B.R. Cohn Winery’s Olive Hill Estate Vineyard enjoys a rarified position in the California wine industry: it is among a very select group of top-tier single vineyard designations for wine, and its cabernet sauvignon grapes are so prized that some of the state’s most renowned winemakers have sought them out over the years. The picturesque Sonoma Valley property enjoys other distinctions that make it truly unique. Olive Hill is also home to an unusual 140-year-old Picholine olive tree grove, from which B.R. Cohn makes its award-winning extra virgin olive oil, and it is the idyllic setting for the famed B.R. Cohn Fall Music Festival, one of the wine country’s most beloved and successful charity events.
The story of this convergence of ultra-premium wine, acclaimed olive oil and philanthropy through music is the story of the Cohn family and their determined pursuit of epicurean and entertainment excellence. Founded in 1984 by Bruce Cohn, the longtime manager of the Doobie Brothers, B.R Cohn Winery is a European-style wine estate, where natural beauty, world-class wines, great music and expert hospitality come together to create an unmatched visitor experience.
In early 2014, Bruce’s son, Dan Cohn, took the reins from his father and became CEO of B.R. Cohn Winery. “This transition fulfills a long-term objective of family succession,” noted Bruce Cohn. “Dan has distinguished himself in all aspects of the wine business and winery management. He is a dynamic leader who understands fine wine, and he is uniquely suited to carry on this family business as CEO. I’m very excited about our future and about the energy, ideas and management skills Dan brings to B.R. Cohn Winery.”
Dan draws on a background that is grounded in fine wine, the legacy of his family’s exceptional vineyard estate and a deep connection to music and philanthropy. “I’m dedicated to building on my father’s success with B.R. Cohn Winery,” said Dan. “We greatly value our grower and wholesale partners and the dedication of our employees. I want to support that foundation and continue to make great wines. Our Olive Hill estate is one of California’s premier vineyards and offers an unmatched visitor experience; I’m going to build on that legacy.”
In the early years, if Dan wasn’t hanging out with his father’s famous music industry friends, he was toiling alongside winemaking luminaries such as Helen Turley, Merry Edwards and Steve MacRostie in the winery cellar.
A seasoned wine industry executive, Dan is using his enthusiasm, entrepreneurial vision and focus on the winery’s invaluable vineyard assets to take B.R. Cohn to the highest echelons of winemaking and gourmet food. Born in 1974 and raised on the winery estate, Dan worked B.R. Cohn’s first harvest as a young cellar rat under the direction of their winemaker, Helen Turley. He gained additional first-hand experience in the fine wine craft, working with subsequent high-profile winemakers who were drawn to B.R. Cohn by opportunity to work with fruit from its crown jewel, the Olive Hill Estate Vineyard.
Just an hour’s drive from San Francisco and already a popular destination for wine lovers, B.R. Cohn is a 90-acre multifaceted estate nestled between the Mayacamas range and Sonoma Mountain in the heart of Sonoma Valley. With a winemaking history dating to the 1860s, the property encompasses the 61-acre Olive Hill Estate Vineyard, so named for the nine acres of Picholine olive trees surrounding the property. The vineyard is planted primarily to cabernet sauvignon and benefits from a unique confluence of geological and climatic factors that keep its soils warm, its vines frost-free and its grapes ripe and flavor-packed. These advantages explain why B.R. Cohn is among Sonoma Valley’s few producers of world-class, single-vineyard cabernet sauvignon.
A Little History
Bruce Cohn became familiar with farming at an early age, after his family left Chicago in the early 1950s for Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, where they opened Northern California’s first Grade-A goat dairy farm. Moving to San Francisco for high school exposed Bruce to the vibrant Bay Area music scene of the 1960s, which entranced him. By the late ‘60s, Bruce was operating a music rehearsal studio in the city and, in 1970, began managing a local band called The Doobie Brothers, which soared to national fame during the 1970s. More than four decades later, he remains the group’s manager.
In 1974, seeking a refuge from the band’s hectic touring schedule, Bruce returned to Sonoma County and purchased an old dairy farm and vineyard near Glen Ellen. He replanted the vineyard, immersing himself in all aspects of viticulture – from planting and pruning to grafting and trellising – with wise mentoring from Charlie Wagner of Caymus, among others, who saw the vineyard’s tremendous potential and later bought grapes from Bruce. After a decade of success as a commercial grape grower, Bruce established B.R. Cohn Winery in 1984. Budding superstar Helen Turley was the winery’s first winemaker and generated widespread attention and critical acclaim for B.R. Cohn’s maiden vintages of Olive Hill Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. She was succeeded at B.R. Cohn by Merry Edwards and later Steve MacRostie, all of whom were impressed by the unparalleled quality of the Olive Hill Estate Vineyard. In 2004, present winemaker Tom Montgomery joined the winery and remains in charge of daily winemaking operations.
Olive Hill Estate Vineyard
The Olive Hill Estate Vineyard enjoys ideal conditions for cultivating superior cabernet sauvignon. Blessed by natural underground hot springs and watered by an artesian well, the vineyard boasts warm soils and a naturally frost-free environment. Sonoma Mountain buffers Olive Hill from coastal fog, resulting in greater sun exposure for the grapes and daytime temperatures seven to nine degrees warmer than other parts of Sonoma Valley, ensuring the estate’s grapes ripen fully.
