Intense but elegant, spirited yet refined. The complexities that describe Michael Browne’s wines describe his life experiences too. During his early work in the restaurant industry, he realized the simple beauty and potential of family and friends enjoying the perfect bottle of wine together. From there, Michael co-founded his first California winery, Kosta Browne, in 1997, with a few hundred dollars and a goal of helping people create meaningful moments with one another.
In his new book, Pinot Rocks, Michael shares his journey and offers insight and inspiration for those who believe in the American dream and choose to never stop pursuing it. No matter the goals you set for yourself, the book aims to motivate you to follow your passions and to turn your dreams into reality.
Drew Applebaum: Hey listeners, my name is Drew Applebaum and I’m excited to be here today with Michael Browne, author of Pinot Rocks: A Winding Journey Through Intense Elegance. Michael, thank you for joining, welcome to the Author Hour podcast.
Michael Browne: Thank you, glad to be here.
Drew Applebaum: Let’s kick this off. Can you give us a rundown of your professional background?
Michael Browne: Sure, I started working in restaurants when I was 13, went through the restaurant business for about 25 years, which was in Washington State. I moved to Santa Rosa, California in 87, and continued on with the restaurant business. Since I landed in the wine country, which I didn’t really know at that time, I was exposed to wineries and vineyards and production. I grew up watching my father Bob Browne, he is a craftsman, and it really intrigued me, for some reason, I had a spark of entrepreneurship in my heart and my drive and I wanted to have a business, as well. So, I wanted to be a craftsman and a businessman.
Through my restaurant work, being exposed to vineyards and wineries, and I grew up in agriculture, it was tree fruit, not grapes, but nevertheless, it intrigued me. I’d go to these wineries and I would see the vineyards, I would see the production facilities, and I would walk into these barrel rooms, which were filled with angels, everything’s living there. I was very intrigued, and I said, well, these people obviously have their businesses dialed in as well.
It kind of went together for me in my mind. I realized that I wanted to do that and at a certain point, kind of fumbling around in the world in my life, I decided, I’m just going to go for it. So, I started volunteering at a winery called Deerfield Ranch in Kenwood, California in Sonoma Valley. Not knowing anything about that, about wine, and I just said, I’m going to give this 10 years hard time, I’m going to study business, I’m going to study winemaking and see if it has some legs on it.
Then, we got into business, we got our first barrel of wine and then we got into a real business, Custer Browne. I’m being very short here because it’s a long story. But, we got into the business and we struggled for a few years, and it was very difficult, which is just part of it.
Then the thing started taking off and we just learned as we went, what I tell people is we wrote the manual as we were going through it, day by day because there was no manual and the thing took off and that was the whole start.
There are plenty of other stories beyond that but that was the start.
The Start of a Journey
Drew Applebaum: Sure, we’ll dig into all of that. Now, for the book itself, was there an inspiration for the book? Did you have an ‘aha’ moment recently or a few years back, and why was now the time to write it?
Michael Browne: You know, it actually started four and a half years ago, actually before then, one of the main editors at Wine Spectator, a guy named James Lobby, I’d have lunch with him once or twice a year. We would talk about everything but wine, you know, fishing, family, travels, things like that. He is a really great guy and he said, “Michael, you need to write your story,” and I said, “I’m not a writer, I don’t know how to do that.”
He said, “No, you need to write it, just do it this way,” and I said, “Well, you’re a writer Jim, I’m not a writer.” He said, “Just dictate it and write it down at your time.” Then I met Tucker Max from Scribe Media, and he said, “Michael, you have to write your book.” I said, “I don’t know how to do that.” He said, “That’s what I’m here for.” I said, “Okay dude, I’m going to go for it.”
So, the inspiration, first of all, I had somebody that I could count on to help me write a book. My main goal was, I just wanted to write this down for my kids and my family. Because some of my ancestors and people in my family that preceded me, I wish I had their book, you know? I wish I had that to know because it’s kind of like cave drawings at this point with some of these things.
I just wanted to have it and give it to my kids and my family and maybe a few friends. That was my main goal, really. To get the story down on paper. It took a while, but that was the inspiration for it, really. The seed that planted it.
Drew Applebaum: Now, after finishing the book, do you still think it’s just for family, or do you think it’s for people who are trying to break into the wine industry, do you think it’s for people who work in restaurants that they want to see a successful entrepreneur start a business and become successful?
