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Adam Lee
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#1 Post by Adam Lee » June 19th, 2018, 8:26 am

Any thoughts from this esteemed group?

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Kosta Browne Looks To Expand In Retail, Restaurant Channels

Known for its sought-after Pinot Noir and Chardonnay labels, Kosta Browne Winery has long done most of its business in the direct-to-consumer channel, which currently accounts for around 85% of its 30,000-case volume. More recently, however, the Sebastopol, California-based producer—which is majority-owned by private equity firm J.W. Childs Associates—has been ramping up its focus on the retail and on-premise space.

“When you’re selling most of your wine to a mailing list, you’re not really focused on those trade relationships,” notes Kosta Browne CEO Scott Becker. “What we’ve missed from that approach is the opportunity to think about the trade as partners, and the marketing and brand-building opportunity that it presents.” This year, Kosta Browne is targeting the trade with the latest vintage of its Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir and the inaugural release from its recently acquired Cerise Vineyards property in the Anderson Valley.

Kosta Browne’s 2016 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir has a mailing list price of $70. The 2016 Cerise Vineyards Pinot Noir will be released this fall, retailing at approximately $145, with a mailing list price yet to be determined. “With Cerise, because we haven’t offered it before, we can do some things differently,” says Becker. “It gives us the opportunity to introduce the wine to sommeliers and retailers in a way that we never have before.”


In addition to Anderson Valley and Sta. Rita Hills, Kosta Browne’s portfolio includes wines from the Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, and Santa Lucia Highlands, sourced from a combination of partner, leased, and owned vineyards. Kosta Browne acquired its first vineyard in 2013—a 20-acre parcel of Keefer Ranch in Russian River Valley—followed by the addition of Cerise Vineyards in 2016. Becker says the company is “aggressively looking” to acquire additional holdings, with a focus on further expanding within the Sonoma Coast, Sta. Rita Hills, and Anderson Valley regions.

Meanwhile, Kosta Browne recently reorganized its portfolio, switching from a two-tier range with an Appellation Series and Single Vineyard Series to a four-tier lineup. The revamped lineup will include the Appellation Series (around $70 direct-to-consumer, $100 retail), while the Single Vineyard range has been renamed the Growers Series ($95 direct-to-consumer, $145 retail). The brand will also include an Estate Series ($110-$125 direct-to-consumer, retail price to be determined)—showcasing wines from owned properties like Cerise and Keefer, as well as some long-term leased vineyards—and an experimental, small-batch Observation Series ($125+ direct-to-consumer), available exclusively direct-to-consumer and at Kosta Browne’s recently opened visitors’ gallery in Sebastopol. A label refresh, designed to better differentiate the brand’s four tiers, is in the pipeline.

Kosta Browne is also investing in production, with capacity now at 40,000 cases, though Becker notes that the primary focus remains on enhancing quality rather than raising output. “The model at Kosta Browne was always to create demand first, supply second. And I think we’ll continue on that path,” he says. “Direct-to-consumer will hopefully always be our bread and butter, but moving forward we’ll be much more thoughtful about building our brand.”

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#2 Post by Alan Rath » June 19th, 2018, 8:37 am

Let's see, $145 for Cerise Pinot. Glad I got to experience several different Cerise Pinots from Copain, Littorai, and Halcon (and I know there are several more). The Halcon is a wonderful wine, and currently available for (drum roll) $30.
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#3 Post by larry schaffer » June 19th, 2018, 8:40 am

Wow . . .

They obviously want to grow the brand and feel that they need multiple 'avenues' in order to do so. It'll be interesting to see what their existing mailing list members think of this - and whether they'll see a lot of turnover in that channel.

Cheers.
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#4 Post by K Krahenbuhl » June 19th, 2018, 9:00 am

Looking forward to visiting their updated facility and tasting through the range sometime soon. The hospitality of people like Damon and Lauryn at KB has always been second to none and a highlight of any trip to California wine country.
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Hmmm...

#5 Post by TomHill » June 19th, 2018, 9:05 am

larry schaffer wrote:Wow . . .

