Michigan Wines

B.R. Cohn: Still making music after 40 years of Cabernet and rock 'n' roll

B.R. Cohn Winery in the Sonoma Valley is famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon, olive oil, music and philanthropy. (Images courtesy of brcohn.com)

It’s time to celebrate B.R. Cohn Winery in the Sonoma Valley: 40 years of dedicated grape growing, 30 years as a winery — and oh that rock and roll. (Images courtesy of brcohn.com)

It should be automatic: When you uncork a B.R. Cohn Olive Hill Estate Cabernet Sauvignon your body starts swaying to the sounds of the Doobie Brothers belting out “Oh, oh, oh, “Listen to the Music.”

Rock ‘n’ roll and silken Cabernets weave a lasting tapestry at the highly regarded B.R. Cohn Winery near Glen Ellen in the Sonoma Valley. For 40 years and running, owner Bruce Cohn has managed the Doobie Brothers and led a successful winery at the same time — and shared all his musical love at local charity concerts.

Finally, he is addressing his personal life and cutting back to one job — managing the Doobie Brothers who are releasing a new album in May — and handing the winery reins to his oldest son, Dan.

This is the year of numbers for B.R. Cohn Winery — famous for its Olive Hill NUBRCohn_Logo[1]Estate Vineyard wines and the somewhat less pricy Silver Label, both of which are sold at fine restaurants and private clubs nationally and around Metro Detroit.

“Every 40 years, it’s time for change,” quipped new B.R. Cohn CEO Dan Cohn in a recent phone interview. “It’s my 40th birthday this year, the 40th year for the estate and 30th for the winery,” says Dan, who grew up at the historic homestead that is now the hospitality center and offices for the winery.

Dad Bruce Cohn gave his blessing to changes that sharpen the focus on the dream the winery was founded on: high-end, Sonoma Valley estate Cabernets.

Changes rolling out this spring include release of a new 2012 B.R. Cohn Silver Label Cabernet Sauvignon not from Mendocino and Lake counties, but Napa and Sonoma Valley, and a bump-up in price from $20 to $25. A new 2012 B.R. Cohn gold label Cabernet Sauvignon will sell for about $40; the Olive Hill Cabernet will remain at about $60; and two new single-estate special-lot Cabs will run about $100.

The Olive Hill Estate Vineyards label is the highest tier of wines. Cohn introduced the Silver Label in the 1990s to increase production and offer more affordable choices. Until now with the upgrade, the Silver Label has been made off North Coast fruit from Mendocino and Lake counties, plus areas of Sonoma and Cohn’s own Olive Hill Estate Vineyards.

Cohn started out in 1974 as a grower selling Olive Hill Vineyard grapes to August Sebastiani, and then to others including Charlie Wagner of Caymus Vineyards, who urged Bruce to ask his customer wineries to put his Olive Hill Vineyard designation on their labels. Ravenswood and Gundlach-Bundschu complied.

When a Gundlach-Bundschu Cab from Cohn’s Olive Hill Vineyard was selected to be a special gift from the White House to China, Cohn decided the time had come to start his own winery. He founded B.R. Cohn Winery in 1984 — and what a roster of winemakers through the years Cohn can boast: Helen Turley, Merry Edwards, Steve MacRostie, Bill Parker, and since 2004, Tom Montgomery.

B.R. Cohn is also known for its two-day B.R. Cohn Fall Music Festival that draws headliners (you can count on the Doobie Brothers) and has raised millions for local charities, and of course Cohn is associated with the French Picholine olive trees that were planted in the 1870s at the estate, and are portrayed on wine labels and used to make premium olive oils sold at the winery.

B.R. Cohn wines are poured around Metro Detroit at Forest Grill in Birmingham, Assaggi Bistro in Ferndale and Bistro 82 in Royal Oak. At retail, they are at Canopy Bottle and Gourmet in Brighton, Meijer in Okemos and at the winery’s Web store. Dan Cohn plans to increase distribution in the area. Be sure to check out the olive oils, vinegars and recipes online. The local distributor for the wine is Vintage Wine Co. in Roseville, Mich.

Here’s a taste:

B.R. Cohn Carneros Chardonnay Sangiacomo Vineyard 2011, $35

B.R. Cohn calculates this wine can age 11 to 25 years, a bold forecast for a Chardonnay, but after tasting it, I’m believing it has lots of potential in the cellar. This baby is a lovely light-gold color and zipped up tight with well-integrated oak, fruit as big as a tank and acidity for structure. Flavors are bold and tropical — citrus, melon, green apple, pineapple. It was fermented in new French oak and aged sur lee for 10 months in 70 percent new French oak.

Silver Label by B.R. Cohn Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast 2011, $20

This fruity, dry red is a cocktail of blackberry,  cherry and black currant. Catch the spice and vanilla on the nose. In the mouth, it’s still tight, but has gobs of fruit — and good acidity and tannins for complexity and structure. Cohn gives it a life expectancy of 14 years if properly aged. It’s made off small vineyards in Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties.

B.R. Cohn Olive Hill Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Valley 2009, $60

This intense, tightly stitched powerhouse exudes dark plum, black currant, cherry, vanilla and cola aromas. Flavors are spicy and woven with cedar and smoke, with a touch of caramel in the long, fruit-packed finish. Tannins are silky; acidity is firm. It was aged 24 months in one- and two-year-old French oak barrels. This beauty has the right stuff to age several decades in a proper wine cellar — if you can wait that long. This Cab is made off the best hillside blocks of the home vineyard — a special site warmed by underground hot springs that prevent frost in late winter and cooled in summer by ocean breezes that prolong the growing season.

B.R. Cohn Zinfandel Sonoma Valley 2010, $38

This is the California Zin that Europeans stash in their luggage to take home. The nose offers a big invitation: Catch the alcohol and the oak, and the intense berry fruit and spice.  You have to sip and savor slowly. On the palate, tannins off the grape skins are supple, texture is creamy. It’s complex — layers of flavor framed with acidity and tannins. Think blackberry, cherry, white pepper, crushed red pepper, milk chocolate. It’s aged 18 months in carefully selected French and American oak.

You can reach Sandra Silfven at ssilfven@hotmail.com.