Michael Browne: That’s a good question, and I’m all about the American dream. I’m all about it and you know, it comes with hard work, dedication, failure, risk, you name it. But it’s obtainable and through the process of writing this book, I said you know, this has an entrepreneurship side to it.
I didn’t put a major stamp on it but that is part of it. I’m not a big inspirational guy although I want to encourage people. If you have a dream, if you think of something, and you have the wherewithal to get it done, and you’re willing to work really hard at it, then you can get it. It doesn’t matter what it is. It’s just going to take time and it’s going to take dedication and practice.
Practice is a major word for me by the way, you have to practice things. I wanted to put that in the book, and that comes towards the end of the book, but it led up to that through this process of writing this book. It wasn’t my main intention, but it came out because since I was a little kid, I wanted to have a business, I wanted to build something.
I didn’t want to go work for somebody and do what they told me. I have no problem with that but I wanted to build something from scratch, make something, and it kind of turned into more of that sort of a book, in my opinion anyway. Not by intention, it was the ebb and flow of how it went.
Concept, People, Capital
Drew Applebaum: Yeah, you actually tell some really interesting stories about your childhood. You were doing normal childhood things, which is blowing up things around the neighborhood and being a little rascal but there’s an underlying narrative that you really seem to be into business and entrepreneurship.
Is there someone that you looked up to in that world and can you tell us about those early days and maybe why the business and entrepreneurship stuck with you?
Michael Browne: Well, there are certain people. I used to pick up books of different people that had run companies or were building companies, I didn’t quite understand it too much, but I took inspiration from that and that was from the 30,000-foot view, so to speak. One of the guys that really helped me with entrepreneurship was Robert Rex at Deerfield Ranch. He taught me a lot about making wine–he is a winemaker and he’s got a really cool winery.
He taught me a lot about the persistence you have to have to run a business. That was very, very helpful. I have a few other friends, some of them are investors in my new business and some of them are not, but they have built massive businesses and they’re open to discussion anytime.
I’m not going to name their names but they built some of the biggest companies in the country. We will sit down and have conversations and they all kind of say the same thing. One of my buddies, he told me that it’s all about concept, people, capital. You have a concept, you work on that concept, you have to capitalize that concept into a business, and then you get the people around you to help you with that business. Another one of my partners, I said, “How do you build a company like this man, how many employees do you have? This is crazy.”
He said, “Well systems, keep it simple, quality, and then you pour rocket fuel on it.” I said, “What is the rocket fuel?” He said, “It’s the people,” and it was very profound to me and I took that to heart. At this point, we have a great staff and without them, I couldn’t do anything I’m doing, really.
Drew Applebaum: Sure.
Michael Browne: It’s huge. Many different people and whether it’s through a book or through a video or through in-person conversations, they’re out there. It’s very interesting, the most successful people I know have the most humility and I think that is really cool.
Drew Applebaum: Now, you mentioned something before I want to bring up again and that’s practice. A lot of the early part of the book, you talk about your days in the circus, which started from being an assistant and then you practice your way up to X from riding a unicycle and being involved in fire acts.
Can you tell us about your time in the circus and what lessons you took away from it that helped you later on in life?
Michael Browne: Absolutely. It was one of the best times in my life. I grew up in a town, like I said, in Wenatchee, Washington and it was a circus, a youth circus–Wenatchee Youth Circus. This guy Paul Pew really did wonders for me and there’s actually a statue of him in front of the YMCA in Wenatchee, and he’s since passed, but man, what a wonderful guy.
He was a principal of our junior high school. He started this thing, it’s got to be 75 years ago. Anyway, I was not into sports and I tried it all. One of my buddies was on the trapeze when I was 12 years old and he said, “Hey, join the circus, it’s really fun and it’s cool and there’s like 80 kids.” I said, “I don’t know how to do anything in the circus.” He said, “It doesn’t matter. You just move mats around the show and then we have a good time before and after the show.”
I said okay. I was very intimidated, I was like, holy smokes man, these guys are flying through the air and riding unicycles and I’m thinking, “How do you do that?” But I was intrigued by the unicycle act. They did this pyramid where five people will be on the unicycles and then four people and three people and then one person and they would ride this unicycle pyramid. I thought, “I want to do that.”
