Wine Rating: 95
If over the years you’ve read my articles, then by now, you know, “I love Pinot Noir.” I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing more bottles of that beautiful grape than any other. In this piece, for the first time, I’m opening up about one of my favorite strategies on how I go about finding and purchasing some of my most desired wines. First, I start by searching wine auctions for unique bottles with very limited production runs. Then I read a handful of wine bloggers to see who they are talking about and who or what they may have discovered. There is also my Y9 Instagram. It has over 500 posts, 60% of which are bottles from some of the best pinot noir producers around, and people comment and recommend a winery I may like.
Something else you’ve no doubt picked up on if you’ve been around for a time is that I’m a California wine snob. Can’t help it. I just love the New World juice. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to turn down a French Burgundy or a beauty from Richebourg. There’s something about California pinots that, just works for me and when it’s done right, the flavors are hypnotic. The wines produced from early 2000 thru 2012 are superb; except 2011, blah! Some people don’t care for the punch you get from the fruit bomb notes or the high alcohol, but I seek it out. On occasion, I get lucky and find bottles from one of my favorite winemakers, who are not only listed but are also priced below what the vineyard sold them for.
There are a number of reasons people let go of their bottles and sell them on auction and in the case of this months wine, it’s often just because they just didn’t like the undeniable punch of the fruit, the way it hits you, right up front. I love that. It’s what I look for. Another reason could be that the wine simply scored lower than others that are fetching a higher price. People are fickle, but whatever the reason, it all works out to my benefit and now… yours.
I created a plan that, for years, worked exceptionally well for me. The strategy was to seek out large French wine auctions that focused on Bordeaux, Burgandy and the like. What I learned was that within these auctions, many of the wines came from large lots, most likely a private collection. As suspected, I quickly realized that nearly every collector had amongst his or her most prized wines (in this case, French wines) a variety of miscellaneous bottles hiding out, which for whatever reason, they’d added to their ever-growing assortment. However, whether it was the ‘hip’ factor or an enthusiastic friend who persuaded them to try something new and buy out of their lane, one thing was true. Those bottles would likely never become their favorites and would eventually have to go and go they did. What that meant for me was that I would score, again and again, and again,‘New World Wines’ that were both on the cheap and on the DL.
It harkened back to the online auction days in 1995, when eBay had just launched, and I was one of their first 200 buyers and sellers. I was winning bid after bid on some of the most sought-after rare books, that people had no idea the value, most of which I still own today, but I’ll save that story for another time. The reason I thought this might work was that I assumed if someone was at an auction looking for rare French wines, they were likely to turn their nose up at anything, well, not French and I was right, as so far as that they were letting their wines from Califonia, go. Whatever the reason, I welcomed it, and I was there to swoop in and gobble up those delicious Cali Pinots. I was like Winnie the Pooh, hoarding honeypots. It would put a rumbly in my tumbly!
Far and away, my love is Kosta Browne. In 2011 they won the coveted Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator magazine for their 2009 release of a multi-vineyard blend called Sonoma Coast. When it was released, they sold it exclusively through their ‘very’ hard to get on wine list at a price of $52. After their 2011 win, you couldn’t find a bottle for under $300. Even today it goes for around $180. I currently have four of them in my wine cellar (though I’ve drunk, hmm… 20?) and those four gorgeous bottles are very ready to drink. You know what that means? It’s time to start popping corks!
I addition to the award-winning Sonoma Coast, in 2009, Kosta Browne also released –
2009 Sonoma Coast, Pinot Noir
2009 Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir
2009 One Sixteen, Chardonnay
SINGLE VINEYARD WINES
2009 Gap’s Crown Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, Pinot Noir
2009 Kanzler Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, Pinot Noir
2009 Amber Ridge Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir
2009 Keefer Ranch, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir
2009 Koplen Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir
2009 Garys’ Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, Pinot Noir
2009 Pisoni Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, Pinot Noir
2009 Rosella’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, Pinot Noir
2009 4-Barrel, California, Pinot Noir
What I found through my love of the 2009 wines from Kosta Browne was a small grape producer located in Petaluma, California. That was my introduction to Gap’s Crown. I stumbled upon this particular bottle while at dinner with my wife. We’d gone out to celebrate and found ourselves at, Mr. Stox, an old fine dining restaurant in Anaheim. It’s the kind of place you don’t find much anymore, a throwback to another era, the kind of gem you rarely see, but when you do it’s like you stepped into a time capsule.
Mr. Stox was old-fashioned and lovely, with their large over upholstered burgundy chairs, riveted with large brass buttons and gold lace trim along the armrests, weighted tablecloths that looked like they could have been the drapery from Buckingham Palace. The polished silverware sparkled throughout the dining room. The wine glasses, so clear they looked invisible when empty. Waiters in penguin suits stood like Roman soldiers carrying out their duties. It was a classic, slightly long in the tooth, well-established place that had certainly earned its stripes that sadly, closed its doors for good in 2013.
Today when you drive by, what stands in the place of the once revered Mr. Stox is a hipster condominium complex with ground floor shops and homeowners above. Yeah. That’s what they decided to build on sacred grounds because we need more of that in California. But hey, there’s a gastro beer pub, a spin cycle center, a cupcake bakery, and a mini-Chase bank. Philistines!
On that memorable night, on our drive over to Mr. Stox, I was telling Shawn-Marie about Sonoma Coast release and the win for Kosta Browne on their 2009. I said to her, “If they have it on the menu, we’re ordering it and damn the price tag!” Always one for a good wine adventure, I didn’t think she’d object. Marriage is after all about communication and negotiation, and when one does them both well and conveys to the other how badly they want something and result is they both agree, that’s magic. That night our marriage was in complete alignment, and she said, “of course we’ll get it.”
