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Styling with Kosta Browne

Recently, I organized a tasting of the 2007 lineup of Kosta Browne Pinot Noirs at Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge Restaurant in Costa Mesa, California. Many in attendance are die hard fans of Kosta Browne wines and were thrilled with the opportunity to taste the entire 2007 portfolio at one setting. There was general agreement that the chef offered a superb menu to compliment the wines. All nine wines were poured before the dinner to allow drinkers to sample the wines in any order and play with them with the various food courses. I do not have detailed tasting notes on the wines as this was a social dinner with plenty of bonhomie in the air. I will report some general impressions.

Dan Kosta was a native of Sonoma who grew up around wine. Michael Browne was born in the San Francisco Bay Area but grew up in Washington State. The pair became friends at John Ash & Co. Restaurant in Santa Rosa when Dan was the sommelier and Michael was a waiter. They developed a deep love of wine and food and the agricultural pursuit of winegrowing, and had a desire to be involved with a winery. Michael, whose goal was to make a living as a winemaker, left John Ash & Co. and became an assistant winemaker at Deerfield Ranch Winery in Sonoma Valley. He never received formal training in winemaking, but his superb palate and passion allowed him to become quickly accomplished. Before Michael left in 1997, the pair saved their tips, bought a half ton of Pinot Noir, a single barrel, and a used hand-cranked de-stemmer and crusher and produced their first vintage together. By 1999, they had attracted investment partners and started their commercial label, crafting 2,600 cases of Lake County Sauvignon Blanc. This venture proved financially unrewarding and the principals parted ways. In 2001, Dan and Michael teamed with Chris Costello and family who provided a fiscally conservative and thoughtful business plan, and success followed shortly thereafter. The 2003 vintage Kosta Browne Pinot Noirs were all awarded scores ranging from 90 to 96 by James Laube of the Wine Spectator and recognition came quickly. The mailing list quickly filled up and Kosta Browne was on every pinotphile’s radar. In September, 2009, the Kosta Browne brand was sold to Vincraft for an estimated $30 to $40 million dollars, with Dan, Chris and Michael staying on in their respective sales and marketing, management, and winemaking roles. Pictured below are partners (L to R) Dan Kosta, Chris Costello, and Michael Browne.

Today, Kosta Browne wines are crafted in a spacious facility in the former Vacu-Dry apple processing facility in Sebastopol. The so-called “Kosta Browne style” has received considerable praise from the press and consumers, while alienating some purists. The Pinot Noirs are a riper style, from grapes picked at advanced maturity, highly flavorful, and intensely fruity that are very drinkable young. They are not crafted with food compatibility as the foremost goal, although recent vintages work nicely with many dishes as we found out in the wine dinner reported here. In 2006, Michael Browne said of his style, “It’s nontraditional now, but in thirty years, this will be the traditional style of Pinot Noir.”

The winemaking regimen for the single vineyard Pinot Noirs is as follows. Grapes are harvested relatively ripe (24.0º to 27.2º Brix), 0% to 30% whole cluster (Keefer, Rosella’s and 4-Barrel are 100% de-stemmed), cold soaked for 5 days, inoculated fermentations lasting 9 days on average with 1 to 2 punch downs per day in 1- ton and 5-ton open top stainless steel and wood vessels, barrel aged for 16 months in 48% to 56% new French oak barrels.

Total annual production is 10,500 cases of Pinot Noir sold almost exclusively through the mailing list. Magnums and larger formats are also produced, but never sold to the mailing list members because of allocation challenges, and are, instead, donated to various charity auctions. Dan and Michael are very active supporters and participants in many wine related events and charities and are much respected for their generosity.

For further information, visit the informative website at Kosta Browne Pinot Noirs are available on the secondary market with the single-vineyard bottling (retail $72) selling for $100 to $160 depending on the wine and its score in the wine press.

