cabernet vineyards found on the estate, 17 acres of which were kept from the original vineyard and are handpicked, Johnson estimates that more than 100,000 bottles are produced from his harvest each year. He keeps 3,000 bottles for his own personal label, using them as his signature business card to give clients and associates.

Johnson and his wife originally “weren't interested in selling” the home they built in 2001. But after they relocated to Tennessee, the commute became too much for the couple. Previously listed at $22 million, Villa De Madre will be offered in a one-time, one-day auction held by Premier Estates Auction Co. on Sept. 10.

“The market for unique properties like Villa De Madre is small," said Ed Kaminsky, a broker and partner with Premier Estates Auction Co. “For homes such as these, the auction process allows us to create a defined market and it allows the owner to set an end date.”

Although he'll miss the home, Johnson said he and his wife are enjoying life. The couple purchased a Franklin, Tenn., ranch formerly owned by country music star Alan Jackson in 2010 for $28 million. His first order of business at his new home: building a 47,000-square-foot garage for his collection of cars.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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