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North Bay Business Journal

Tuesday, January 7, 2014, 2:57 pm

B.R. Cohn namesake passes reins to son

Brand upgrades in 2014, capital projects in 2015

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    Dan Cohn and Bruce Cohn

    Dan Cohn and Bruce Cohn

    GLEN ELLEN — Bruce Cohn, who has managed the rock band The Doobie Brothers for more than four decades and started B.R. Cohn Winery three decades ago, said he plans to focus on band management and the annual benefit concert that draws thousands to the Sonoma Valley property, passing oversight of the wine and food company to his oldest son.

    Dan Cohn, 39, who has been senior vice president and national sales manager for the past dozen years, moved up to chief executive officer, said Bruce Cohn, 67, put the succession plan into action nearly 20 months ago.

    “This transition fulfills a long-term objective of family succession,” Bruce Cohn said in a statement.

    The announcement caps a succession plan nearly 20 months in process and helps address rumors circulating in the wine business that the businesses’ financiers were pushing for a change in management, according to Dan Cohn.

    “Rumors are rumors,” he said. “We were going through succession. With this announcement, we’re putting all the rumors at bay.”

    Dan Cohn said he plans to concentrate on growing the winery’s national wholesale and direct-to-consumer businesses as well as improving the Olive Hill estate and other ultrapremium wines.

    “The estate was really founded on single-estate cab,” he said. “We have a microclimate from a hot spring that comes up in the property and keeps it seven to 10 degrees warmer than the rest of Sonoma Valley.”

    Long-planned capital improvements likely will come next year, after enhancements and repositioning of the wine brands this year, according to Dan Cohn.

    Production on the “Silver” label is being cut and the bottle price is going up to $25 from $20 with the March release. A new, small-production “Gold” label is set for release in April at $40.

    “The will be more focus and money put into winemaking in how lots are chosen and how we’re blending blocks,” Mr. Cohn said.

    Two new vineyard-block-based wines of 200 cases a year each are being added to the $100-a-bottle Special Selection tier this fall. The Olive Hill label will stay 2,500 cases a year and $60 a bottle.

    In 2008 B.R. Cohn secured approvals to build a 3,000-seat amphitheater at his Sonoma Valley property to host his annual concert series and a 12,000-square-foot half-subterranean barrel cellar. There’s also smaller expansion of the existing “long barn” cellar by 6,000 square feet, to reduce the cost of storing and transporting barrels from elsewhere.

    He hired Michelle Wing as direct-to-consumer manager, overseeing the wine club as well as the tasting room and events. She is tasked with dovetailing club membership to specific events and unique experiences and integrating the olive oil business into the club.

    Among ideas for “unique experiences” are building on Bruce Cohn’s association of the brand with fine food and music. To expand the audience to younger generations, Dan Cohn is seeking to add weekly musical acts outside of the classic-rock focus of the benefit concert, and combine those events with culinary aspects.

    The winery’s county use permit allows for 23 125-person events and 23 250-person events per year, in addition to the 2,000-patron-a-day allowance for the benefit concert.

    To manage the tasting room, Amanda Hamilton was brought in to improve the retail culture and make it a foundation for the estate.

    As Dan Cohn moved to top management, he made the Midwest sales manager in charge of national sales and hired an East Coast manager with 15 years of experience in Florida and Georgia.

    Dan Cohn is the oldest of four children, the rest of whom work in viticulture, hospitality and retail aspects of B.R. Cohn (brcohn.com).

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