As much as any California vintner of his time, Al Brounstein did it his way.
He decided to make mountain-grown Cabernet and stuck to his guns.
But he borrowed a page from Burgundy and kept his vineyards separate. People thought he was crazy.
He used a mix of Bordeaux varieties at a time when most Cabernets were just Cabernet – 100 percent.
He made a style of wine that was austere and tannic and required aging. He knew his gutsy Cabs were not for everyone.
He understood the notions of connoisseurship and salesmanship. He knew there were enough people – he only needed 3,000 customers – who would appreciate following his single-vineyard Cabernets through different vintages through the years.
When faced with tough financial times, when banks said make more wine, or other wines, he refused. He simply found another lender.
Dozens of wineries of his era couldn’t stay that course. That’s why they added Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot and Pinot Noir and Zinfandel and Sangiovese – whatever they could sell -- to their portfolios.
Or they added second labels, or third labels, or juiced production. Any means to raise cash.
He didn’t have any partners and therefore didn’t have to take the route of others and increase volume to pay off investors.
How many of his peers started out on exactly the same path as he did, specializing in one wine or another, only to re-do their business plan to generate cash flow?
He never bought a grape.
He never changed his label, which, by the way, used a “Wanted Dead or Alive” poster font. Yes, there was a streak of maverick-meets-outlaw in Al Brounstein.
He lived modestly, at first renting homes and then using his garage as his winery. It wasn’t until well into his career that he splurged for a showcase winery. He didn’t do it the other way around, with a temple preceding a great wine.
He taught many vintners that there are really only two ways to grow. You can increase volume or raise prices. He chose the latter and became the envy of many vintners who either didn’t have the stomach to boost prices, or didn’t have the product.
When he learned he had Parkinson’s disease, he would joke about being the founder of Shakey’s pizza or the man who invented the milkshake.
How many people do you know who confront adversity like that, and turn it in their favor?
I’m sure more Diamond Creek Cabernet will be savored this week as many remember Brounstein and his unbridled enthusiasm for wine.
I still have lots of fond memories of Brounstein and his lust for life.
How about you? The man and his wines?
It’s a good time to share those thoughts.
Mary Constant — Calistoga — June 28, 2006 8:24pm ET
David Niederauer — June 29, 2006 11:00am ET
Dan Gustafson — Sonoma, CA — June 29, 2006 1:09pm ET
Totv — La Quinta, CA — June 29, 2006 1:40pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — June 29, 2006 5:19pm ET
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