After 41 years, Bruce Cohn has agreed to sell his Sonoma Valley winery B.R. Cohn to Vintage Wine Estates. The deal includes the brand and its inventory, a winery licensed by Sonoma County to hold up to 48 events per year, and roughly 70 acres of land, most of it planted with vines and an olive grove. No price was announced, but recent sales of Sonoma Valley vineyards have been priced as high as $90,000 per acre. A spokesman for Vintage Wine Estates confirmed the deal on July 24.
Cohn says he’s open to staying on with the business in some capacity, but will focus his energy on the Doobie Brothers, the band he has managed for more than four decades. “It’s bittersweet,” Cohn told Wine Spectator, “I’ve invested a lot in this business, and it’s hard to let go, but at the same time, after 41 years, it’s time to let someone else take it the rest of the way.”
Cohn, 68, had been searching for a suitor to purchase his winery for nearly four years, saying that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to compete with large wineries with more substantial resources. “It’s become a millionaire’s sport to have a winery, and I don’t have deep enough pockets,” said Cohn, who has watched several family winery neighbors, including Sebastiani, Arrowood and, most recently, Benziger, hand over the reins to larger entities.
Too big to sell most of his wine direct to consumers and too small to compete with larger wine companies on a national level, Cohn said he accrued too much debt—$25 million—keeping the winery afloat. His main creditor eventually pushed him to sell, he said.
Cohn was managing a San Francisco music rehearsal studio by day and working as a television engineer at night when he started managing the Doobie Brothers in 1970. Four years later he purchased an old dairy farm in Glen Ellen, seeking a place to relax after time on the road. “I didn’t know anything about wine, but then again, I didn’t know anything about the music business when I started,” said Cohn.
Cohn befriended Caymus’ Charlie Wagner, who became his mentor, educating Cohn about farming practices. “I started reading viticulture books while on the road with the band,” joked Cohn, who sold his grapes to Wagner and the Sebastiani family for a decade before founding B.R. Cohn Winery in 1984. Cohn’s early winemakers included Helen Turley and Merry Edwards, and they helped establish a level of quality.
Sonoma-based Vintage Wine Estates has been gradually expanding in recent years, and now owns 10 wineries in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties, including Clos Pegase, Cosentino, Cartlidge & Browne and Viansa. “We are extremely pleased to add this landmark estate to our collection,” said Pat Rooney, the company’s president, in a statement. “As we build our collection of iconic wineries, vineyards and brands, our goal is to enhance what makes each one unique and offer resources and investment for the future.”
Cohn will continue putting on the popular B.R. Cohn Charity Events Sonoma Music Festival, which celebrates its 28th year in October. Since its inception, the festival has raised more than $6 million for nonprofits. Chicago, Ringo Starr and his All-Star Band, Gregg Allman and others will be joining the Doobie Brothers in this year’s lineup.
While he doesn’t have immediate plans for the future, Cohn and his wife, Laurie, will continue to live on the Trestle Glen property adjacent to the winery, where he has 20 acres of vineyards. “Who knows, maybe I’ll eventually start another label,” he quipped.