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Michael Browne: Kosta Browne

Kosta Browne proprietors Michael Browne and Dan Kosta are alumni of a noted Sonoma County restaurant, John Ash and Co. (see PinotFile, Volume 6, Issue 58). In 1997, they decided to launch a wine venture and put all of their tip money into a an envelope for safe keeping. After raising $2,600, they bought a half ton of Pinot Noir grapes, a single barrel, and a used, hand cranked de-stemmer-crusher to produce their first vintage. In 2001, Michael and Dan partnered with Chris Costello and his family and utilizing a fiscally conservative, yet thoughtful business plan, have managed to earn an exalted reputation for creating world-class California Pinot Noir. Current production for the 2006 vintage is 10,500 cases.

Recently Kosta Browne moved into a spacious new winery at the old apple processing plant on Gravenstein Highway in Sebastopol (see photo below). They acquired a long term lease on an 18,000- square-foot warehouse and partitioned the empty space into different sections dedicated to separate winemaking functions. Shane Finley has continued on as Associate Winemaker to assist in production. Some new equipment has been purchased, including large capacity oak barrique fermentors (photo below) to extend the fermentation curve, and a modern basket press. I met up recently with Michael Browne at his new winery to taste through the 2006 lineup of Kosta Browne Pinot Noirs. I sampled a number of barrels from the 2007 vintage as well including wines from the Dutton Manzana Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast, Terra de Promissio Vineyard in Petaluma, and Gap’s Crown Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast. Like many 2007 vintage Pinot Noirs I have sampled from barrel, these are showy, precocious wines that should be spectacular upon release. The 2007 Kanzler is ridiculously good right now. Michael told me he is developing new vineyard sources including 10-20 acres on Occidental Road and 28 acres near Annapolis, both in the true Sonoma Coast. The future plans call for production figures of 11,000 to 11,500 cases of Pinot Noir annually. The mailing list is full at this time, but there may be opportunity for some on the waiting list to join as production expands modestly.

The 2006 vintage produced grapes that ripened early so that alcohol levels have been mildly reduced. The aromatics continue to be a bit tight, and the wines are somewhat reserved at this point. Michael says that “2006 was a beautiful vintage, giving us focused and pure wines with a sense of elegance, precise power and balance.” The two appellation Pinot Noirs assembled from multiple single vineyard lots as well as from other vineyards specifically chosen for these blends were released in February, and the remaining wines are scheduled for an October, 2008 release. With the 2006 vintage, Kosta Browne had 430 barrels comprised of 75 different lots, which contained 430 micro lots. No barrels are racked, so every barrel is unique and Michael took six weeks to blend these individual wines into nine distinct Pinot Noirs. Photo on the next page shows Michael (left) and Dan (right).

2006 Kosta Browne Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.9% alc., 3,400 cases, $48. · A bit tight, but still delivers a nice aromatic lift of strawberries, plums, and spice. The flavors echo the aromas with added notes of cola and oak vanillin. Finishes clean with lingering aromatic pleasantries.

2006 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.8% alc., 3,400 cases, $48. Primarily sourced from the Petaluma Gap region, especially Gap’s Crown Vineyard. · More structured and brambly with notable layers of black cherry, herbs, and toasty oak. Rich and earthy with reigned-in tannins.

2006 Kosta Browne 4-Barrel California Pinot Noir

14.9% alc., 101 cases, $68. This is a selection of barrels that work together well and varies with each vintage. The California appellation designation frees Michael to choose from all of his fruit. This wine consists of 1 barrel each of Rosella’s, Kanzler, Gap’s Crown, and Miron vineyards. · When you stick your nose in this one, the hair stands up on the back of your neck. Cherries, strawberries, rhubarb pie, cola, root beer and several things I can’t describe. The palate is rich, round, mature and sweet. Very pleasing and a wine to contemplate. For hedonists only.

2006 Kosta Browne Amber Ridge Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.8% alc., 724 cases. $68. Dijon clones 115, 667, and 777. Michael calls this vineyard a “canary in a coal mine,” meaning it varies significantly from vintage to vintage and stylistically can be light in some years, heady and rich in others. · Not as big and robust as the 2005 vintage. Earth imbibed black cherry and wild berry fruit with only moderate acidity and tannins. Nicely balanced.

2006 Kosta Browne Garys’ Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

14.8% alc., 365 cases, $68. Pisoni clone. · Musky nose. Black cherry, sassafras and cola flavors with an earthy and forest floor underpinning.

2006 Kosta Browne Kanzler Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.9% alc., 724 cases, $68. Wines from this vineyard have a mind of their own says Michael. Dijon 115 and 667, and Pommard 10% whole cluster. · This is one of the most complex wines of the lineup. Also one of the heftiest and most tannic. There is a dense and chewy core of black cherry and black berry fruit that needs time to emerge. All kinds of things going on here in concert with the fruit including aromas and flavors of mushrooms, rose petals, underbrush, and wet oak. Give this one a couple of years.

2006 Kosta Browne Keefer Ranch Green Valley Pinot Noir

14.7% alc., 556 cases. $68. Six clones including Pommard 5, Dijon, and Wädenswil. Michael says this wine usually exhibits plenty of acidity due to its very cool location. Refer to feature on Keefer Ranch Vineyard on page 13. · This is an outstanding Pinot Noir that has a rich core of red berries and cherries that expands in the mouth, coats the tongue, and proceeds to a lengthy and refreshing finish. This one has the whole package.

2006 Kosta Browne Koplen Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.8% alc., 724 cases, $68. A 5-acre vineyard planted to Dijon clone 667 on the east side of Olivet Lane. The location is one of the warmest for Kosta Browne and yields are generous. The grower is extremely passionate. 25% whole cluster. · Wild and fruity, brambly and earthy, with dark berries and chocolate carrying the flavor parade. Firm tannins. Noticeably, but discreetly concentrated.

2006 Kosta Browne Rosella’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

15.0% alc., 365 cases. $68. Mostly Pisoni clone with 20% Dijon clone 828. No whole cluster. · Intense but pretty cherry aromas and flavors. The palate is rich, long, pure and showy. Plenty of vim and vigor. Along with the Keefer, the sleekest and most refined at this stage.

Michael Browne is slowly defining his best vineyard sources and getting familiar with them. His style will always be intensely fruit-driven, but he aims to retain pinotypicity. Michael feels his wines will “taste pretty damn good” for one to five years after release. How long they will age is uncertain. He has gradually lowered his alcohol levels and is shooting to obtain ripeness at between 14.0% and 14.5% alcohol in current and future vintages. He uses Francois Freres and Taransaud French oak barrels exclusively, 20 to 50 percent new depending on the blend. Michael has reached a point of admirable consistency as shown by the lineup of wines above and he is deserving of all of the accolades that he has received in recent years. Join the Wait List at to obtain future allocations as they become available. The wines are placed on a number of fine restaurant wine lists. Both Michael and Dan participate frequently in charity wine auction events as well as major Pinot Noir festivals. The winery is not open to the public.

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