Classic Cars, Classic Rock and Bruce Cohn's Obsessions

Turning rock into wine, B.R. Cohn takes his classic cars out for a spin at his annual Charity Car Classic this weekend

Bruce Cohn has a thing for cars. Classic cars, to be exact. Like the 1933 Willys Roadster he rebuilt from the original Australian body and parts, begun in 1988 and finished in 2005 after 18 years of cutting, welding, matching and tinkering.

"Originally he would drive with white gloves on, it was so pristine," said his daughter Vallerie Cohn, now the events manager at B.R. Cohn Winery and Olive Oil Company on Sonoma Highway 12 just west of Glen Ellen.

Or the 1946 Ford Wagon, the Woody, which underscores its "classic" status with hardwood ceiling cross-struts, leather seats and the original license plate - from the Philippines, where the legend holds it provided ambassadorial transportation when the Asian nation gained its independence from the US.

“I’ve been fascinated by cars since I was a teenager and enjoyed building and restoring these vintage cars,” notes Bruce Cohn on his website.

Anybody who's spent any time in Sonoma Valley knows this, of course, perhaps as well as they know the B.R. Cohn wine brand, and the olive oils, and the in October that annually brings some of the rock acts that Cohn has managed at one time or another - like the Doobie Bros., Night Ranger, and Bruce Hornsby.

This Sunday's Charity Car Classic, however, is the centerpiece of Cohn's main obsession.  Car owners apply months in advance, and the presenters are hand-selected by Cohn. Sunday, the top 75 cars will be at B.R. Cohn to see, photograph, drool over and dream about, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Vallerie Cohn tells the story of how her father's first job was as a gas station mechanic,  giving him practical skills he needed. It was only later, she said, when he was working at a music studio as an intern engineer, that he started hanging out with Tom Johnston, Pat Simmons and Carlos Santana, among others.

The real details of how a gas station mechanic became manager of one of the most successful acts in rock history is a story probably best left for a long road trip, preferably in the 1934 Henry Ford Five-Window Coupe, a classic “barn find” which serves as Bruce’s daily driver.

"He spent his first paycheck on this property," his daughter told me. "It was just 30 acres of vineyards then, planted in pinot and chardonnay - possibly the two worst grapes to grow in this location."

The year would have been 1974, so it's unlikely it was his "first paycheck" -- the Doobie's "Toulouse Street"  came out in 1972, with its hits "Listen to the Music" and "Jesus is Just All Right With Me."  It could be said that Bruce Cohn did Jesus one better, metaphorically at least: he turned rock into wine.

She grew up in this house, now the winery tasting room and olive oil bar, and has fond memories of the rural life she and her two half-brothers and full sister shared.

Today B.R. Cohn's 61-acre vineyard estate relies heavily on Cabernet Sauvignon, with smaller amounts of Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  They now have other vineyards, too, better suited to chardonnay and pinot noir. July 8 brings the release of the 2010 Sonoma Valley Malbec ($45), and the following weekend gives us the 2010 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($40).

Though Cohn has other "cruise-in" events monthly, the lynchpin of the season is this Sunday's 4th Annual Charity Car Classic. Also on hand will be 30 arts and food vendors, including  Molly Moo Ice Cream and Chicago Gourmet Hot Dogs among the delectable offerings. The popular Sonoma band provides the music.

This is the fourth year for the Classic, and once again 20% of the money that changes hands winds up in the Redwood Empire Food Bank. So everyone is encouraged to buy a lunch, have a glass of wine, shop for gifts or even make a donation, since admission is free.

And if you're just in it for the wine, and music, and not so much the cars? You can look forward to the October 5th-8th weekend, and the . Performing this year are not just regulars like the Doobie Brothers, Dave Mason and The Turtles, but old-time newcomers like Eric Burdon and the Animals and Buddy Guy. Tickets are $85 and are available now at www.brcohn.com/events/concert.

But there will be classic cars there as well, to be sure, to go with the classic rock. It's a B.R. Cohn event, and you should expect no less.


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