IN THE CHATEAU Michael Browne and Shane Finley at Kosta Browne, with no tasting room and a long waiting list.
Pinot Divino Kosta Browne, set to move in Sebastopol, play their cards close to their chest BY JAMES KNIGHT
lease tell me someone still has a bottle of 2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir,” the message board reads. “I am in dire need of one bottle. Who has it, and what is it going to cost me??????” Few wineries can hope to inspire the kind of hysterical consumer desire manifest in this typical internet message-board plea. Fewer still elicit the strong
aroma of sour grapes evident in another post, in which a chagrined consumer predicts, “In a year, the KB thing will be played out.” But such predictions for “the KB thing” are so 2008. Three years on, Pinot prodigy Kosta Browne is going stronger than ever. “Welcome to our chateau,” says public-relations director Tony Lombardi at the roll-up door to a nondescript old apple warehouse. The only luxuries here are an espresso machine and two beer taps in the break area. “We’ve got
Racer 5 on tap—always—and I think we have something lighter now, too,” says winery cofounder Michael Browne. If you remember the attentiongetting headline “$40 million deal for Kosta Browne,” you might be surprised to ﬁnd Browne still hanging around. “People think we sold the winery,” Browne explains. “We didn’t.” Some initial investors, mostly friends and family, wanted to cash out—and besides, Browne says, he “was tired of eating Top
Ramen.” So Browne and Kosta gave up a portion of their 50 percent stake to investment ﬁrm Vincraft but got to keep their day jobs. (Kosta last week was in New Orleans, working restaurant accounts.) While working at John Ash & Co., as the now often-told story goes, the two seasoned restaurant workers pooled their tip money to make a barrel of Pinot Noir in a garage. “In 1997, I didn’t know anything except that the vineyard looks pretty and the grapes taste good,” Browne admits. He volunteered at Deerﬁeld Ranch Winery to learn the craft handson, and the partners launched the brand in 2000, hitting their stride just as Pinot took off in 2005. “We got lucky,” says Browne. Seeking further explanation for the runaway popularity of Kosta Browne wines, some naysayers have suggested that they’re made in a sweet “fruit bomb” style that panders to American tastes. Browne allows that some earlier vintages—albeit, the ones that garnered Wine Spectator scores in the high 90s and helped propel the winery’s popularity—were a little riper, a little hotter, but he adds that they’ve dialed it down since then. About the ﬂavors he seeks, Browne draws a heavy metal analogy: “It’s like Metallica. When you hear Metallica, it’s a big sound, but a smooth sound; everything harmonizes. When other bands try to do it, it’s just jarring.” Pointing to a richly hued pour, Browne says, “Look at that color. People think you’ve got to work the grape to get that color. I’ve heard all kinds of stories. People say, ‘They’ve got to be jacking their wine.’” Some producers, for instance, add a dash of Syrah for extra “umph,” but Browne is ﬁrm: “We don’t jack our wine.” (Browne doesn’t hesitate to enthuse over a bin of fragrantly fermenting Syrah in the cellar—it belongs to newly hired winemaker Shane Finley, and Finley’s sideline is all about big, concentrated Syrah.) In 2012, Kosta Browne will move into an even ) 16
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