So, for Christmas that year, my parents got me a unicycle and I would ride that thing all over town, practicing. Up and down hills, on sidewalks, I would jump the thing. The next year, I was on the act and I thought, well, I got that done, what else can I do? I want to be on the fire-eating team. Because that’s cool, you know? There is part of the book in there that has some stuff about fire and explosives.
I practiced and I practiced and I practiced and they said, “Okay Michael, you’re on it.” My stepmother at the time made my uniform for me. It had a big flame down the front and all that stuff. And then I said, “Well, I really want to be on the high wire.” We practiced on this wire about two feet off the ground, and I learned how to do it. I’d ride the bicycle on it and everything and then the day comes where I had to go 25 feet in the air on this thing. There’s a net, but even still, it is a little sketchy.
I sat there for 15 minutes. I know how to ride the bike on the wire, but now I’m on the high wire. I practiced hard and I said, “I’m just going to give it a go,” and I went for it. Then they said, “Hey, what about the bullwhip Michael?” Then they started asking me, “You want to join this act?” I used to take a bullwhip and crack things out of people’s mouths 15 feet away. Then I said, “I want to be on the trapeze.” But I’m not a flyer, I’m not an acrobat.
I was more, not necessarily a strong man, but a sturdy guy. They said, “You want to be catcher on the flying trapeze?” I said yes. It took me about 10 months of practice to work on that and get my body in shape because it’s very physical, and then I was on that. By the time I was 18, six years later, after I started I was one of the main guys in the circus, I was doing quick changes and I was running around and I got to put this costume on, that costume on, and it taught me this lesson.
It taught me about, again, hard work, dedication, failure, risk, reward, showmanship, and perseverance. I translated that into a business when I had the opportunity. It was very similar within the wine business and I think within any business for that matter.
Where you start asking, “How do I do this, what do I do? What’s going on?” Well, you have to put both feet in and go for it, and you’re going to fail and that’s okay, you’re going to have some success, that’s great. You do what is successful and you try not to do what’s not successful, but things are going to fail, anytime.
Then you’re going to see some successes, and I’ve witnessed that. I’ve been through that and to this day, hopefully, everything works out but nothing is a slam dunk, nothing in life. Especially in business, so that’s what I learned in the circus and it was extremely valuable to me.
You can put that towards sports as well, football or baseball, or whatever you get into. It can be profound, but it might be profound later in your life, you might not understand it when you’re doing it.
Drew Applebaum: Now, you moved on in life after high school and after the circus, you went to LA and you started working in some restaurants and other places while getting your associate’s degree. While you were working in the hospitality industry, it opened up the world of wine to you. Can you tell us about the early days and how you transitioned from a weekend wine taster to somehow the lightbulb going off in your head and saying, “Hey, I’d like to do this on my own.”
Michael Browne: Yeah, there are a lot of stories behind that but when I was a teenager, I worked in a nice restaurant in Wenatchee, The Thunderbird–it’s now Redline. I saw this big wine cabinet and I was doing inventory with one of my buddies, and I couldn’t pronounce any of the names. And I thought, “What is going on here?” I didn’t really dive into it but then when I moved to Santa Rosa, in the restaurant business down here, it’s a little different because there’s wine everywhere and great food everywhere. This was in the early 90s.
Then on Mondays, me and my buddies from the restaurant, we had the day off so we’d go on what I called the cannonball run. We would go, “Where are we going to go today?” Napa, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Russian River, and we’d go hit as many wineries as we could. Some days it was a little bit of a drunk fest, I gotta be honest. I’m not sure how we got home but we were dumb kids at that point. But it was really cool, and it opened my eyes and my epiphany moment, I have to mention.
One of my good buddies, he’s still a friend of mine, he told me many, many years ago, probably 30 years ago, “Pinot Noir is the wine, the grape,” and I said, “No it’s not, I like Zens and Cabs. Pinots are light and insipid and no character.” This group of restaurant friends I had, there were like 25 of us, we’d go on the Russian River Barrel Tasting, it’s in March I believe every year and we’d always have a potluck at some winery. We’re at this winery having a potluck and Margie Williams showed up and she’s the daughter of Burt Williams from Williams Selyem.