They obviously want to grow the brand and feel that they need multiple 'avenues' in order to do so. It'll be interesting to see what their existing mailing list members think of this - and whether they'll see a lot of turnover in that channel.

Cheers.

Hmmmm...wonder what the waiting time to get on the K-B list is these days??
As they ramp up production, with the obvious focus on quality, they probably suspect the mailing-list
is insufficient to absorb the increased production.
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#6 Post by GregT » June 19th, 2018, 9:08 am

“When you’re selling most of your wine to a mailing list, you’re not really focused on those trade relationships,
Because the point is to cut out the trade relationship and have relationships with the customers directly.
“What we’ve missed from that approach is the opportunity to think about the trade as partners, and the marketing and brand-building opportunity that it presents.”
That is probably correct. The brand-building isn't lost by direct to consumer selling but the marketing is. Of course, if you're selling out, why do you need the extra marketing?

I think it really depends on what you want to be. If you want to remain a smaller producer, it's probably viable to sell direct. But if you want to be national and international and found in many restaurants and stores and supermarkets, you need the extra help. At that level, you're not in the romantic business of wine that people on this board like to imagine; you're in the drinks business. And a lot of those guys don't really care one way or another about wine - it's just another product on the shelf.

But this is exactly why they bought the company in the first place. They can build off the branding that's already in place. The first customers established the brand as something to be desired, now they can expand on that and ramp up production while keeping prices substantially above the average supermarket wine. It's completely logical. I don't have a problem with it.
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#7 Post by adam landa » June 19th, 2018, 9:12 am

PE and wineries like KB just don't mix in my opinion. Impossible to maintain the intangibles of why so many of us join lists in the first place when there is a laser focus on groups to increase revenue streams, produce efficiencies and grow profits. Not saying they are mutually exclusive, but it will require changing the attitude of existing customers and identifying and educating a large population of new ones.

I see PE groups work magic everyday...but am skeptical about applying those practices to wine.

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#8 Post by Cary Rosner » June 19th, 2018, 9:34 am

Reading about this makes me really want to enjoy some of my favorite producers like Jaime Kutch and many others, who deliver the goods, care about their clientele without bogus pretentiousness for a fraction of the cost of KB. To each his own. PE and Vineyards don’t play well for the consumer.

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#9 Post by brigcampbell » June 19th, 2018, 10:11 am

I have a few very salient points to make but Greg did it better.
GregT wrote:
“When you’re selling most of your wine to a mailing list, you’re not really focused on those trade relationships,
Because the point is to cut out the trade relationship and have relationships with the customers directly.
“What we’ve missed from that approach is the opportunity to think about the trade as partners, and the marketing and brand-building opportunity that it presents.”
That is probably correct. The brand-building isn't lost by direct to consumer selling but the marketing is. Of course, if you're selling out, why do you need the extra marketing?

I think it really depends on what you want to be. If you want to remain a smaller producer, it's probably viable to sell direct. But if you want to be national and international and found in many restaurants and stores and supermarkets, you need the extra help. At that level, you're not in the romantic business of wine that people on this board like to imagine; you're in the drinks business. And a lot of those guys don't really care one way or another about wine - it's just another product on the shelf.

But this is exactly why they bought the company in the first place. They can build off the branding that's already in place. The first customers established the brand as something to be desired, now they can expand on that and ramp up production while keeping prices substantially above the average supermarket wine. It's completely logical. I don't have a problem with it.

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#10 Post by Chris Seiber » June 19th, 2018, 10:15 am

I agree with Greg, this all makes sense for their new owners.

I’ve been a small volume long time customer, and very happy overall. I’m down to buying probably 3-6 bottles a year of the appellation wines, and at some point that may decline further, but I don’t begrudge them charging what they can get.

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Hmmm...

