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2012 Best Pinot Noir: Kosta Browne Winery

Author: Alexandra Russell
May, 2012 Issue

Last May, NorthBay biz readers selected Kosta Browne Winery as Best Pinot Noir. In November 2011, Wine Spectator magazine named Kosta Browne’s 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir the Most Exciting Wine of the Year. Copy cats.

OK, to be fair, Kosta Browne has been considered one of the world’s top Pinot Noir producers for a decade now—no small feat for a winery that only released its first commercial vintage (a 1997) in 2000. “[2002] was definitely our tipping point,” agrees Tony Lombardi, director of brand management and public relations. “But in a lot of ways, we found success too early.

“You have to remember, neither Dan nor Michael had any wine industry experience when they started; they were still trying to figure all this out.” He’s referring to Dan Kosta and Michael Browne, who first made wine together while working at John Ash & Co. in Santa Rosa. “So while appreciation and demand for the wine was great, it also made for some hard and fast lessons.”

In 2001, Kosta and Browne brought in Chris Costello as a partner. He provided business structure to the young organization, built the proprietary mailing list allocation model and lined up financial support. He also took the lead in identifying The Vincraft Group as an investor, letting the winery consolidate a lot of small stakeholders (including family members and some winegrowers, who were the first investors in the brand) down to a single relationship.

Twenty-five cases that first year have since grown to four AVA-designated wines (three Pinots and one Chardonnay) released each spring, plus eight single-vineyard Pinot Noirs released in the fall for a total production of 15,000 cases annually. And still, demand exceeds production. The consumer wait list is approximately three years to purchase a spring release and five to six years before a slot on the fall list will open up.

This makes the Wine Spectator win a little more miraculous. “They like to choose wines that have high scores and are fairly widely available,” Lombardi explains. “We earned a 95-point score but only made 5,800 cases, so it could have gone either way.”

But win they did, and, “it was pandemonium!” he laughs. “The phones started ringing, emails came pouring in and our Facebook page went crazy. We’ve had more than 2,500 new people join the list since November. I even started seeing the wine [which was originally priced at $52 and was already sold-out at the winery] on auction sites for as much as $300!”

Lucky for us, Lombardi found a bottle of the wine in question and poured a sample. Wow. On the nose, there’s lush, dark fruits, herbs and a hint of earth. And then, a sip. Flavors of ripe cherries and berries and a rounded, silky mouthfeel; it’s complex and full-bodied, with balanced tannins and a smooth, lingering finish. We also tried two other Pinots, and both were standouts as well. “We make all our wines the same way,” says Lombardi, “So the only differences you’re tasting are the distinct characteristics of the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and Santa Lucia Highlands fruit. That’s the magic of winemaking: It’s like art-meets-science.”

Later this year, operations will move into a 40,000-square-foot facility at the former Barlow apple processing facility in Sebastopol [See “Reinventing the Barlow,” March 2012]. Because of the high demand and limited production, there still won’t be a tasting room onsite—but nevertheless, the partners feel it’s important to be part of the revitalization of the downtown area. Because even though it’s not easy to buy Kosta Browne wine, that doesn’t mean these guys (all long-time Sonoma County residents) don’t appreciate being part of the community. That’s why being named Best again this year resonates.

“It’s fantastic!” says Kosta of the repeat win. “The fact that this is an unsolicited readers vote—not multiple choice or a narrowed field—means we’re making connections and finding support locally. And that’s awesome.”



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