Interview with Legendary Michael Browne of CIRQ Estate Wines

Was there a moment that you remember when you knew that you wanted to be a winemaker?

Yes.  When I entered The Silver Oak property in 1999 and witnessed the high-end agriculture going on there, I was intrigued.  I grew up around fruit trees in Wenatchee Washington which were majestic.  But not as high tuned as the vines that I saw here.  We entered into the small production facility there in Oakville and I saw many things that were geared towards some kind of high-end production.  Lots of stainless steel and wood.  Very clean.  Like a precise way of doing something.

The intrigue was starting to build.  I got it and I liked it, but I did not know what exactly was going on although I knew a slight bit about food and wine and knew that this is where some of that magic took place.

When I entered that barrel room and felt the energy from those barrels, I was hooked.  Something beyond explanation.  Something was happening here that I sensed, and I wanted to be a part of it.  These were not just vessels to hold liquid, they were vessels that held something that was alive and vibrant.  Something with verve and intensity of life.  I felt it.  And I still feel it today, every time I walk into a barrel room of any kind.  Sometimes comfortable, sometimes a bit awkward.  That’s how we as people are.

I had to continue this pursuit.

 What was your first wine job? How did you end up at CIRQ?
Two questions very far apart. 

When I was in my mid 20’s I knew I wanted to pursue winemaking but was not sure how to do it.  I called a winemaker that I knew and asked him if could come make wine with him.  He let me know that he was not hiring but he would be glad to show me the ropes.  I decided to move back to Sonoma County and volunteer at his winery mainly because of his vibe and energy to his craft.  Something rare that I found intriguing. That man is Robert Rex of Deerfield Ranch Winery.  A mentor to many and a mentor to me.  Still my friend today.  I worked for him for over a year for free and he taught me more than anyone.  Not only about winemaking, but about being an entrepreneur. Invaluable lessons.  If you listen.

The second question about Cirq:

I ended up with Cirq through perseverance and a connection to my past.  Will get to that later

 For those that don’t know can you share the history of Kosta Browne and how CIRQ came about?

Dan Kosta and I started Kosta Browne in 1997 while working at John Ash.  We both wanted to make wine.  At the time I had moved back down to Santa Rosa after going back to my home state of Washington to see if wanted to settle there after being in Sonoma County for five years.  (during that five years was when I was hit by the big of making wine while visiting Silver Oak among other many other wineries).

Dan asked me why I was back, and I said that I was going to make wine.  He said he wanted to do the same thing, so we made a pact to save tip money every night we worked together to save money to buy grapes. That was $10 each and every night we worked together.  We s saved enough to almost get there but were short by about a third.  That is where Jeffery Madura came in.  Executive chef at John Ash at the time.  He ponied up the remainder and we bought a half ton of pinot, a hand crank de-stemmer and a barrel.  That was the first Kosta Browne wine which we made at the small winery at the top of the hill at Deerfield Ranch with Robert Rex’s guidance.

We made one barrel of Pinot Noir that year (1997).  We made one barrel of Sauvignon Blanc and one barrel of Zinfandel the next year.  We then got some investors and made 3600 cases of Lake County Sauvignon Blanc in 1999.  That was the first commercial vintage of Kosta Browne.  We then decided to focus only on Pinot Noir.  We got new investors and set out to be a Pinot Noir focused brand and that is what we did.  Lost of struggles and hard times but we made it.  A lot more to the story but that is how we got started.

As far as CIRQ, I started that in 2009 with vineyards.   I knew I would eventually be out of Kosta Browne since we sold controlling ownership.  I wanted to start my own brand and do it how I wanted to without other managing partners.  I had great partners in Kosta Browne but I feel the need to do something on my own.  Since it takes so long to build a new brand I started early.  That was 10 years ago.

 As a winemaker you taste (and spit) lots of wine, what wine do you feel bad about spitting because you love it so much?

I don’t mind spitting any wine because I have already tasted it.  Some wines need

to be consumed to get the full experience, but I tend to spit most wines I taste

since the body can only handle so much.  I get quite a bit out of the aromatics and

I can get over 90% of the mouthfeel while the wine is in my mouth.  No regrets

spitting out anything I try.

 Can you share how the name CIRQ came about and the inspiration behind CIRQ?

When I was a kid, I was in a youth circus in my hometown of Wenatchee Washington.  Wenatchee Youth Circus.  I started when I was 12 years old and did not know how to do anything.  I practiced hard and started getting into acts as I progressed through the years.  When I was 18, I was on the unicycle team, fire eating team, the bull whip act, roman ladders, double trapeze, high wire and the I was catcher on the flying trapeze.  Quite the experience.  Mostly that practice, hard work, dedication, risk and persistence paid off.  When I started making wine, I knew nothing about the process.  Very similar experience to the circus.  I practiced very hard and dedicated a lot of time to the craft of making wine, just as I did in the circus.  This, in a nut shell, is why I named this brand CIRQ.

 What was one of the biggest mistakes you have made in your winemaking career?

Turning about 2,000 gallons of wine into vinegar.  Not a good thing.  I thought I had it under control, but I let it go and it did not turn out well.  I have made plenty of other mistakes as well.  Part of the learning curve.

 Who has been the most influential mentor in your career?

Robert Rex of Deerfield Ranch Winery

 What is something you’d like to share about Russian River Wines that many consumers may not know or have a misconception about?

In my opinion, this is the best place in the world to grow Pinot Noir.  I am, of course biased on the subject.  What I like about pinots from this region are the intense flavors, clarity of fruit expression and mouthfeel that we get consistently.  Certainly, unique to this area.  Very few poor vintages.  It is the Garden of Eden.

 What is your favorite after work drink?

Iced tea

 What is your favorite local spot in Sonoma County?

The Underwood in Graton

 Tell us something that would surprise people about you?

I really want to be a luthier.

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