Napa’s Duckhorn Wine Company is establishing itself as a major player in California Pinot Noir, by buying Sonoma County-based Pinot powerhouse Kosta Browne, a year after buying Central Coast Pinot Noir pioneer Calera.
Private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners has owned Duckhorn for two years. Its portfolio used to include Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Vitamin Water. Today, it has Brew Dog and Pabst Brewing Company brands among its holdings.
The purchase price was not disclosed. Duckhorn is the fourth to invest in Kosta Browne, or KB as it’s often called. The brand founded 20 years ago by friends Dan Kosta, Michael Browne and Chris Costello. Kosta and Browne met while working at Santa Rosa restaurant John Ash and began by making one barrel of Pinot Noir from grapes they could cobble together with tip money. By the 2003 vintage word started to spread and a star was born.
“What Kosta Browne and its team have achieved over the past two decades is remarkable and is the reason this acquisition was so attractive to us,” Carol Reber, Duckhorn’s senior vice president of marketing and business development told Wine Enthusiast.
A major stake in Kosta Browne was sold in 2009 to the Vincraft Group for $40 million. Equity firm JW Childs bought a majority stake in 2015 for an undisclosed amount, installing Scott Becker as president and CEO. He will remain, as will current winemaker Nico Cueva. The founders left in 2017.
The winery makes about 30,000 cases a year from vineyards across California, most operating on long-term leases, though it owns the 60-acre Cerise Vineyard in Anderson Valley.
“As with Calera, this acquisition offers us the opportunity to purchase one of the New World’s most revered wineries,” Reber added. “We believe that we will have one of the most impressive New World Pinot Noir portfolios, while also adding a stellar selection of Kosta Browne Chardonnays to our portfolio.”
She said, “Our teams are cut from the same cloth. We both understand that making great wine requires years of knowledge and experience, continuous reinvestment, innovation and meticulous attention to detail. Opportunities like this one don’t come up every day, and thankfully we were in a position to act on it.”
KB CEO Becker agreed
“The Duckhorn journey in many ways resembles our own,” Becker told Wine Enthusiast. “They have an extraordinary story that also started with a founder’s passion for producing wine at the highest quality level. They’ve invested in vineyards as evidenced by the recent acquisition of the fabled Three Palms Vineyard. This was a natural fit, and everyone is excited about our shared future.”
According to Reber, the KB team will continue to run its business as they have been and Duckhorn will continue to work with select wholesalers and accounts that KB has cultivated over the years. Duckhorn also plans to maintain the integrity of the highly successful customer allocation list for members.
“Our hope down the road is that KB members will explore our portfolio of wineries,” Reber said, “and that our Duckhorn portfolio members will explore KB. I suspect we will have some enthusiastic members on our hands in the coming days.”
In the meantime, Duckhorn says there are no plans to grow KB beyond what its team had already laid out, including some additions to its Chardonnay lineup. Becker adds that the mailing list will continue to be the heartbeat of KB.
“Our vision remains the same,” he says. “To produce the finest California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and our passion for sharing these wines with our mailing list will never change.”