#11 Post by John Morris » June 19th, 2018, 10:27 am

TomHill wrote:
larry schaffer wrote:Wow . . .
They obviously want to grow the brand and feel that they need multiple 'avenues' in order to do so. It'll be interesting to see what their existing mailing list members think of this - and whether they'll see a lot of turnover in that channel.
Hmmmm...wonder what the waiting time to get on the K-B list is these days??
As they ramp up production, with the obvious focus on quality, they probably suspect the mailing-list
is insufficient to absorb the increased production.
Yes, it definitely sounds like they think they need to add distribution channels as they increase production. That makes sense.

What will be interesting to see is whether the two new, more expensive, mailing-list-only categories sell. It sounds like they're trying to move the mailing list customers upmarket while selling the appellation wines through retailers and restaurants.
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#12 Post by James Zadvorny » June 19th, 2018, 10:35 am

The changes create a product that becomes further away from the original appeal of a direct connection to vintners that are tied closely to the vines and process. That product is more “real”. And estate vineyard or not, I’m not paying $145 for a new winemaker-grower-land relationship. $145 for a 30 year winemaker = grower, same vineyard small production hands on is much more in my fairway at that price.

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#13 Post by R. Frankel » June 19th, 2018, 10:54 am

Adam, thanks for posting this. You had to guess that this growth plan would be controversial on this board!

I like the marketing plan, clarifying among the different offerings. I am confused about the last one though (‘Observation’) - not clear what this is, but if it’s experimental, shouldn’t it be cheaper? Unless it’s To Kalon Cab Sauv, ofc. It also seems pretty clear that with the kind of supply growth KB is building, a trade plan is a necessity.

PE buyers are spreadsheet buyers by their very nature. They demand profits and profit growth, and everything else has to take a back seat. I’m not offended by that - it’s the nature of the biz and gives wine makers a great opportunity to make money on their endeavors. Doesn’t mean I’ll buy the wine though.

A plan like this will never be popular with members of WB, who generally look for small production, lower priced options. Myself included! But I’m sad indeed to see these kinds of numbers thrown out for Cerise.
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#14 Post by larry schaffer » June 19th, 2018, 11:00 am

In order for KB to grow, they need to continuously have their name out there - and getting their wine into the hands of higher end restaurants and retailers certainly will assist them in making this happen.

To me, they've done a fantastic job of continuing 'the buzz' about their brand and I'm sure that we'll see a bigger splash about this in WS itself shortly, as well as other publications most likely (didn't the SF Chronicle run a piece about them last year?).

Cheers.
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#15 Post by Russ Williams » June 19th, 2018, 11:01 am

Are folks really surprised?? This was the only outcome when PE entered the equation. I stopped buying the wines a long time ago because they didn’t jive with my palate. I have no qualms with them getting the highest price the market will bear.
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#16 Post by Markus S » June 19th, 2018, 11:04 am

I think I don't like to buy wines from private equity groups. [wow.gif]
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#17 Post by Bdklein » June 19th, 2018, 11:04 am

And partly explains further the move of the Cirq Treehouse and Bootleggers wines into the the KB portfolio.
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#18 Post by Hal Blumberg » June 19th, 2018, 1:10 pm

Shanken, but not stirred :)

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#19 Post by John Ammons » June 19th, 2018, 2:41 pm

Two points but somewhat off topic:

As long as Littorai continues to have access to Cerise, I'm good with most anything KB wants to do. Their wines are not for me.

And what is Clarice Wine Company? Adam, are you no longer with Siduri?
Last edited by John Ammons on June 19th, 2018, 5:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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#20 Post by Jon Troutman » June 19th, 2018, 3:36 pm

adam landa wrote:PE and wineries like KB just don't mix in my opinion. Impossible to maintain the intangibles of why so many of us join lists in the first place when there is a laser focus on groups to increase revenue streams, produce efficiencies and grow profits. Not saying they are mutually exclusive, but it will require changing the attitude of existing customers and identifying and educating a large population of new ones.

