Part II: B.R. Cohn Winery

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BRCohn_Logo.jpgListen to the Music (And Drink the Wine)

By Robert Farmer

Reading books on buses yielded a new career path for the Manager of the Doobie Brothers. Before long, Cohn's interests were divided between the wellbeing of the rock-and-rollers and the health of the vines on his newly acquired land. Cohn had an idea that the olive trees might have some value, but hadn't really considered the vines on his land had the same worth. "I knew people in these parts were making wine, but I just figured that was done by Sebastiani and other people making jug wine at the time." In fact, Cohn originally saw cash from his grapes by selling them to Sebastiani, entering into a contract with to sell to the mega-winemaker his grapes exclusively.
However, it was another pioneering winemaker in the region who showed Cohn the possibilities that existed in his vineyard. When the winemaker from Caymus Vineyards asked Cohn to bring him a sampling of grapes, Bruce had to drive the truckloads over the hill from Sonoma to Napa during dark of night to avoid being spotted by Sebastiani operatives. Such was the stronghold the Italian immigrant had on his grape vendors. But at Caymus, the possibilities of the Olive Hill Vineyards emerged.  Soliciting expert guidance and advice from wine-industry trailblazers, Cohn's developed his own vineyard to a level of quality from which he was comfortable issuing his own label. In 1984, B.R. Cohn Winery at Olive Hill was born.

bruceCohnWinery.jpgThe mid-1980s was a great time to be making California wines, and once again Cohn's timing proved impeccable. By surrounding himself with the expertise required to make the most of his fortuitously positioned land, he managed to come storming out of the gates with his first vintage. The 1984 Olive Hill Estate cabernet was such a success; it was given an endorsement from the highest office in the land.

"President Reagan gave our wine to the Chinese as a gift during his state visit," Cohn recalls. We were pretty proud, and we had an idea that we were on to something." By his third vintage, people in the industry began to take wider notice, and B.R. Cohn began to solidify a reputation for great Sonoma County wines. In fact, the winery was turning a lot of heads for its cabernet, which was doubly surprising in light of the county's anemic reputation for cabs.

Moose.jpg"We're in a little banana belt here," says Cohn, "and because of our little microclimate, we get warmer afternoons that most anywhere else in Sonoma. It's ideal for growing cabernet sauvignon--very similar to Rutherford in that respect. Before long, we were getting 90 and 100 point ratings for our premium cabernets." Armed with the early success, it didn't take long before Cohn stopped selling anybody else his fruit--instead using all of it himself and then some. Over time his acreage has doubled from his initial purchase and B.R. Cohn produces a litany of varietals each with its own inimitable character and some with distinct personality both in the bottle an on it--witness Moose's Red, the sturdy blend named for Cohn's trusty companion and sidekick, the label of which is emblazoned with the dog's lovable mug.  The olive trees on the hillside, too, have come to life under Cohn's care. And his repertoire includes a series of award-winning olive oils and handmade vinegars, all of which of course are for sale in the gourmet market on the estate.

Although he has returned to the land, Cohn can still hear the music. He continues to tirelessly manage the tireless Doobie Brothers, and in fact has hosted the group on his own estate as part of a yearly concert series held in the natural amphitheater. He also uses his good fortune in music and wine to give back to his community by hosting since 1987 an annual B.R. Cohn Charity Fall Music Festival the proceeds from which benefit the charities for young people, including Valley of the Moon Children's Foundation.

His past is never so very far behind him. On the Olive Hill Estate that he built using music money, his own family and friends continuously work to make the place sing. B.R Cohn has over the years become not just the embodiment of one man's life, but of the joie de vivre that embodies a life well lived. Bruce Cohn, sitting poolside over lunch with the sort of carefree confidence that can only come from being completely in control, does not let on so easily that it was all part of a plan. Instead, as he would have it, he's just been a lucky guy. "My life's been all about opportunities," he says. "I've been very fortunate to take advantage of some pretty good opportunities that have come my way."

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2 Comments

What a great story! We are glad to see Moose is still a faithful companion. It's been a couple of years since we've been out but he is one of the coolest parts of our visit. What a great dog! By the way--we love your wine, olive oils and music, too!

We really enjoyed our vist to B. R. Cohn winery. Everyone we met was quite hospitable. We enjoyed the wine, Moose, and the antique cars. The place is a must see.

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