What's Cookin' on Wine with Michael Horn
What's Cookin' on Wine with Michael HornWhat's Cookin' on Wine with Michael HornWW

12/19 MICHAEL BROWNE, KOSTA BROWNE, TED LEMON, LITTORAI WINES

December 23, 201652 min
MICHAEL BROWNE – FOUNDER AND WINEMAKER, KOSTA BROWNE THE KOSTA BROWNE STORY POWER OF TWO The story of Kosta-Browne begins with two friends, Dan Kosta and Michael Browne. The year was 1997 and the buddies both were working at John Ash & Co., a popular restaurant in Santa Rosa, California. Dan was the general manager; Michael was the sommelier. But their real passion was something bigger, bolder, and more brazen than anything either ever had done: They wanted to create Pinot Noir. The catch: Neither gentleman had experience making wine. What ensued was a tale of perseverance, dedication, and hard work. That, and of course, a little bit of pinot noir. “THE ENVELOPE, PLEASE” Once Dan and Michael agreed to make wine together, they realized they needed money to bring the dream to life. So they started saving. Dan proposed saving $10 apiece every night on those nights when the duo worked together. Looking back, he says, “The amount was something that wasn’t going to kill us but something that was going to push us to keep going.” As Dan and Michael socked away their hard-earned cash, they stashed the money in an envelope that they kept in Dan’s desk drawer. Over the course of a few months (working anywhere from three to five nights a week), they amassed about $1,000, still a few hundred bucks short of their goal. Thankfully, a chef at the restaurant kicked in the difference and Dan and Michael were on their way. The next step: Purchasing equipment and grapes. NO SCHOOL LIKE THE OLD-SCHOOL With $1,400 in the bank, Dan and Michael managed to buy a half-ton of pinot noir grapes from Everett Ridge, in the Russian River appellation. The next challenge: Actually making the wine. Neither man had problems using other people’s equipment for most of the winemaking, but Michael insisted on purchasing a used barrel and his own hand-cranked de-stemmer/crusher. Finding the barrel was easy; finding the other tool proved to be a bigger challenge. Finally, with harvest approaching, they bought the device from a friend. All told, Dan and Michael estimate they spent about $400 of their cash on equipment and about $1,000 on grapes. Once the wine was in the barrel, they made enough labels for 24 cases. Those early labels read KOSTA BROWNE. They looked eerily like the ones we use today. GROWING WITH WHITE Dan and Michael poured most of that first barrel for VIP customers at the restaurant. When the barrel was almost empty, the duo decided it was time to raise some more money. This time they didn’t pool tips; instead, in 1999, Dan and Michael secured some angel investments from friends and family and made 3,400 cases of sauvignon blanc from Lake County. As Michael explains, this move made sense because sauvignon blanc grapes were cheaper than pinot noir, the wine didn’t need barrels to age, and he and Dan could turn around the product quickly. “It was a quick strike,” he says. It also was a decent hit; the wine sold well enough to get the brand moving, almost exclusively through distribution. STICKING WITH PINOT The following year—2000, to be exact—Michael set out to follow his dream and make more pinot noir. Because Kosta Browne was so young, because it wasn’t well-known yet, Michael experienced a certain degree of difficulty getting good grapes. After weeks of networking, Michael convinced John Ferrington, the former assistant winemaker at Williams Selyem, to connect him with the owners at Cohn Vineyard, a source for one of Williams Selyem’s single-vineyard designate wines. Always the charmer, Michael convinced the Cohns to sell him grapes. The good news: Finally, our winemaker could make more pinot. The bad news (at least for a startup winery running low on cash): That pinot needed time to age. TWO BECOMES THREE Waiting for wine to age can get dull, and in early 2001, Michael decided he’d pass the time by writing a formal business plan. He studied business books. He read through plans friends gave him. Finally, over the course of a weekend, he put to

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