The wine list arrived, and I went right for the pinot noir section. I was so hoping it would be there, but I wasn’t holding my breath as Kosta Browne was a wine found on very few wine lists, but this being Mr. Stox, my fingers were crossed. The regulars jumped out; Peter Michael, Sea Smoke, Williams Selyem, and then, there it was. Kosta Browne. It wasn’t the Sonoma Coast, but the Gap’s Crown. I looked up from the menu, and said, “They don’t have the Sonoma Coast, but they have a 2009 Gap’s Crown by Kosta Browne, and it’s $240.” “Order it.” she said.
That night, Kosta Browne Gap’s Crown, became the best pinot noir I’d ever had and it remains so today. Maybe it was the setting, the conversation, the excitement of looking into someone’s eyes when you’re both holding an extraordinary glass of wine, exploring and celebrating, saying “What do you smell? What do you taste?” The psychology of wine drinking plays an important part of enjoying wine; the high price tag, the very limited availability of Kosta Browne, the fine dining atmosphere. That night it was all working. We drank, we ate, we talked, and we drank. Years later the cork from that night’s 2009 Gap’s Crown is on Shawn-Marie’s keychain. When she drives, it hangs just low enough from the car ignition to graze her right knee. She tells me she remembers that night, that wine, every time it happens.
Back in 2011, I was still on the waiting list for Kosta Browne and so, began my quest. The great plan that I used to acquire wine at auction did not let me down when hunting for the 2009 Kosta Browne, Gap’s Crown. I also found that the 2008 Gap’s Crown was just as good, so I sought out those as well and over the years I’ve probably consumed no less than four to five cases of both vintages.
The fruit that comes from Gap’s Crown is rich in raspberry, plum, pine, with hints of strawberry and forest floor. That’s just on the nose. Those same notes are followed into the first bite and with some lingering melon, continue right on through to the finish. At the time, Gap’s Crown was a rockstar vineyard, and I was shocked by how few people were talking about it. It took me ages to write about this (my auction strategy) because I wanted to keep the secret just a little while longer and for as long as possible, keep as many beauties as I could, for myself. They were mine, mine, mine! My precious!
The truth is, I rarely find the 2009 Kosta Browne Gap’s Crown(specifically) on auction sites but as fate would have it, just before I started my writing today, I checked in on one a favorite auction house and they have one listed. The current bid is $61 and “yes,” I am the highest bidder with a stop price of $120. This bottle is more than ready to drink and might be rounding down just a bit, but if I win, I’ll just give it a nice 30-minute decanting and that will bring the magic right out. If you’re taking notes, then know this; sometimes a good wine whose peak is fading, might actually just need a bit of coaxing. So don’t be too quick to judge. A really great wine will go the distance. Just give them what they need.
Through the years I’ve purchased from other wineries which, like Kosta Browne, also source their grapes from Gap’s Crown. There are about twenty wineries in this category, and I’ve tried probably half of them, but they just don’t quite hit the mark. There is something that Kosta Browne has, that no one else does. I’m not sure what it is that makes it taste so different. I’ve even purchased the same years from five different producers, and they tasted nothing like Kosta Browne and in fact, don’t even come close.
When I found out that Bill Price, a large investor of Kosta Browne had purchased Gap’s Crown, I knew what the meant, and I was excited. A Kosta Brown Estate wine was on the horizon. The price for the 138-acre vineyard was around $100,000 per acre. You do the math. Price would allocate 106 acres for pinot noir, and the remaining 32 acres is for Chardonnay. 37 acres, of the 106, he would set aside for Kosta Browne. This is a big deal, and if you’re a wine geek, you know what I’m talking about. Kosta Browne can now have an estate vineyard program! That is when the wine is made solely from grapes owned by the winery, and it’s made entirely at the winery’s vineyard. That means it does not leave the property during fermentation, aging, or bottling. When Kosta Browne was sourcing their grapes and making their wine ‘off-site,’ they had to label the wine ‘Kosta Browne Gap’s Crown’ but know, it will be labeled Kosta Browne Estate. So, yeah. Who cares. Right? Well, I do. It’s a status thing. It matters to me. I’m vain.
Gap’s Crown Vineyard was first planted in 2002. It’s located directly east of and overlooks the Sangiacomo Vineyard on Roberts Road near Cotati. It’s at a cool coastal elevation of 300-800 feet above sea level. The rocky soil provides the perfect draining for the grapes and exposes them to the northwest. It’s across the way from the Petaluma Gap. The climate there allows longer grow times, so harvesting usually doesn’t happen until September or October as compared to when most others harvest, which is in late July, early August.
If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend that you seek out any winery that is bottling Gap’s Crown. Seriously, anything from Gap’s Crown. You will quickly learn why I’m so hooked. From the quality of fruit to the juice it ferments into, something wicked grows on that property, and it’s put a spell on me.
In closing, I did end up getting my welcome letter from Kosta Browne in early 2012, and I’ve filled every allocation they’ve offered since. Why wouldn’t I? I’m smitten.
2009 Kosta Browne, Pinot Noir
Gap’s Crown Vineyard
Produced by: Kosta Browne
Appearance (Color): Ruby
Aroma (Complexity): Strawberry, raspberry, forest and floral
Body (Texture and Weight): Medium
Price: $120 (High Bidder)
Food Pairing: Chicken, pork, salmon
Serving Temperature: 62°