Yes I’d heard things, and I’d read, and kept reading, and was conceptually clasped and captured by the stories of Dan Kosta and Michael Browne. Mr. Browne had welcomed me to his Sebastopol production domicile for a 10AM visit, and I knew I was going to see ‘it’.. IT.. that materialized vocational utopia he’d created for himself as a wine character and presence and producer. One of his staff members, Joyelle–a gentle and cosmically celestial character that had me eased and encouraged after just a couple inaugural words of greeting and a sweetening handshake–welcomed me in and told me a bit more about the KB story and the new facility, new vineyards that they’d acquired and were working with, among so much.
Then, il entre, Michael Browne, with what I expected, that being a positive attitude that nearly muted me; the energetic and personified paramount of ‘It’, the dream reached, and in full fruition. Browne poured me a little of the ’13 ‘ONE SIXTEEN” RRV Chardonnay.. and of course, I’m proven wrong about Chardonnay, but not all that I try winery to winery are this acute with flavor encirclings and texture accuracy.. nice apple and slightly creamy pair with an evasive wink (meaning you want to chase it, keep sipping) of pineapple, maybe enriched apricot.. charmed and already fantastically trapped, we motioned for the magnum room, an artful and treasuring tomb of notable bottles, most of which are large formats intended for charity functions, which I found is very much an aorta to Michael’s vibrantly reaching charm and empirical character. There we talked about the charities and why he’s so “big” on them and why it’s essential for this to be part of his dream, his métier xanadu… AND! I saw it! The last of the “John Ash bottles”, as I called them. “Yeah, that’s the John Ash bottle,” he said. My thoughts were everywhere–minced and mystified and focused and varied.. “I’m looking at it.. oh my god… it’s possible,” I thought. And that’s much of what brought me to the Sebastopol acropolis, to see this tangible accomplishment, to see the result of the story, the journey, Michael Browne’s Road. And yes, the Professor in me shared the Kerouac/Paradise quote of “The Road is Life”. “Yeah, man,” Michael said, then sharing the thought that it very much continues, that his story is still being written, there’s more Road, there’s more, more… And we on sauntered…..
In the production facility we sipped what remained of our Chard splashes and went about the barrels, being cleaned and then the lab after the catwalk stroll– And let me stop there. Browne showed me the philosophy, the intricately meticulous methodology and practice behind punchdowns and him knowing intimately how exhausting it can be for the interns, then showing me the punchdown device, or tool, contraption or what be that’s extended from and guided by a thorough and pristinely placed rail system, even letting me navigate it a bit. But, do note, I was so eager for more story and more expository immediacy of the Kosta Browne chronicle that I let him continue in his talk and demo.. then to the barrel room.
Here, we surveyed the ’14 Pinots, both from the KB label and his new chapter-set, and Pinot genre and interpretation, “Cirq.” Michael handed me a new glass and a little, I guess you’d deem it, ‘spit cylinder’. And it’s a wise offering, as I would have sipped and let each thieving fall into my center. His ’14 understanding across all lots and mico-climates and maceration styles was more than apexing in talent and fluency– I was fabulously dumbfounded, and I now knew, and could see, feel that this oenological bastion stood an apex of mastery. And with Pinot no less! And where did he start.. the service roll, at a restaurant, saving those stray 1’s and coins and securing some fruit of his own– I kept thinking of the bottle, the ‘JA bottle’ he pointed out just a bit ago.. “Wow,” I thought sipping the whole cluster thieving. Can’t remember the vineyard’s name, and I don’t need to– it was the character that he interpreted and was so eager to share with me and talk about and how he elaborated on wine as colors– the offering and quite concrete a thesis that wine’s exude color in their tactile and gustatory placements.. Fascinating, I thought as a writer and professor, yes, but just as someone loving wine, and loving Pinot, and loving expeditious and daring, and simply fun twists on the problematic and often pugilistic varietal. “Different expression,” Michael intoned, sipping right in front of the writer, in a thin alley of new oak, swirling his glass, “same clone, different vineyards…with the goal of making a complex, well-balanced wine.” And what I sipped was more than meekly ‘well-balanced’. No. The pours were profound, instructional and intimate in their collective palate presence, and universally musical. And we talked about the quite a bit, wine as music, which I don’t have the time to really address here, just note it was brought up and again I saw that elevating passion and fervor’d Craftsman in Mr. Browne. I could only smile, plainly, and know it could happen, this can happen. He made it happen. “There’s color there, right?” he said before leaving the barrel room. “It’s just a cool way to look at it.” Agreed. And refreshing. I’ve always affirmed that wine should be fun and all his expressive theses aligned with such. Their own, and his own, pedagogy, if you would. Again, compelling. Gripping. Charming. “And that’s kinda just how I look at it,” he concluded.
Jean Budrillard wrote that “…once you are liberated, you are forced to ask who you are.” And Michael Browne very much knows who he is. And now I do. Finally. I had waited for, as I told him, over 4 years to learn more about the story and SEE it, experience it, and learn from it. And I did, there in Sebastopol, about the barrels and the lab in that cozy waiting room, where our meeting closed, and where he said, after I asked him “Who is Michael Browne?”: “I’m just a dude riding the river of life trying to do the best I can in everything I do…and understand what’s going on around me…and live life and enjoy family…let the adventure continue… I guess that’s me. I don’t really know.” But I think this writer knows: A kind, demiurgic, winemaking and vocational sage.
And this writer, or wine lover, or whatever I am, so grateful for the day, for our shared sips and time.