2007 Kosta Browne Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., pH 3.66, $56. Amber Ridge, Castaldi Vineyard, Copain, Keefer Ranch, Koplen, Nonella and O’Neel vineyards. 46% new French oak for 16 months. · Lightest in weight of the lineup with attractive Bing cherry aromas and flavors and bright acidity. Although the wine lacks conviction and impact, and is a bit pale in comparison to the wines to follow, it is true to the Russian River Valley theme. It is unfair to judge this wine side-by-side against the vineyard designates for they steal your attention.

2007 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.69, $56. Dutton Manzana, Gap’s Crown, Kanzler, and Terra de Promissio vineyards. · Very dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Earthy with profuse thick, ripe, dark fruit. Richly flavored and needs food like the short ribs or mushroom risotto to tame its intense and savory nature.

2007 Kosta Browne 4-Barrel Sonoma County Pinot Noir

14.8% alc., pH 3.55, 91 cases, $72. Four special barrels from 70 different lots of Pinot Noir. Made with no respect to vineyard or appellation but in this vintage three barrels came from the Russian River Valley (Amber Ridge, Keefer Ranch, Koplen) and one from the Sonoma Coast (Kanzler). · This wine rules and was the king of the tasting. Not the most aromatic, but the most satisfying on the palate showing a velvety texture that is pure decadence. Richly flavored darker fruits coat every nook and cranny in the mouth, seemingly expanding in intensity as the attack fades to the huge finish. I loved it with the beef tenderloin. I get the feeling that this wine will evolve beautifully, reaching its apogee in another 2 to 3 years. It is a shame there is so little of this wine so that few will have the experience.

2007 Kosta Browne Amber Ridge Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., pH 3.60, 727 cases, $72. Clones 115, 667 and 777. Owned by Nickel & Nickel Winery and managed by Bacchus Vineyard Management. Located next to Gary Farrell’s Starr Ridge Vineyard. · Lacking aromatic interest but offering rich black cherry flavors and a pleasing soft texture. Couldn’t find a lot to rave about but a solid wine.

2007 Kosta Browne Garys’ Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., pH 3.71, 436 cases, $72. Pisoni clone. Third vintage from this vineyard. Cropped at 3.4 tons per acre average. · The queen of the tasting. A charming wine that exudes charisma from the enticing spiced cherry aromatics to the discreetly concentrated core of cherry and berry fruit. Very silky in the mouth with a pleasingly bright and focused quality to the fruit.

2007 Kosta Browne Kanzler Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.9% alc., pH 3.60, 803 cases, $72. Clones 115, 667 and Pommard. Cropped at 3 tons per acre. · Intensely fruity showing copious blackberry, black cherry and dark plum fruits with notes of soy sauce and cola. Well-muscled with forceful ripe tannins which are supple creating a soft mouth feel. A bit of alcohol shows up on the finish. Pairs very well with the short ribs.

2007 Kosta Browne Keefer Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.7% alc., pH 3.55, 615 cases, $72. This 50-acre vineyard (30 acres of Pinot Noir) is in the Green Valley appellation farmed by Marcy Keefer and Craig Strehlow. Planted to nine clones, six of which are in this wine. · Lighter and redder in color in the glass. Marvelous nose of bright Bing cherries, baking spice and cherry cola. The fruit is beautifully framed by supple tannins and lively acidity creating a satisfying finish. A knockout paired with the duck.

2007 Kosta Browne Koplen Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., pH 3.61, 867 cases, $72. 5-acre vineyard owned and farmed by Dennis and Lynn Koplen located in the Middle Reach of the Russian River Valley appellation, and planted to clone 667. Kosta Browne is the only beneficiary of fruit from this vineyard. Cropped at 3.5 tons per acre. 30% whole cluster. · Darker in all respects in the fruit and spice aromas and flavors. Interesting accents of black cherry cola and mocha. Firm, but not aggressive tannins.

2007 Kosta Browne Rosella’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir

15.0% alc., pH 3.72, 247 cases, $72. Pisoni clone and Dijon 828. Cropped at 3.3 tons per acre average. · The most disappointing of the vineyard-designates showing overripe aromas and flavors with a mildly flabby texture and short finish.

The group’s consensus top three? Garys’ Vineyard, Koplen Vineyard, and 4-Barrel.

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