Vintage Wine Estates outlines plans for B.R. Cohn Winery

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Vintage Wine Estates on Friday confirmed its purchase of the B.R. Cohn Winery and pledged to maintain the quality of the Sonoma Valley vintner by retaining its current winemaker and improve it by bringing additional financial resources to the operation.

Bruce Cohn on Tuesday announced the sale of his winery and 70 acres of vineyards, noting he was forced to sell by Bank of the West given he owed $25 million in debt. Terms of the sale weren’t disclosed.

Pat Roney, president of Santa Rosa-based Vintage Wine Estates, said in an interview on Friday he will retain Tom Montgomery, B.R. Cohn’s current winemaker, in a consulting role going forward.

“We are looking forward to carrying on the legacy of B.R. Cohn which we consider one of the crown jewels of Sonoma Valley,” Roney said.

Additionally, Marco DiGiulio, chief winemaker for Vintage Wine Estates, worked at B.R. Cohn as a consulting winemaker from 2004 to 2010 and is eager to work again at the winery. DiGiulio said in a statement that “of all the properties I have been privileged to work with, I have a special fondness for B.R. Cohn. I intend to continue to produce wines of the highest quality that reflect the Sonoma Valley style that people have come to know and love.”

Bruce Cohn, 68, had offered to stay on a consulting role, but Vintage noted in a statement that the “Cohn family members involved in the winery will move on to pursue personal interests.”

Cohn’s roots in the music world, as manager of The Doobie Brothers, have made his winery a high-profile Wine County destination. Since 1987, the winery has played host to a popular series of charity rock concerts.

The winery became known for its estate cabernet sauvignon with annual sales surpassing 75,000 cases in recent years.

Many vintages of the cabernet have been rated in the 90s in prestigious competitions.

Roney touted the benefits of new ownership without the debt that hampered Cohn. “We are not financially restrained and we will be able to buy new barrels and do a lot of work on deferred maintenance,” he said.

He noted that after Vintage bought Viansa Winery in Sonoma it replanted about 40 acres of vineyards.

B.R. Cohn will retain the majority of its staff, about 30 employees, Roney said.

It also will continue its line of extra-virgin olive oil and vinegar lines, with Roney noting he has some expertise in that market from his previous post as CEO of premium supermarket Dean & DeLuca.

Vintage, a privately held company that also owns a sizable roster of North Coast wineries such as Viansa and Cosentino, is expected to make a deal soon in Napa County, Roney said.

He remains optimistic about the future of the industry, citing the strength of the market among millennials and Baby Boomers, the latter group linked to a wine boom that started in the early 1990s and continues today.

“I’m probably the most bullish I have ever been in my career,” Roney said.

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

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