This past Tuesday I had the opportunity to visit Kosta Browne and sample some of the new releases with Damon Wong and Regina Sanz. Damon is the Director of Hospitality and Regina is the Director of Brand Engagement. Tasting at Kosta Browne definitely has a different feel to it than other visits I made on this trip to the likes of Carlisle and Limerick Lane. That is not a slight but more the reality of tasting at a large, successful winery that makes approximately 35K cases as opposed to a winery that makes 5-10K cases. With that in mind though, Damon and Regina were friendly, knowledgeable, hospitable and actually gave over two hours of their afternoon to my visit.
I had been invited to visit Kosta Browne recently by Scott Becker who is the Kosta Browne CEO. I was somewhat humbled when I learned that Scott actually reads my blog. I have been on the mailing list at Kosta Browne since the 2005 vintage and have always considered the Kosta Browne Pinot Noirs to be some of the finest produced in the state of California.
Kosta Brown has made the news recently on a number of fronts. First and foremost the winery was acquired by Duckhorn Wine Company. Secondly, the winery announced changes to their mailing list and sales strategy which I wrote about recently in Exciting Changes at Kosta Browne. Lastly, the winery has been called into question by the likes of Esther Mobley and Antonio Galloni who both commented on a change in style for the wines being made at Kosta Browne. As it pertains to the final point, I had yet to try any of the new releases from the ’16 vintage so I could not have an opinion of my own. For that reason decided to take Scott up on his offer to visit the winery. Needless to say I was excited to try the wines.
The tasting took place in a parlor at a long table overlooking a barrel room. We tasted the One Sixteen Chardonnay, El Diablo Chardonnay, Cerise Vineyard Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Mount Carmel Pinot Noir, Giusti Vineyard Pinot Noir, Free James Pinot Noir and Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir. All the wines were from the 2016 vintage. The highlights from the tasting were, in order, the Giusti, Sonoma Coast and Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir. The Giusti in particular was stunning. It was lush and opulent with loads of fruit featuring cranberry, strawberry, cloves, cola and baking spices. Everything I love about the Russian River Valley and Kosta Browne in particular. The Sonoma Coast and Cerise were similar in profile with a touch more mineral and earth respectively. The two Observation Series Pinot Noirs both used a larger percentage of whole cluster fermentation and led to wines that are less opulent than I am accustomed to from Kosta Browne and merit time in the cellar. All three Chardonnay were well made with plush tropical fruit and stone fruit profiles. In general I am not a big buyer of Chardonnay but I do have a sweet spot for this variety from Kosta Browne.
So the question is how does my experience line up with this so called change in style? In short I would say not very well. Bear in mind that Kosta Browne has been going through changes for over a decade. I think Michael Browne made a decision starting with the ’07 vintage to slightly dial back the fruit and create a Pinot Noir that would age gracefully with more nuance and balance. The Kosta Browne portfolio also expanded recently to include an appellation wine from the Sta. Rita Hills. The Pinot from this appellation is simply different than what one expect from a Russian River Valley or Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.
In my opinion it is not so much a calculated change in style but more the evolution of a winery that is now twenty years old.
In short, if you fell for Kosta Browne because they created delicious, lush, opulent Pinot Noirs then I don’t think you will be disappointed with the wines being produced now by winemaker Nico Cueva. I’ll be ordering my favorites on the Fall mailer including Kanzler, Keefer, Koplen and 4 Barrel. I certainly plan to wish list the Giusti as well.
Ultimately as a wine consumer each of us needs to make a decision on whether you should continue to support a winery after they have been sold or change winemakers. You could also follow the lead of critics like Esther Mobley or Antonio Galloni. I prefer to trust my palate and what I taste in the bottle. The commitment to excellence is still prevalent at Kosta Browne, the wines are exceptional and I look forward to supporting the winery in the years to come.