Visiting Kosta Browne at The Barlow

Friday, August 15, 2014

Kosta Browne Winery at The Barlow in Sebastapol
When I visited Kosta Browne a couple years ago they were in the process of building a new winery. Their space at the time was in an old apple processing facility and it was functional but not much to look at. "No stone gardens here!" was one of their favorite lines.

The no-frills approach worked fine in their formative years. They didn't have a need for a public tasting room since most of their wines are sold out via mailing list and to restaurants. But as the winery has grown they needed more space.

Functionally and aesthetically I think they hit a home run with their new spot in The Barlow - a very cool collection of artisinal food and drink producers in Sebastapol along Highway 12.

We enjoyed lunch at newly opened Vignette - a trendy Neapolitan-style pizza place. Michael Browne happened to be having lunch there too, as were many other Barlow tenants and visitors. Other wineries include MacPhail, and La Follette (just tasting rooms) as well as Wind Gap (which along with Kosta Browne produces wine on-site).

We met with Tony Lombardi, Director of Brand Management & Public Relations. He's really come into his own in this role and fits the Kosta Browne style perfectly. Easy going about the product, confident about the quality, and enthusiastic about sharing the story with fans of the brand.
Courtyard within Kosta Browne's space at The Barlow
Tony Lombari (left) and me (Robert Dwyer) on the right
They've got a very cool outdoor space with seating areas and fire pits that's already serving them well for gatherings. Benefits and events for mailing list members will be ideal here.

Their space at The Barlow includes winemaking facilities with room to grow. Separate areas for cellaring and offices are in adjoining buildings.
They're producing some volume these days but there's
room to grow into this new space
With a number of successful harvests behind them they knew exactly what they wanted in the new facility. I got a sense they took note of every thing they didn't like about their prior place, remedied it, and made this the perfect winemaking facility for their current and future needs.
I don't know much about grape presses but I'm guessing these Buchers are the bomb
The interior looks like a Restoration Hardware catalog and the space is divided up brilliantly. Clubby leather chairs for gathering around a fireplace in one alcove, long tables for sit down tastings in another. Although there's not necessarily a "tasting room" in the typical sense there are plenty of ideal areas in the winery to taste wine.
We tasted through their 2012s in their kitchen which features a wall of glass looking into the cellar and is set up for cooking events and informal tastings. Spacious and elegant but comfortable. It's like tasting wine at your rich friends' house. Kosta Browne feels like a group of guys who enjoy the good life and enjoy sharing it with their friends.
Me (Robert Dwyer) on the left, Tony Lombardi on the right
Their 2012s are gorgeous, like most vintages of Kosta Browne I've tasted. Each time I think "I've got too much KB clogging up my cellar waiting for a special occasion" I'm reminded why I like their wines so much. I popped a 2010 RRV the other night and it was so totally satisfying. They're right on the corner of high quality and delicious.

One wine that's truly amazed me each time I've tasted it is their Chardonnay. They've only been making it a few years and they don't make a ton of it but the nose on this wine is magical. Lemon curd and sunshine for days before getting serious on the palate. They've got the Chard on sale at Zachy's at the moment at a nice price considering how hard it is to crack their mailing list and how much fully loaded costs can be. I'd hardly ever consider paying $50 for a California Chardonnay but I'm thinking of getting a couple bottles.
The Pinots were terrific. The Russian River Valley is always a favorite and this vintage didn't disappoint. My first time trying the Santa Lucia Highlands (I've never been allocated any) and it was nice too. But the Sonoma Coast was probably my favorite of the appellation bottlings. Just absolutely classic California Pinot Noir.

For single vineyard Pinots, we tried the Keefer and Kanzler. Both were a bit darker in style overall than the appellation wines but the single vineyards were satisfyingly serious with a ton of complexity and undenyable site-specific markings. They were both great but the Keefer was probably a bit more to my liking that day. I'd love to go back and spend more time focusing on the wines but it's always such a fun relaxing time at KB I try to just take it all in.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Kosta Browne's new facility at The Barlow is an amazing place. They're not open to the public but if you're on their mailing list it's absolutely worth dropping them a line to ask for a visit - even if you've recently visited them at their old location.

You can join their mailing list here. It took me 2 or 3 years to get an allocation but that was a few years ago. That was before they won Wine Spectator Wine of the Year (for their 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir) but production levels have increased gradually over time so there's hope!

This visit reminded me I should keep buying their wines in moderation and giving myself permission to open them without needing a special occasion. They're pricey but I think relative to the quality they're a value. With shipping to MA hopefully opening next year fully loaded costs and ease of shipment should improve the equation further.

At the end of our visit the guys from Michael Browne's new project CIRQ stopped by to take us on a vineyard tour. Can't wait to tell you about it. I'd love it if you subscribed to the WWP for future updates.
Climate controlled large-format "trophy" room at Kosta Browne
Me, Ken and Damon from CIRQ, Tony from KB and my childhood pal Nick
Photos by the amazing John Corcoran

Question of the Day: What's been your experience with Kosta Browne wines lately? On their list? Still waiting for an allocation? How long does the wait list take to crack these days?


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