It was hard to get William Selyem wines at that time, really hard. She brought out like six bottles of wine that she had from a tasting earlier in the day and I said, “Oh I want to taste these wines, I’ve heard about them.” I tasted through a few of them and then one, it was a 91 Allen Vineyard Pinot Noir, out of Russian River Valley. I poured a glass and I smelled it and I thought, “What the heck is going on there?” I’ve never smelled anything like that. It kind of blew my mind.
Then I put it in my mouth and how I explained it is, my head came off my shoulders, spun around, and reattached in a different way. Because it blew my mind. I wanted to do that, I wanted to make that, but I had no idea how I would get there to be able to make something like that. I pondered that for a long time and that’s when I decided, as I said earlier, I’m just going to give this 10 years hard time and go for it. That’s what I did. I’m not saying I made a wine like that. I‘m just saying that that was my goal.
Drew Applebaum: Now, you had an internship at a winery, was that the main way you had your wine education? There’s a constant theme in the book, you said, “work hard, learn along the way, build lessons, make mistakes.” Was your wine internship the main way that you really learned how to make your own wine or were there other resources available, other mentors that you had?
Michael Browne: The internship was the door that got opened. When I decided to make wine, it’s like well, I can get an internship at some of these big wineries that I had connections with. There was this one guy, Robert Rex from Deerfield Ranch and Winery, I called him one day and I knew him through his son in law. I helped him pick some grapes one time. I’d go up there and help him make a little wine now and again and I really liked the guy, he had something about him, kind of a renaissance man, you know?
I called him one day, I was living in Seattle at that time, I moved back up there for a while and I said “Hey, I’m going to move back to Sonoma County, I want to make wine, can I make wine with you? Can you teach me some stuff?” He said, “Absolutely but I can’t pay you.” I said, “I’m not concerned with that. I’m just asking, can you help me learn how to make wine?” He said, “Absolutely.”
So, I came down and I worked for a year for no money, and I worked at the restaurants at night. He taught me a lot. One of the things he taught me was, “Here’s how you do it, now go practice it”. I would ruin things and I would mess things up and he would say, “Did you learn something?” I would say, “I think so, I’m not quite sure, I don’t know. Sorry I messed that up.”
He was very supportive and he’s still a good friend today. I ended up working with him. The next year he started paying me and I thought, “Oh my gosh.” My main goal at that point was just to get a business card that said assistant winemaker on it.
If I can get that, man, that’s a good goal because that’s unobtainable, in my mind. Anyway, I went for it, I got one eventually, but it was more about just the practice and the effort and the hard work and the learning. Constantly. I worked for him for eight years and during that time, we had Kosta Browne going and I had a restaurant job and it was seven days a week. And a new baby who is now 19 years old.
There was a lot going on and at some points, I wanted to give up. I didn’t tell the story in the book, I should have, but it is the rhino story. I wanted to give up so bad and I lay in bed at night going, “I want to give up. I just want to go back to something normal,” but then I said, “I can’t. I have to keep moving forward.” So, I would envision myself in a rhinoceros suit and I am not talking about a Halloween style costume. I am talking about a real rhino because a real rhino can bust through any wall, right? Any obstacle.
I still use it to this day, and I will envision that, and it helped me through a lot of hard times as far as obstacles go. I just kept learning and kept learning and our business kept growing. Then eventually I could just do our business without having other income, and we kept moving forward.
Then there were also other people when we were making a Deer Field Wine at this winery, a custom crust facility in Santa Rosa. There were other winemakers there, a lot of really great ones, Jeff Bezone, Adam Lee, Andy from Dumal, Mike Officer from Carlisle, all of these really great winemakers. I would run around asking, “Oh, how do I do this? I got this problem guys. How am I going to get through it?”
I would call these people or talk to them and they would give me little tidbits of advice. I would take whatever made sense to me and apply that. Because you got to be your own person. You got to have your own thing and you got to flow with the jive within yourself. So, a lot of those people are also friends today and really great people.
This guy named Fred Scherrer, he’s got Scherrer Winery. He is a wonderful guy and he grew up on a farm in Alexander Valley. He has been making wine forever. He worked for Tom Dellinger and he’s still making wine. I asked him one day, it was probably, I don’t know, 12 or 15 years ago. I said, “Fred, you’ve been doing this for a long time, making wine, and I am struggling here man.” I said, “When did you get it? When did you understand it?”
