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Cosentino closing? But Mitch marches on


I heard from a friend this morning (who in turn learned about it from a friend of his who worked there, so this is third-hand) that yesterday was the last day that Cosentino Winery would be open to the public. “Another victim of the tough economy,” the person who worked at Cosentino wrote him. (For  the record, I called the winery early this morning and a recording said the tasting room is still open.)

I hope it’s not true that Cosentino is moribund. It’s sad when a winery stumbles, especially one you’ve known and liked for a long time. I met Mitch Cosentino, who started the winery in 1980, many years ago, when I was still at Wine Spectator. There was a period of time, during the 1980s and 1990s, when Cosentino the brand had some renown. Its Napa Valley Cabernet, especially the reserve and the Meritage they called CE2V, could be quite good, although they never attained the heights of which Napa Cabernet is capable.

Sometime in the early 2000s, though, Cosentino seemed to have lost its way. Over the years I formed the impression that they were getting stuck in the same trap as Robert Mondavi Winery did: making too many SKUs in an attempt to please everyone, with the result that too little attention was paid to anything. In addition to the Napa Cabernets there was Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay and Merlot and Zinfandel and Gewurztraminer and a white Meritage and Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir and even an execrable Sangiovese. It reached the point where, by 2003, I was thinking, “What the heck is going on at Cosentino?”

And Cosentino had their Mondavi Woodbridge/Private Selection problem: an inexpensive second label that was probably meant as a cash flow wine, but further diluted the company’s energies and reputation. That was Crystal Valley, which usually bore a California appellation.

I don’t know the precise impact of the recession on Cosentino’s fortunes. One heard, through the grapevine, that the winery was hurting even before the economy soured. I suppose the continuing deterioration of the marketplace simply accelerated Consentino’s problems. But there are lessons to be learned. Cosentino did try to expand too rapidly in too many directions at the same time. The financing didn’t seem to be there. Quality dipped, and the downward spiral built on itself. At the same time, the winery didn’t advance a coherent marketing strategy. As someone who sits, spider-like, at the center of the P.R. web in California, I get a sense of who’s reaching out, who’s thinking about communication, who’s doing a good job and who isn’t. By the time the 21st century arrived, Cosentino seemed to disappear. It had become almost a virtual brand. I would have largely forgotten about it if I didn’t pass the actual winery building, on Highway 29 just south of Oakville, every time I went to Napa Valley. I’d see it and feel bad.

I don’t know the particulars of the brand’s troubles, and I hope it’s not actually true. But I Googled “Cosentino” this morning and found this article from this morning’s Napa Valley Register that says Mitch Cosentino “has launched pureCru Napa Valley, a small producer of wines.” The new winery’s website says it will produce “small quantities of unique blends,” and quotes Mitch as saying he will “do it all myself again, like I did in the beginning.” So the cat has landed on his feet, to live again, which makes me happy and hopeful.

  1. It is nice to see Mitch land on his feet, he’s a good dude and a good winemaker. It should also be noted that after selling Cosentino Winery well over a decade ago he has had no fiduciary or management role at the company that was subsequently listed on the London stock exchange after he sold it. The winery was run from afar by a Chicago concern…Mitch was simply the winemaker and brand road warrior.

  2. It is confirmed on their website. Have you tried the “purCos” yet?

  3. If it is anything like his MCos, it’s bound to be jamming and quite yummy!

  4. Bill Smart says:

    Yes. Here’s the link.

    A sad day in indeed.

  5. This has been coming for some time. Lewis Perdue has done a great job of reportage on the meltdown of the parent company. If you don’t get emails from Wine Industry Insight, look them up and get on the list.

  6. Yes it is regretful that this happened.

    There is a silverlining though for Mitch with a new effort.

    There seems to be a cycle the way that you describe it Steve, something for all businesses to learn from.

    Good product and growth followed by too much growth in too many directions and then the backwards direction of the quality seems to be
    a difficult road for any business. I do not know who the ‘Chicago concern’ is but accountants and marketers are not necesarrily good wine makers. They do not know the land/terroir and have no commitment to the quality only the name recognition and bottom line.

    The good side is that Mr C is going to make good wine again.

  7. As a grower for Cosentino winery for many years, all I can say is that Mitch makes some great wine — he is a good winemaker and has a very discerning palate. I don’t know who was running the business end during those years, all I know is that the ‘company’ did not pay its bills – period! You cannot run ANY business successfully that way. They went public in late 2005 and were doing well until they lost their credit rating – why? – because they didn’t pay their bills!
    I really don’t get that strategy?? in any business. And I talked to MANY different CFO’s during that time. You’d think that if they couldn’t pay their bills they would ‘adjust’, but they didn’t….I don’t know how you faired in this Mitch, since your name is front and center on this, but I cannot discount your ability as a winemaker.

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