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Kosta Browne Looks To Expand In Retail, Restaurant Channels

June 18, 2018

Known for its sought-after Pinot Noir and Chardonnay labels, Kosta Browne Winery has long done most of its business in the direct-to-consumer channel, which currently accounts for around 85% of its 30,000-case volume. More recently, however, the Sebastopol, California-based producer—which is majority-owned by private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates—has been ramping up its focus on the retail and on-premise space.

“When you’re selling most of your wine to a mailing list, you’re not really focused on those trade relationships,” notes Kosta Browne CEO Scott Becker. “What we’ve missed from that approach is the opportunity to think about the trade as partners, and the marketing and brand-building opportunity that it presents.” This year, Kosta Browne is targeting the trade with the latest vintage of its Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir and the inaugural release from its recently acquired Cerise Vineyards property in the Anderson Valley.

Kosta Browne’s 2016 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir has a mailing list price of $70. The 2016 Cerise Vineyards Pinot Noir will be released this fall, retailing at approximately $145, with a mailing list price yet to be determined. “With Cerise, because we haven’t offered it before, we can do some things differently,” says Becker. “It gives us the opportunity to introduce the wine to sommeliers and retailers in a way that we never have before.”

In addition to Anderson Valley and Sta. Rita Hills, Kosta Browne’s portfolio includes wines from the Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, and Santa Lucia Highlands, sourced from a combination of partner, leased, and owned vineyards. Kosta Browne acquired its first vineyard in 2013—a 20-acre parcel of Keefer Ranch in Russian River Valley—followed by the addition of Cerise Vineyards in 2016. Becker says the company is “aggressively looking” to acquire additional holdings, with a focus on further expanding within the Sonoma Coast, Sta. Rita Hills, and Anderson Valley regions.

Meanwhile, Kosta Browne recently reorganized its portfolio, switching from a two-tier range with an Appellation Series and Single Vineyard Series to a four-tier lineup. The revamped lineup will include the Appellation Series (around $70 direct-to-consumer, $100 retail), while the Single Vineyard range has been renamed the Growers Series ($95 direct-to-consumer, $145 retail). The brand will also include an Estate Series ($110-$125 direct-to-consumer, retail price to be determined)—showcasing wines from owned properties like Cerise and Keefer, as well as some long-term leased vineyards—and an experimental, small-batch Observation Series ($125+ direct-to-consumer), available exclusively direct-to-consumer and at Kosta Browne’s recently opened visitors’ gallery in Sebastopol. A label refresh, designed to better differentiate the brand’s four tiers, is in the pipeline.

Kosta Browne is also investing in production, with capacity now at 40,000 cases, though Becker notes that the primary focus remains on enhancing quality rather than raising output. “The model at Kosta Browne was always to create demand first, supply second. And I think we’ll continue on that path,” he says. “Direct-to-consumer will hopefully always be our bread and butter, but moving forward we’ll be much more thoughtful about building our brand across multiple channels.” —Christina Jelski

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