Known For Pinot Noir And Chardonnay, Kosta Browne Turns To Burgundy
Five 2020 Burgundies will be released to members by the vintner.
A new producer in Burgundy, a region where famed vineyards are carved into dizzying webs of micro-plots, ownership, and brands, and where the best Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays are becoming unicorns, is not surprising. It is a winery in Sonoma that is the most explosive (as they say in the news business) headline material. As part of its 2020 Burgundies release, Kosta Browne, maker of high-quality Pinots and Chards from California's great sites, will offer five Pinot Noirs from Volnay, Pommard, Beaune, and Gevrey-Chambertin, all of which retail for $125, and a Chardonnay from Meursault for 120 dollars.
Kosta Browne and Michael Browne have come a long way from making wine from coveted fruit sources in Burgundy, where they started with a barrel of Pinot in their garage. Yet it's not surprising, given the company's trajectory. KB is now part of Duckhorn, helmed by Neil Bernardi, general manager, and winemaker Julien Howsepian. Over the past few years, the brand has expanded beyond its Russian River Valley roots to encompass the wider Sonoma Coast, including the purchase of the Cerise Vineyard in Mendocino’s Anderson Valley and the expansion of vineyard sources down to Santa Barbara’s Santa Rita Hills.
Similarly to Kosta Browne's interest in regions outside of his home country, the two have been fascinated by Burgundy for a long time. As a result of their site-driven Pinots and Chardonnays in California, it was natural for them to move to an Old World reference.
Howsepian, however, has a strong connection to Burgundy as well. He and his father discovered the village where his grandmother grew up, complete with a street bearing her maiden name, near Nuits-Saint-Georges. His father's uncle worked in local wineries. Making wine there would bring him full circle.
A couple of Americans wanted to break into a formidable French region, but they found no way. They made numerous trips, but as Howsepian describes them, they were more like pilgrimages than plans. Yet humble curiosity forged strong relationships on the ground, and in 2020, they were able to obtain fruit and establish a winemaking operation under the Kosta Browne label thanks to a partner who chose to remain anonymous. According to Bernardi, the timing was perfect.
In 1336, Cistercian monks enclosed a Burgundy vineyard and created the first Clos, Vougeot and it is easy to imagine creative clashes between a winemaking team working on 700 years of tradition and a New World winemaker with all the maverick leeway of an industry that is just about 50 years old, at the very least. Howsepian, however, reports a different experience. It was challenging to open a new route and ship the wine from Burgundy to California, not to mention the compliance issues.
Through a series of blind tastings, Kosta Browne's team had already studied terroir and how it manifests itself in key Burgundy regions, as well as how Californian regions compare. And the results were comprehensive.
As part of their research into Burgundy, their findings and impressions also influenced the selection of the regions they would represent in their first vintage, which villages would appeal to an American palate?
It couldn't have been a better start: the warm weather in 2020 produced bright, fruit-forward wines with good tannin structure and deep concentration. In the village of Volnay, a village often known for its elegance and soft tannins, the Kosta Browne 2020 Volnay reflects the region's typical delicacy, but its distinctive palate dances with red fruit, vibrant minerality, and a surprising tannin structure.
A short distance from Volnay, Pommard, known for its powerful, muscular wines, is subtly darker and spicier than Volnay, but its tannins have been resolved into creamy seamlessness thanks to the warm vintage.
“On the back of the palate, there's just a tiny rustic kiss,” Howsepian says.
This Kosta Browne 2020 Beaune Premier Cru combines Volnay and Pommard, adding a touch of exotic spice and licorice to the lush plums and berries layered with earth, herbs, cedar, and a hint of saltiness. I like how it's approachable, soft, and rich. When it comes to the Kosta Browne 2020 Gevrey-Chambertin from the Côte de Nuits, it combines the power of the Pommard with the richness of the Beaune.
Additionally to florals and dark spice, Howsepian offers a very slightly crunchy red fruit (“strawberries you grew yourself”) and substantial tannins that have resolved into silkiness. With citrus notes and a lush mouth-feel reminiscent of California Chardonnay, the Kosta Brown 2020 Meursault is among the most familiar wines on the lineup. Wine lovers who enjoy white Burgundy will particularly appreciate its distinctive minerality.
Since the longest distance between the vineyard sources is less than 20 kilometers, these Burgundies are unique expressions of place. In addition to displaying vivid expressions of site, Kosta Browne's California Pinot Noirs, sourced from vineyards hundreds of miles apart, range from northern California to Santa Barbara County. Due to Howsepian and Bernardi's research into Pinot Noir's ancestral home, this wine tastes like its very specific place of origin.