He says, “Michael, I’ve come to figure out it takes two consecutive adult lifetimes to figure it out.” I said, “Wow, nobody has that.” He said, “Exactly.”
Another quick story, I was down in Australia and I was at a summit at a wine symposium. The first night, we had dinner with 10 people, and Aubert from DRC was there. I was sitting right next to him and we’re talking and making small talk and I said, “I’m just going to turn around and talk to Aubert de Villaine,” right, why not?
I asked him a similar question, I said, “Aubert, your family has been doing this a long time. You had the best Domaine in the world, and you do amazing things.” I said, “When did you figure it out?” He said, “Oh Michael, no. You never figure it out.” I thought, “Okay,” and I found great comfort in that, both of those guys. I said okay, it is a constant pursuit and I believe you take that within any business.
You’re never going to figure it out, you just gotta keep moving forward and keep trying things and keep practicing.
Drew Applebaum: There are successes along the way and you mentioned you were working multiple jobs. You had started Kosta Browne but something happened at one point that made your product skyrocket and the scramble to make 30 cases a year to producing over 3,000 plus, just a few years later. What was that transition like?
Michael Browne: It was awkward, in one word. Awkward. So, we are doing our thing, I am just figuring out how to make wine and this is the same time period I was telling you about, where these guys are telling me they can’t figure it out or I can’t figure it out. I thought, “Oh okay, all right well I am going to try to figure it out.” It was a 2003 vintage and I picked too late and it wasn’t by design. It was just that I didn’t know what I was doing and the pickers were all taken.
I made some pretty big wines, fairly high in alcohol, and I thought, “Oh man, I’m going to get murdered for this.” Because wine needs to be a certain way. Then I started tasting people on them, and they would say, “Whoa, this is good! Wow!” I thought, “Hmm, I might be onto something here.”
It was intense but it was lacking some elegance, but people are into it. We brought those wines to World of Pinot Noir and this was in 2005, just after Sideways, the movie hit right?
Drew Applebaum: Oh yeah.
Michael Browne: The Pinot Noir movie, it was the same timeframe. We started getting a lot of attention on the blogs and people were saying, “Oh wow, what are these wines all about?” They were really digging them, and in my mind, I’m thinking, “Oh gosh, I screwed this up.” But people are really liking them and then there’s one day that I went to a meeting with my two other partners, Chris Costel and Dan Kosta because we were trying to figure it out because this thing took off.
I get to Chris’s front porch at 7:30 in the morning and Brian Lauren calls me. He says, “Congratulations!” I said, “For what?” He said, “You just got the highest rating line of the Pinots ever in the Wine Spectator.” I said, “What? What do you mean?”
They were blown out scores and I thought, “Oh my god.” Then I felt like I was alone in the middle of a stadium. I couldn’t see anybody, but all the lights were on me because I then had to do it again.
You can’t be a flash in the pan. That is when it started taking off. Then the next year, ’04, I did the same mistake, picked too late. I thought, “Oh my god, another hot vintage.” I worked those wines and it took forever to ferment them. I thought, “Oh god, I hope this works.” Then Spectator comes out and gives them better scores, and one of them was 98 points. There have only been two 98 points of Pinot in the Spectator.
I’m thought, “Holy smokes.” Then the next year we got to number seven top 100 and then we got number 11 and then number 20 or something like that, and then we got to number four and then in 2009 vintage in 11, we got the number one wine of the world in that magazine. I thought, “How is this happening?” We’re just a bunch of amateurs here but I said I am going with it. I am just going to go with it. We kept going and you build confidence.
You study your craft, you detail your business, you get your finances under control, which is key in my opinion, and then you get the right team around you. So, we’ve been doing that ever since.
Then onto the next phase, which was Cirq and Chev, my two new brands. So anyway, that is a different subject, but it took off pretty quickly and it was like a tiger by the tail for a while, but we managed to pull it off. We built a really cool winery in Savast Full, which Kosta Browne still has. Duck Horn owns it now, but it is a really great place and we started in a little tiny building way back when.
Drew Applebaum: Now you get a lot of questions from people who want to get into wine. Can you tell us some of those burning questions and maybe why you tell some folks not to get into the wine business?
Michael Browne: Yeah, for sure. I’ll preface by saying that I used to encourage a lot of people to do it because that’s what I did. Then you see them go different ways and all of these different things. You see some of them succeed but it is a hard road, and some of them crash and burn. It’s a tough road and I think, “Hey, it worked for me. Why don’t you do it?”
