Kosta Browne, maker of some of California's most in-demand wines, has a new majority owner, replacing one equity firm with another. It’s a move that the founders and co-owners believe further strengthens their Sonoma winery and their plans to expand their mix of single-vineyard and appellation series Pinot Noirs.
The new partner is J.W. Childs Associates, a Boston-based private equity firm that focuses on investing in middle-market growth companies. It bought out Vincraft, which purchased a controlling interest in KB in 2009.
Terms were not disclosed, but the structure of the deal is similar to Kosta Browne’s first equity deal in 2009,which allowed some of the older investors to cash out of their investment, reportedly for close to $40 million. None of the parties involved in the new deal would talk numbers, but industry sources said the price tag is substantially more than what Vincraft paid five years ago.
Michael Browne, 46, Dan Kosta, 42, and Chris Costello, 40, who built Kosta Browne into one of California’s most successful brands in the past decade, still own 40 percent of the winery.
The deal amounts to an equity swap, Browne told Wine Spectator. Vincraft, owned by Bill Price, Walt Klenz, Pete Scott and Scott Gilbertson, realized its financial goals and wanted to sell their interest, he said.
Browne said the challenge was finding the right partners. Childs is run “by very smart guys who understand the business” and will allow Kosta Browne to continue to focus on its line of Pinot Noirs. The winery, which makes about 20,000 cases of Pinot and a smaller amount of Chardonnay, intends to increase production slightly. The winery sells most of its wine direct and has a waiting list that is thousands of names long, Browne said.
Under Vincraft, Kosta Browne built a new winery in downtown Sebastopol, increased production and raised prices; Browne’s own wine brand, Cirq, is also made in their facility. John Childs, head of the J.W. Childs firm, is also an investor in Cirq.
The new deal is “not very much different than the first chapter with our friends-and-family investors,” said Browne. “As you know, [at that time] we gave up more than 50 percent control and retained 40 percent, but we remained in control of the business. The song remains the same. Strong investors invest in strong teams."
Kosta and Browne originally pooled their tip money while working in the restaurant business to start their winery, with their first major release coming in 2000. Their real breakthrough came with the 2003 vintage, with all six of their Pinots earning outstanding or classic ratings. Their 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was named Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year.
"Over the years we have focused on progression," added Kosta. "We have a vision of winemaking, farming and culture that is bolstered by the support of key stakeholders. Now we have a new stakeholder that is taking the baton. This is the key to progress: Partners who understand our original vision."