2009 Kosta Browne: Bombs Bursting In Your Mouth
Has there ever been another California Pinot Noir producer to so quickly captivate the wine buying public? The
story is now familiar. Two friends, Michael Browne and Dan Kosta, met while working at John Ash and Co.
restaurant in Santa Rosa and decided to save their tip money to make wine. In 1999 they produced 2,600
cases of Lake County Sauvignon Blanc, an extremely unrewarding financial mistake. By 2001 they had
teamed with Chris Costello and his family who provided a fiscally conservative and thoughtful business plan.
The 2003 wines crafted by Michael Browne were highly regarded by noted wine critic James Laube of the Wine
Spectator who gave the wines scores ranging from 90 to 96. The mailing list quickly filled up and Kosta
Browne Pinot Noir was soon on every pinotphile’s radar.
In 2009, the winery was sold to the investment group Vincraft for a reported $40 million. Dan Kosta, Chris
Costello and Michael Browne continue as minority partners and remain at the winery in their current sales and
marketing, management, and winemaker roles respectively. In 2011 plans were announced to build a new
modern winery in downtown Sebastopol, the first bonded winery within the city limits. The former Barlow Apple
Factory is being reinvented to feature both production and retail for artisan wine as well as food purveyors and
artists. Kosta Browne will double its space, from 18,000 square feet to 45,000 square feet. Production (about
14,000 cases) will remain nearly the same and although the winery is in a more public location, there is no plan
to open a tasting room. Tasting is by appointment for mailing list members (there is currently a waiting list).
I believe Kosta Browne’s rapid road to success stems from three sources. First, Dan and Michael are
extremely congenial and customer service oriented, they are well-liked by the wine community, and they are
willing to support many fund-raising charity activities. Second, the partners were able to use their longstanding
friendships and contacts to source from top growers in the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and
Santa Lucia Highlands appellations. Like Williams Selyem who preceded them and established the model,
they sought out premium vineyards that met their stringent standards for quality. In the most recent Kosta
Browne newsletter, Michael says, “The most important thing I have learned about crafting wine over the years
is how crucial it is to have the best fruit sources available to supply us with the raw product necessary to
produce top quality wines.” Third, Michael Browne knows how to make Pinot Noir in a New World hedonistic
style that appeals to a broad audience of wine lovers. As Michael has noted, “Wine is enjoyed much like
music, and I like Rock ‘n Roll.”
I asked Michael to give me his thoughts on the 2009 vintage. “2009 was pretty much an ideal growing year.
Warm temperatures but very few heat spikes. The vines were in great balance both in the canopy and the fruit
load. The clusters were similar in size to 2007: mainly small hand grenade sized clusters with uniformly sized,
small berries. We did not need to do too many extra procedures in the vineyard (compared to 2008) as Mother
Nature did most of the work, delivering just what the vines needed. We did get most of our fruit in a short
amount of time which was a challenge. Fortunately, we had the crew and capacity to handle it.”
“The resulting wines are intense but not too intense. The aromatics and flavors are of ripe fruit, not over ripe
and not under ripe. Fresh, ripe, intense raspberry and strawberry off the plant for example rather than stewed,
preserve style berries or light flavored berries. Same goes for the cherry, rhubarb, cranberry and pomegranate
flavors and aromas in some of the wines. Peak of ripeness comes to mind. The wines, although all in the
Kosta Browne style, show a unique and distinctive character which is driven by the region or by the vineyard.
This is what we have been trying to do for some time. The wines at this point are intense with fruit, but will
relax and come into very good balance in 3 to 5 years and beyond.”
“In comparison, the 2007 vintage is a bit more tight. I love the wines but they need to age longer. The 2007s
have great balance and are very well put together but they do need time for the soul to completely break out.
The 2008 vintage is alive and well at this stage although these wines will age as well. The 2008s have fresh
fruit components and are very expansive with lots of energy. I think the 2009 wines are a cross between the
2007 and 2008 vintages. They have the serious side of the 2007s and the playful side of the 2008s. Great
combination. 2010 is shaping up well considering the challenging time with Mother Nature. Similar in intensity
to 2009 with more of a broad texture. The pH levels are slightly higher which I believe is leading to the more
In the most recent Kosta Browne newsletter, Michael makes the following remarks. “The resulting wines
(referring to the 2009s) could be our best to date. I know I say this every year, but I do feel these wines are at
the top of what we have ever produced. Upon completing our blended 2009 wines, we tasted them alongside
the 2007 and 2008 wines. The 2009s revealed their intensity, fresh fruit aromatics and flavors, along with
expansive red and black fruit character that starts at the top of the tongue, saturating the sides and top of the
palate and melting down around the entire palate with a persistent and lingering finish. Although all the wines
are unique in character, they all show this attribute: a beautiful fingerprint and delicious vintage!”
Kudos also go out to the team of exceptional winemakers at Kosta Browne: Shane Finley is the lead
winemaker who has been at Kosta Browne for five years. Ryan O’Donnell has been a member of the
winemaking staff since 2007. Pete Soergel was a key part of the staff for three years in the role of cellarmaster
and has now moved on to assistant winemaker at Landmark Winery. Michael Browne below.
I concur with Michael that only sexual analogies can do the 2009s justice. The wines are packed with sweet
fruit but have the tannin structure and alcohol backbone to handle it. Currently, the fruit in the wines is nearly
overwhelming, but by the time the wines are released and consumers get their hands on the wines they should
be a little more balanced. The wines can be enjoyed now for their hedonistic spirit, but will benefit from
cellaring for a year or two. I would guess the wines will drink best in two to four years and plateau for a several
years beyond that. Do not overlook the appellation wines as they are very impressive in this vintage. Total
production in 2009 was about 14,000 cases including a Chardonnay for the first time. Magnums and larger
formats are never sold and reserved for charity auctions and special events.