Then I kind of backed off that for a while and I said, “Here’s what you want to look out for.” It was a different tone. Here is what you want to look out for, go for it, but here are some pitfalls. Study your craft, find somebody or people that can help you in your craft. Because say you’re a luthier, a guitar maker, you want to learn from somebody who knows what they’re doing, and then you want to take it on your own at some point, but it takes time. You have to have patience. You can’t just come out there and take it.
So, I still encourage people to do that, and we have some great people that work with us and other people I know that say, “Go for it. It is just going to be a long road.” There’s nothing wrong with that, it is actually very enriching.
Then there are people that they come in and it’s maybe a vanity project, for example. Well, get ready to waste some money, get ready because it is really hard to make money in the wine business.
Some of these people, they come up to me and they say, “Hey, I am going to buy a vineyard. I want to make wine,” and I say, “That’s great.” Immediately I say, “Do you know what a sailboat is?” They say, “Yeah, it’s something you dump money into.” I say, “A vineyard is something you dump sailboats into.”
I say go for it. There are pitfalls in this whole thing, like any other industry, but it is a tough one. There is lots of competition and the market fluctuates and again, it comes back to quality and branding and marketing. I’ve heard this one guy, he used to run Kenwood Winery many, many years ago, and he said, “Don’t take a shotgun approach, take a rifle approach.”
You don’t want to have 20 different wines out there, focus, and that made a lot of sense to me as well, because then the market understands who you are, how you do it, and then you can focus on that in your winery. I thought, “Well, I’m going to make Riesling and Cabernet and Merlot and Chardonnay and all of these different wines.” Well, then what are you really focused on?
Some people can do that, there’s no doubt, but you look at the great brands in the world, they’re pretty much singular focused. What I take influence from, so to speak, are these brands that you know what, we make Cabernet, or we make Merlot, or we’re a Chardonnay producer, or we’re a Pinot producer. Nothing wrong with branching out and doing a bunch of other stuff, it’s just a little harder to deal with.
The Business of Wine
Drew Applebaum: Now towards the end of the book, you really dig into the business of wine. Do you feel like you’re giving away your secret recipe for success in the book or is the wine industry really where peers help others trying to come into the business?
Michael Browne: I’m not telling all of my secrets in that book. Yeah, that is just a broad overview in my opinion. There are lots of other things to talk about but one thing that is really cool about the wine business is–especially with the growers and the winemakers, we share everything. Nobody hides any secrets, I mean some people do, but very few. Then marketing is marketing.
It is pretty cohesive. I didn’t get into the super highly detailed aspects of winemaking or business management in the wine business. It is just an overview of this book. Kind of like, “Here are some do and don’ts.” Here is how we did it and here is how I look at it, and that is just my point of view. I didn’t give up any secrets at all. I mean they’re all out there. People that have worked with us know the same things.
We have talked about it and they go off and do their own thing. There are plenty of people out there that know all the stuff already. So again, there are no secrets. What I wanted to do, and it is focused on the wine business because that is the business I’m in, but I wanted to hopefully translate that. It doesn’t matter what business or industry you’re in, here are some fundamentals, the way I see it.
Drew Applebaum: Yeah, now I want to flip this around for one moment. For the amateur wine drinkers out there, do you have any pro tips for them or anything that you wish that they knew, anything that you think they should know or should look out for?
Michael Browne: Yeah, absolutely, and a great question. It can be a very intimidating world out there. You go to a grocery store or a wine shop and there are hundreds of bottles. “Oh, what do I pick and how do I pick something?” A lot of people are intimidated to ask a question. At a grocery store, for example, it would be hard to find somebody that’s going to direct you to what you want. So, what I always suggest to people in whatever town they live in, go into a wine shop.
You can go to a grocery store and just grab a bottle of wine. It will be a good bottle of wine typically. Nothing is going to be rancid, but if you are interested in it and you want to learn and you want to explore, go into a wine shop and ask the person that’s working there, “I am looking for a wine, I am not sure what I want.” The person working there will most likely be very knowledgeable and will ask, “What kind of wine? White wine, red wine, let’s start there. Do you like dry, do you like tart? Do you like sweet, do you like robust? Do you like lighter reds?” And then they’ll qualify you and they’ll say, “Okay, well try this out. This might be up your alley.”
