NOTHIN’ LIKE
A DAME

A conversation with Fred Dame
(Master Sommelier)

Just like anything you hold close to your heart, you hope other people love it too. Sure, Kosta Browne has thousands of fans today, but in the early days—that period when Michael and Dan were struggling more to make ends meet than they were to make good wine—devotees were a little harder to find.

One of the very first: Fred Dame, Master Sommelier.

At the time, Fred already had made quite a bit of history as a wine expert. He was the first American to successfully pass all three parts of the Master Sommelier Examination in a single year. He founded the American Branch of The Court of Master Sommeliers. Fred was in between jobs at Seagrams and Terlato Wines when he started hearing friends in the industry talking about pinot noir from two "restaurant guys" in Sonoma County. He had tasted Williams-Selyem pinot and was eager to get a different perspective on grapes from the same general land. So, right around the year 2002, he reached out to Dan and Michael to learn a little more.

The three hit it off immediately, drinking beer, telling stories, and joking about wine and grapes and farming and more. Fred asked probing questions about what motivated Dan and Michael to make wine. All of their responses pointed to one driving factor: Passion.

"The more we talked, the more it became clear [Dan and Michael] got into this because they just loved wine," Fred remembers. "If you're having fun when you're making wine, the wine reflects it."

“When we were getting started, any positive feedback—especially from critics—was crucial,” remembers Michael.

And the first vintage Fred tasted, the 2001 Cohn Vineyard, certainly stood out. He recalls the Burgundian-style pinot as "big but having a level of finesse" he really enjoyed. He called them elegant, balanced, well-rounded. He waxed on about them to friends.

These rave reviews were not lost on Michael or Dan.

"When we were getting started, any positive feedback—especially from critics—was crucial," remembers Michael. "We were just doing whatever we could do to keep moving forward, so hearing someone who wasn't directly involved with the wine come in and tell us we were doing a good job; that meant a lot."

“You didn’t screw this up!”

And Fred kept coming. Each year after that first one, Fred reconnected with Dan and Michael at the Russian River Valley Pinot Forum and tasted the latest vintage. Each year, he was wowed by how well the upstart winery crafted its wines. Even the Chardonnays.

"When I first tasted Kosta Browne's wines, I thought, ‘Son of a gun, these are good,'" he recalls. "Then when I tasted them again I said, ‘You didn't screw this up!' Of course the last thing I said to them was, ‘Now do that again!' And they did. And they've kept on doing it. The consistency of Kosta Browne wines has been remarkable. They continue to not screw it up!"

Fred also remembers the lean years. He remembers how, in 2003 and 2004, Dan and Michael almost failed. He remembers hearing through the grapevine (pun intended) that getting fruit was hard. He also remembers telling them why he knew they eventually would succeed—in a word, quality.

"I was confident they'd figure out a way to make it happen because the quality was so exceptional," Fred says, looking back. "Along with other brands such as Williams Selyem, Dehlinger, Rochioli and Kistler, Kosta Browne was at the forefront of the California pinot renaissance. They understood terroir, grapes, vineyards. These factors, plus that passion. They simply would not be denied."

“Son of a gun, these are good.”

Today, as Chairman of the Board at Guildsomm.com, and vice president of prestige accounts for American Wine and Spirits of California, Fred is exposed to great wine and great winemakers every day. Dan Kosta and Michael Browne remain two of his favorites.

As the winery matures and comes closer to its 20th vintage, Fred says he's confident Kosta Browne will continue to craft wine in a certain style: An elegant-yet-subtle approach that reflects uniquely the vineyards from where its grapes came.

"There's a great element of risk in doing this," says Fred. "Time and time again, these guys have faced that risk and come out on top."

Matt Villano is a writer who lives and works in Sonoma County. He writes about food, wine and business (as well as other subjects) and loved speaking with Fred about the convergence of all those things and Kosta Browne. Find Matt at whalehead.com.

Stories

We’ve been making wine for almost 20 years although it still often feels like it all just began yesterday. Sometimes it is worth taking a moment to pause and think about where we’ve come from and how we got to here. These stories, told by us and others we’ve met along the road, make us smile – ever grateful for the journey.

1997-2005

ROCKY BEGINNINGS

When we started, we had little more than a shared love of Pinot Noir and the desire to go and make some of our own. We took all that energy and committed ourselves to try our luck. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t always even fun. These formative years tested our resolve and patience beyond compare but laid the quality foundation for what was to come.

The Tip Envelope

By KB
Illustrations by Beth Whybrow Leeds

2005-2009

PEOPLE ARE WATCHING

After almost nine vintages under our belt something curious started to happen. Interest in what we were doing grew and we began to gain recognition for our winemaking style. Our long awaited ‘overnight success’ struck and the challenge become less one of ‘staying alive’ to one of trying to keep up with the attention and demands while continuing our commitment to quality. We were also finally able to share our success with the original investors who generously backed our vision.

Nothin' Like a Dame

A conversation with Fred Dame (Master Sommellier)
By Matt Villano

2009 - PRESENT

Onward

California Pinot Noir endures in the fine wine world and we are delighted to be a continued part of that conversation. As we mature as a winery we grow in different ways. We construct a custom winery tailored to how we make wine. We work with new financial partners who share our vision for quality. We invest in our first vineyard and begin to grow our own fruit. We are awarded the coveted ‘wine of the year’ – the only Pinot Noir to do so to date. Our focus, however, remains the same as before: making the best Pinot Noir we can.

The Rite of Interns

By KB Winemaking
Photography by Troyce Hoffman

The Crew

By KB Winemaking
Photography by Troyce Hoffman

Press

We’ve been fortunate to have nice things said about our wines and what we do. Here are some highlights.

1997-2005

Pinot Report, October 2003 "This Pinot really shows off the quality what the Cohn Vineyard can do in the right winemaking hands..."

Wine Spectator, September 2004 "Partners Dan Kosta and Michael Browne followed their taste buds into winemaking, parlaying their experience as sommeliers into a boutique Pinot winery in Sonoma..."

2005-2009

Wine Spectator, December 2005 "#11 Wine of the Year..."

Wine Spectator, May 2006 "I'm also starting to believe, thanks to them and many others...that we have entered a new era for California Pinot Noir..."

Wine Spectator, December 2006 "#7 Wine of the Year..."

Wine Spectator, April 2007 "What Dan Kosta and Michael Browne have accomplished in 2005 is every bit as staggering as their watershed 2004 vintage.."

Wine Spectator, December 2009 "#4 Wine of the Year..."

2009-Present

Wine Spectator, May 2010 "Fans of Kosta Browne won't be disappointed by the 2008's. This is another very strong vintage for this Sonoma County winery, with 11 outstanding wines that show the level of quality possible..."

Wine Spectator, December 2011 "#1 Wine of the Year..."

Vineyard & Winery Management, March 2012 "The Sonoma County producers long road to overnight success..."

Wine & Vines, September 2013 "Kosta Browne is ready to crush the 2013 vintage in new, custom built winery.

Vinous, July 2014 "Kosta Browne has done a marvelous job with their four 2012 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinots. These wines show why Kosta Browne is among the top Pinot Producers in California."

Wine Advocate, October 2015 "Looking at the 2013's, this was obviously a great vintage for this estate and all the wines showed sensational purity and freshness paired with layered, nicely concentrated and textured profiles. I'd say it's the finest lineup I've tasted from this estate..."

Wine Advocate, September 2016 "This was another rock star lineup from Kosta Browne and it’s certainly one of the most impressive lineups I tasted all year. And while I generally consider 2013 to be a better vintage than 2014, these 2014s are a step up over last year’s releases, which were no slouches either."