Michael Browne – Sonoma’s High Wire Act

Take a fire-breathing, tightrope bike riding, trapeze artist, move him to Sonoma and what do you get?  A world-class, award winning (Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year, among others) vintner who apparently lives for risk.

From twelve to eighteen, Michael Browne was an integral part of a circus in Washington State, doing all of those crazy things mentioned above.  From this he learned about hard work, risk, injury, failure, and eventual success and to believe in himself.

This proved to be excellent training for entering the wine business.  As he tells it, he fell flat on his face a few times but continued getting back up on the high wire, trying again.

The result is his partnership with Dan Kosta and the creation of Kosta Browne.  The two of them, workers at John Ash & Co., a fine dining establishment in Santa Rosa, dreamed of making their own wine. 

So, they did and widespread acclaim followed.  And Kosta Browne grew from 25 cases to the current production level of 20,000 cases.  That’s almost a quarter of a million bottles.  Even with this, there’s still a multi-year wait before you can get your personal allocation.

But Michael wasn’t satisfied.  He wanted to make wine from estate vineyards, and he’s doing that now with his own label, Cirq.  Cirq, like in Circus – get it?  But it’s more than simply clowns and trampolines.  Michael chose the name to reflect how much he enjoyed being a performer as well as the necessary teamwork and hard work to present a flawless finished project.

Two vineyards in the Russian River Valley AVA provide the Pinot Noir and a bit of Chardonnay.  Treehouse, on the edge of the AVA, is a mound of red soil covered in Pinot vines.  Bootlegger’s Hill, twice as big as Treehouse, consists more of a sandy soil.  Brown has long-term exclusive leases on both vineyards, which gives him the opportunity to control from planting to cultivation to harvest to actual winemaking. 

This year is the first vintage of Cirq, with only bottles from Treehouse released.  It’s a delightful wine, full of black fruit that will benefit from another year or two in the bottle.  I’m assuming that next year we’ll have something from Bootlegger’s Hill, maybe even some Chardonnay.  This is a winery to watch.

I had the chance to both interview Michael and to taste Cirq and several bottles of Kosta Browne at the World of Pinot Noir, a grand event.  Be sure to attend next year.