You take it home and then you can go back to the place and say, “You know, I liked that, but it was missing this or had too much of that.” Then the person will say, “Okay, let’s try this one,” because then they’re are starting to learn what your pallet is. Then before long, they are going to call you and say, “I got something right up your alley, check this out.”
Then over time, it doesn’t happen overnight, but over time, “Man, check out this Alsatian Riesling or this Montrachet or this Chilean Red,” or something because the world of wine is vast. That is the cool part about it. There is something for everybody, but it takes a bit of exploration.
Then on the flip side, if you just want a glass of red, go to the grocery store and say, “Oh, that looks kind of good, maybe I’ll take a Merlot home or a Cab or a Pinot,” or whatever it may be. Then, “Wow, I like that. That was cool. It added something to my evening.”
That’s as simple as it gets and that’s a beautiful thing. Then on the other side, you get people that really study this stuff, really get into it, which is also really cool. They dive into it hard because it is a very interesting intellectual process, not only sensory but in your mind. What’s this really doing? Where did it come from? Who made it? What’s happening here?
But what it really breaks down to is, do you enjoy it? Was that an enjoyable experience? Did that taste good? I suggest people, if they are really into it and they don’t know anything or they know a little bit, jump into a wine shop and make your relationships and if the guy’s a jerk or you don’t vibe with him, well then go to a different wine shop. It’s a free world.
Drew Applebaum: It is a great tip, talk to the wine shop employee and write things down and remember what you liked and what you didn’t like. Now, one last question for you and I have to ask this, as a successful winemaker, how do you feel about the Rosé revolution that’s happened over the past few years?
Michael Browne: I love it. It’s awesome.
Drew Applebaum: Nice, have you made your own?
Michael Browne: Oh yeah, we had a commercial Rosé for Kosta Browne for a few years. It didn’t make economic sense the way we make wine, but I love Rosé. Rosé sparklers are my favorites and Rosé wines, there’s something about them. It is a white wine basically, but it’s got a little different kick to it, and they have different flavors, very refreshing, delightful wines, and you don’t have to think too hard about them. It’s just something to enjoy on a warm summer evening.
Yeah, I think it’s a wonderful thing. I think Rosé should be way out more in front than they are now but they’re getting out there. My wife and I just had lunch up at a restaurant in Hillsburg and they had a Rosé lunch and it was a wonderful beautiful thing.
Drew Applebaum: And that’s wine drinking is supposed to be about, right?
Michael Browne: Exactly, enjoying it. I’ll just finish with this unless you have something else but I talk to people quite a bit about one of the core foundations as far as philosophy. I think it is within all of our primal DNA–you know, we sit around a fire, we maybe put on some good music, we have some kind of food perhaps. And then maybe a bottle of wine, but all of those things add up to one thing in my opinion.
They add up to good conversation and I think that is very, very important especially these days when we are all on our phones. It is very refreshing. Right now, it is kind of hard because of the pandemic, but I think it is very important for us to sit down and have a conversation. All of these different things I just mentioned can lead up to that.
A bottle of our wine I don’t think it needs to take center stage. It is just an accent to an evening. It is just an accent. It opens it up for people to sit back and relax at the end of the day, have a really good conversation, and listen. Feel the warmth, taste something good, and again, have a good conversation. I think that’s it.
Drew Applebaum: Michael, thanks so much. Writing a book, especially like this one, which is super entertaining and also really educational about the industry is no small feat, so congratulations. This has really been a pleasure. I am excited for people to check out your book. Everyone, the book is called, Pinot Rocks, and you can find it on Amazon. Michael besides checking out the book, where can people find you?
Michael Browne: I have two different brands, Cirq is one of them based on my circus days. I’ve had that for about 10 years and that website is cirq.com. My new brand is called Chev, it’s got a different spin on it. It’s more regional in approach and that is chevwines.com and there’s also brownefamilywines.com and that’s where the book resides.
On those websites, there is a direct line into our office, and I have a great staff, a very small staff and they’re at the ready anytime, whether it is email or phone calls or whatever people need.
Drew Applebaum: Awesome, Michael thank you so much for coming on the podcast today.
Michael Browne: Thank you, I appreciate it.