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Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living. - Robert Mondavi

How to get a taste of California's Cult Pinot - Kosta Browne

Sunday, February 24, 2013
My first experience with Kosta Browne was during one of the most blissful periods of my life.  Recently engaged to the husband of my dreams, one of our groomsmen and his wife invited us to join an intimate private dinner at the Tiburon Yacht Club that featured Kosta Browne wine pairings over a 6 course meal hosted by owners and winemakers, Dan Kosta and Mike Browne.  Almost 3 years later, I met up to taste with Dan and Mike again at their new winery in Sebastopol and was relieved to find that the memorable first experience with Kosta Browne was not merely a result of over-stimulated, pre-marriage oxytocin, but indeed induced by state of mind the high quality wine and unpretentious winemakers produce.  Kosta Browne has become one of California’s cult pinot noirs and is often used as a prototype by which to compare other pinots to.  This “Kosta Browne” style is flavorful, intense wines, concentrated and bursting with flavor.  These pinots appeal to Cabernet fans with similar flavor profile, but with the lower tannins and lighter body of a pinot noir, making them beautiful for pairing with a wide variety of foods.  According to Dan Kosta, there was no secret sauce formula that went into the creation of the first and subsequent appellation and single vineyard wines.  The bold flavors characterized by Kosta Browne were more or less attributed to the warm growing season of 2003 and 2004 which produced higher concentration in the fruit that Dan and Mike sourced selectively.  That coupled with the increasing demand and hype over pinot noir led to the sold-out, waitlist cult status that Kosta Browne brandishes today.

Heading back from a great trip to Mendocino and Anderson Valley, I was lucky enough to meet up with Dan Kosta and team at the end of a busy day.  Despite it being Presidents Day, Dan graciously offered to host me for a private tour of his new winery and tasting of the pre-released 2011 wines.  Located in central Sebastopol, the new Kosta Browne Winery is not open to the public, and took a few tries to find.  The construction workers hard at work gave away the site location, as did the “Winery Chic” architecture that stood out among the neighboring buildings, old warehouses that were built for processing fruit years ago.  “My wife was giving me a hard time for having them come to work today...I didn’t even realize it was a holiday!” Dan chuckled as I commented on how hard everyone was working.  Dan Kosta is jovial and larger than life. After an hour and a half with him, I got the distinct impression that he has an incredible work ethic and drive, but doesn’t slog through the days without creating some fun on the job. As we started tasting, he was testing out his new iphone app the controlled the central sound system in the barrel room and getting a kick out of tasting different wines to different genres...from Barry White to 80s rock.  Before the tasting, Dan gave us an abbreviated tour (it was freezing) of the new winery, opening on April 20th, which commands no less than 3 buildings and 44,000 square feet.  The 3 buildings consist of 2 barrel rooms (the wines have just been moved in to the new space), and a hospitality/production office building.  There’s also a central courtyard that can be used for hosting industry professionals and perhaps some member events.  While there’s a kitchen and space for entertaining special guests and wine industry folks, the winery won’t be open to the public.

So without a public tasting room, one would suspect that you would be able to at least order Kosta Browne wine or  join the wine club.  Unfortunately, the current wine club membership is maxed out at around 12,000 members and there are currently over 15,000 on the waitlist!  The wait for the appellation pinot noirs is approx. 2-3 years and about twice as long for the single vineyard wines.  The best best for getting a bottle of this coveted juice is to find it in a restaurant, and Kosta Browne has kindly listed all the restaurants that currently carry its wine here on their website, restaurants are listed alpha by state.  I found it on the list at Dixie, SF, two nights ago, and it was *not shockingly* the highest priced California pinot by the bottle on the list, and also the wine that the sommelier recommended to me (of course).  Coveted and rarefied as Kosta Browne’s name and status has become, Dan Kosta and Mike Browne are down to earth, with unpretentious backgrounds.  The two of them met while working at John Ash and Co. restaurant, Dan was running the wine program and Mike was working there  at night while interning at a Deerfield Winery during the day to learn how to be a winemaker.  In the summer of 1997, Dan and Michael decided to venture into winemaking, saving tip money for about eight months and eventually had enough to buy a half ton of Pinot Noir, a used barrel and an old hand-crank stemmer-crusher, a purchase that marks the beginning of Kosta Browne. Since that vintage, they have nurtured relationships with the best growers and select pinot noir and chardonnay from the choicest lots from Sonoma Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands and Russian River.  In 2001, Dan and Michael partnered with Chris Costello and his family, who collectively provided the business experience and relationships that gave Kosta Browne the necessary resources to grow. In 2003, the first 23 cases of pinot (sourced from Cohn vineyard) were bottled, labeled and distributed mostly for free to Dan and Mike’s favorite customers at John Ash.  In 2004 and 2005, the climate for grapes helped make Kosta Browne make pinot history with the intense flavor profile that led it to cult status.

So what’s next for Kosta Browne?  For one thing, Chardonnay was added to the portfolio two years ago and  has so far been a big success.  And, after 10 years of winemaking, Dan Kosta revealed to me he’s ready to try out the grape growing process.  Kosta Browne just purchased their first “estate winery” and his hope now is to become more than just a “Shepherd of the wines” and help cultivate the fruit itself.  As for the most recent vintages, they are taking a slightly more austere flavor profile, but are still elegant and balanced and even more appealing to me.  My notes on the 2011 pre-releases are below:

2011 Chardonnay:
Made with 50% New Oak and 50% 2 year old oak, this wine has screaming acidity and beautiful structure with bright flavors of lemon and citrus.
The flavors are succulent, fresh and lively on the palate, with a supple vanillin crème brûlée texture. The finish gradually turns crisp with a final wash of mouthwatering natural acidity.

2011 Pinot Noir - Gap’s Crown
This is the vineyard block that Kosta Browne just purchased.  The wine shows focused black plum and black cherry and ripe currants in the nose, followed by cassis and hints of dusting of cocoa.

2011 Pinot Noir - Kanzler Vineyard
Interesting notes of grapefruit on the nose,  and beautiful secondary notes of morel mushrooms, chocolate, and bright cherries.  This wine has a lot of soul and a slow release of complex flavors and textures, leading to a long and lingering finish.

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