The daytime warmth is tempered by cooling late-afternoon and evening breezes from the nearby Pacific Ocean that help the grapes retain acidity and result in earlier bud break, an extended growing season, and earlier harvests than in neighboring vineyards. The site’s dramatic diurnal fluctuations in temperature, coupled with its volcanic, gravelly loam soils (virtually identical to those found in Napa Valley’s famed Rutherford Bench), account for the tremendous flavor intensity and complexity that distinguish B.R. Cohn’s Olive Hill Estate and Olive Hill Estate Special Selection cabernets.
Of Olive Hill Estate’s 61 acres of vines, 54 are planted to cabernet sauvignon, with the balance devoted to small plots of zinfandel, petite sirah and the Bordeaux cultivars cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec. The vineyard is divided into numerous blocks differentiated by sun exposure, grape variety, rootstock, trellising system and clonal selection. Each block is farmed according to its needs and winemaker Tom Montgomery’s desire to capture Olive Hill Estate’s unique terroir in estate red wines that are simultaneously bold and elegant.
In addition to supplying grapes for B.R. Cohn’s much-lauded estate cabernet sauvignons, Olive Hill fruit contributes to B.R. Cohn Sonoma Valley Zinfandel and nationally distributed Silver Label Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery works with top growers to make its tier of regional wines, including Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, Sangiacomo Carneros Chardonnay and Sonoma Valley Merlot.
Resembling a classic Tuscan wine estate, Olive Hill is surrounded by nine acres of nearly 500 olive trees, which are of the shy-bearing Picholine variety native to southern France. They were imported to Sonoma Valley during the early 1870s and are a rarity in California, which is dominated by Italian and Spanish olive varieties. In 1991, the Cohn family launched B.R. Cohn Olive Oil Company and began producing gourmet extra-virgin olive oils – the first made in Sonoma Valley in nearly a century – from the estate’s Picholine trees, the largest collection of its type in California. Today, B.R. Cohn is among America’s most acclaimed producers of ultra-premium extra virgin olive oil. Boasting lower acidity and richer, rounder flavors than most other olive oils, B.R. Cohn Olive Hill Estate Picholine Extra Virgin Olive Oil is among California’s finest. Produced in very limited quantities, it’s available only at the winery. B.R. Cohn’s other extra virgin olive oils – Organic, Tuscan Blend, Unfiltered, and California Blend –are packaged in elegant Italian glass bottles and sold both at the winery and in selected upscale stores. The estate also produces five wine vinegars (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pear Chardonnay, Champagne and Raspberry Champagne), a selection of citrus olive oils, and a Balsamic & Garlic Herb Dipping Oil, in addition to seven Balsamic vinegars (California Golden, White, Ginger White, Fig, Blackberry, 15-Year and 25-Year).
Listen to the Music
Music is in the DNA of B.R. Cohn. In 1987, Bruce Cohn combined his two passions – rock-and-roll and wine – by inaugurating the two-day B.R. Cohn Charity Fall Music Festival. All proceeds from the event go to Sonoma Valley charities, including the Valley of the Moon Children’s Foundation and various other youth organizations (plus veterans), and to date, more than $6 million has been raised. Each fall, wine lovers and music fans flock to Olive Hill Estate to savor the scenic wine country setting while grooving to music played in a 2,500-person capacity amphitheater by rock-and-roll royalty like the Doobie Brothers, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Gregg Allman, Robert Plant, Huey Lewis, Buddy Guy, Willie Nelson, Kenny Loggins and Taj Mahal, Gin Blossoms, Sammy Hagar, Aaron Hagar, Bad Company, Heart, Lynard Skynard, Journey. (B.R. Cohn wine club members enjoy unique privileges at these events: a club member-only pavilion, tastings of library wines and special privileges). Beginning in 2014 – the Cohn family’s 40th in the wine business – Dan Cohn will begin showcasing performers favored by millennial generation wine lovers, an increasingly important segment of the wine market. He’s also planning more frequent concerts to ensure even more wine lovers can sip their favorite wines while listening to the music.
In addition to concerts, B.R. Cohn Winery provides an idyllic setting for weddings, corporate events, and VIP Tour & Tastings. The estate offers multiple sites for these activities, all of them featuring spectacular views of the winery’s olive trees, old-growth cabernet sauvignon vines, and the Sonoma and Mayacamas mountains. A culinary center is in the works, which will facilitate gourmet lunches and dinners prepared by celebrity chefs, and cooking classes and demonstrations led by cooking authorities from throughout the U.S.
The inviting B.R. Cohn tasting room, occupying an expansion of the original ranch house on the estate, is open daily and features a patio picnic area with spectacular views. For cigar lovers, B.R. Cohn maintains a carefully-curated selection of fine cigars in its on-site humidor and is possibly the only cigar-friendly winery in California. Tours and special tastings are available by advance appointment.
dynamic new family leadership at the helm and a renewed commitment to provide
customers with the finest ultra-premium, limited-production wines from the
Olive Hill Estate, B.R. Cohn is eagerly anticipating its upcoming 40th
anniversary, the introduction in 2014 of new wines and packaging, and at least another
40 years of crafting world-class wines and food products for new generations of
For More on B.R. Cohn, visit their website.