Tom's blog

Kosta Brown changing course

It was recently announced that Dan Kosta and Michael Browne are stepping down from the pinot noir powerhouse company they co-founded in the late 1990s. That in itself is a remarkable announcement, but to me it was overshadowed by the news that the producer's iconic, hedonistic pinot noirs would change course.

As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, Kosta said the extracted style of Kosta Brown's pinot noirs is what made them so successful -- and the co-owners so rich that they could leave and start another wine company. But today these wines are a poster child of what NOT to do. Like many other trends, the over-extracted and riper-style pinot noirs are presumably not as highly regarded as they once were. It reminds me of the old chardonnays that were way too creamy, extracted and oaky. That trend changed too.

Getting more recognition nowadays are the balanced pinot noirs that are more cerebral and elegant -- not unlike the style found for centuries in Burgundy. But is such a shift really what consumers want -- or what winemakers want?

Kosta Browne got its breakthrough with the 2003 vintage that scored 96 points in the Wine Spectator. Demand soared so high that people are on its waiting list for more than 3 years. Only 15 percent of Kosta Browne is sold to wholesalers -- the rest are distributed from the winery to eager and well-heeled members. 

Recognizing the need to change directions to maintain profitability, new equity owner J.W. Childs wants to distance itself from Kosta Browne's reputation for ripe pinot noir. Even Kosta says his new venture with Browne -- Alden Alli -- will have less extracted pinot noirs. 

And, Kosta Browne's winemaker, Nico Cueva says he will use less oak, native yeasts and less extraction.

Although I prefer my sensual burgundies to pinot noir fruit bombs, I wonder how a leaner style will fare with consumers. Winemakers are sensing shifting winds, but big and juicy pinot noirs are still loved. Time will tell.