2009 Kosta Browne Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., 4,320 cases, $52.
Darkly colored in the
glass. Highly perfumed with aromas of Bing cherries, cola and spice. Flush with cherry pie filling flavor
complimented by spicy oak and rounded out with supporting ripe tannins. Finishes with impressive
persistence. A fine representation of the Russian River Valley AVA. Uncomplicated but irresistible. Very Good.
2009 Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 5,818 cases,
$52. Sourced from three vineyards: Gap's Crown, Terra de Promissio, and Walala. The wine was aged about 12 months in oak before release in early 2011. Wine Spectator #1 Wine of Year for 2011.
Moderately dark reddish-color in the glass. Charming and fruity on the
nose which is redolent with aromas of black cherries and black raspberries
with an accent of spice cabinet. Fades a bit in the glass over time. Delicious
and lush core of black plum and blackberry fruit with a subtle savory herb note
in the background. Richly endowed but nicely balanced by ripe tannins and
lively acidity, and offering an attractive creamy mouth feel. The generous finish
has very good length. Still good the next day from a previously opened and re-corked
bottle. Very Good.
2009 Kosta Browne Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., 148 cases, $72.
Moderately dark reddish-purple hue in the glass. Nicely perfumed with scents of dark cherries and raspberries,
spice and rose petals. Moderately intense flavors of plum sauce and black raspberries with an earthy
underpinning, finishing with some oak and pomegranate highlights. Mild, supple tannins, bright acidity and
some persistence on the finish. A solid wine, but just doesn’t deliver the flavor interest for me. Good (+).
2009 Kosta Browne Rosella’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 272 cases, $72.
Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Perfumed with aromas of spice dark red fruits, wilted roses, hard
red candy and redwood. Discreetly concentrated flavors of red cherries, pomegranates, brown spice and
graham. Soft in the mouth and lighter weighted than the other Santa Lucia Highlands offerings. A bit exotic
and unusual in its flavor profile and quite different from the 08 version. Good (+).
2009 Kosta Browne Koplen Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.6% alc., 678 cases, $72.
Deep, dark reddish-purple color in the glass.
Scents of black cherries and berries with hints of oak, cedar and spice. Intense
mid palate explosion of blackberry, ollaliberry, and black cherry. Herbal accents
keep the wine savory. A palate staining, lush wine that is well framed by ripe
tannins and bright acidity, finishing with a Hollywood ending (dramatic and
memorable). Off the charts fruit intensity! Very Good.
2009 Kosta Browne Pisoni Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 142 cases, $72.
Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Subdued aromas of dark red and black fruits with a hint of
seasoned oak. Discreetly concentrated array of dark red fruits which are monolithic at present but suggest an
intensity waiting to get out. Smoothly textured with firm but supple tannins for aging. Hard to judge this wine at
this stage as it has a long way to go to reveal itself, but I predict greatness over time. Patience advised.
2009 Kosta Browne Keefer Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
alc., 816 cases, $72.
Reddish-purple hue in the glass. Lovely scent of just
picked red cherries and red berries, baking spices and sandalwood. Bright
and juicy flavors of spiced red cherries with a savory herbal note on the finish.
The most demure of the 2009 wines with plenty of charm and elegance and a
refreshing riff of acidity running through. Offers a clear sense of cool Green
Valley terroir. Very Good (+).
2009 Kosta Browne Kanzler Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., 575 cases, $72.
Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass.
Very interesting nose offering scents of fresh berries, underbrush, forest
floor, spice, rose petal and brioche. Bright and charming with a tasty
essence of Rainer cherry and dark red raspberry with a hint of exotic
spice. Every sip reveals another nuance. Medium weighted with soft
tannins and bright acidity. An elegant bent for Kanzler in this vintage that is
stunning. Built for the long haul.
2009 Kosta Browne Garys’ Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., 439 cases, $72.
dense reddish-purple color in the glass. Reserved but pleasing aromas of black stone fruits with
complimentary oak spice and anise. Rich, full, sweet and beautifully composed black plum and
blackberry flavors that offer real density and a mouth coating finish of unbelievable persistence. Fruit-driven
and primary now, but the gorgeous fruit is impossible to ignore. Similar to the Pisoni in flavor
profile but more giving now. I have never tasted anything so sensual from this vineyard. Wowzaa!
2009 Kosta Browne 4-Barrel California Pinot Noir
14.8% alc., 91
Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Slow to emerge
in the glass but the sophistication is evident. Aromas of berry jam on
toast with a pleasing hint of spice and oak. Intense core of big cherries
and ripe plums that coat every nook and cranny in the mouth. Polished
and round with a soft finish that won’t let go. This wine is relatively closed
now but the potential is obvious. Better the next day from a previously opened
and re-corked bottle. The lucky few who get this wine are in store for a treat.
2009 Kosta Browne Amber Ridge Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.7% alc., 423 cases, $72.
Dark reddish-purple color in the
glass. Enticing and long aromas of black cherries with hints of warm
brioche. Delicious and lush on the palate with expressive flavors of big,
ripe cherries and the freshest raspberries, growing more vivid in the
mouth over time. Complimentary notes of baking spice add interest.
Very polished in the mouth with peach-skin tannins and a texture that is soft as
the hair on an angel. Pin point balance, regal presence, and just plain great.