I see PE groups work magic everyday...but am skeptical about applying those practices to wine.
Huge +1. Cost cutting and efficiencies will be maximized, and investing in alternative, less-measurable ROI brand building (the very core of most luxury brands) goes to the wayside.
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#21 Post by jcoley3 » June 19th, 2018, 4:30 pm

Offhand, anyone know what the biggest case volume is produced by a winery relying almost entirely on DTC?
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#22 Post by Bryan M » June 19th, 2018, 5:43 pm

KB is already offered (by the glass) at Mastros in Costa Mesa; priced at something like 100 bucks a pour... Cant remember what vineyard.
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#23 Post by Sean Devaney » June 19th, 2018, 5:49 pm

jcoley3 wrote:Offhand, anyone know what the biggest case volume is produced by a winery relying almost entirely on DTC?

Just a WAG but Navarro?

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#24 Post by jcoley3 » June 19th, 2018, 6:05 pm

Sean Devaney wrote:
jcoley3 wrote:Offhand, anyone know what the biggest case volume is produced by a winery relying almost entirely on DTC?

Just a WAG but Navarro?
Yeah, that's a a good possiblity.

Funny side story, I was there years ago during an Anderson Valley visit. When the guy giving my group a tour found out I was in the trade I had about 30 seconds of feeling like I was going to be shot as a spy before I could reassure him I knew about their model and just wanted to check out the wines while I was in the neighborhood.
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#25 Post by Jon Troutman » June 19th, 2018, 6:56 pm

jcoley3 wrote:Offhand, anyone know what the biggest case volume is produced by a winery relying almost entirely on DTC?
V Sattui has to be up there. But they're obviously playing a very different DTC game than KB.
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#26 Post by Randy Bowman » June 19th, 2018, 7:11 pm

This follows the existing trends in winery and vineyard ownership. There are people and groups with so much money they can pay outrageous prices that are tough or impossible to turn down.

Imagine you created your brand without a winery nor vineyard but with good connections to purchase grapes and custom crush facilities at hand. You do a good job, get accolades and an offer to buy your brand for say 315 million and a paycheck to make the wine for the new owner. Do you sell, get a paycheck and start a new brand?
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#27 Post by jbray23 » June 19th, 2018, 7:59 pm

Sean Devaney wrote:
jcoley3 wrote:Offhand, anyone know what the biggest case volume is produced by a winery relying almost entirely on DTC?

Just a WAG but Navarro?
Navarro is 95% DTC... they get pissed when you sell to retail, especially their juices..
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#28 Post by Adam Lee » June 19th, 2018, 9:29 pm

John Ammons wrote:Two points but somewhat off topic:

As long as Littorai continues to have access to Cerise, I'm good with most anything KB wants to do. Their wines are not for me.

And what is Clarice Wine Company? Adam, are you no longer with Siduri?
John,

I am still the winemaker at Siduri -- but have started a new, very small venture of my own called Clarice Wine Company. 3 wines, 625ish cases total. Picked less ripe than before, a lot more whole cluster, and a couple of sections from vineyards picked at the same time. There are a couple of threads here about it -- and www.claricewinecompany.com is the website.

Sorry for the commercial.

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#29 Post by Robert Dentice » June 20th, 2018, 7:42 am

Wow did the CEO really say their model is to create demand first and supply second! Mindblowing. This make sense if you are manufacturing a product that can be easily scaled.

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#30 Post by GregT » June 20th, 2018, 7:57 am

Or not. It's always better to turn people away at the door than to have an empty house. Not being able to get something makes it that much more desirable. Isn't that the entire point of most waiting lists, mailing list allocations, etc?

And Tesla?
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#31 Post by Sean Devaney » June 20th, 2018, 8:39 am

Robert Dentice wrote:Wow did the CEO really say their model is to create demand first and supply second! Mindblowing. This make sense if you are manufacturing a product that can be easily scaled.
Meomi?

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#32 Post by Paul H Galli » June 20th, 2018, 9:58 am

That's a pretty outrageous price for a first vintage.
And I seriously doubt it will be as good as Copain's version....

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#33 Post by Steve L Gellman » June 20th, 2018, 3:59 pm

Observation series sounds interesting

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#34 Post by Tom Gutting » June 25th, 2018, 1:24 pm

This sounds more like a business coming in to run a winery. I’m skeptical anytime there’s that lengthy a discussion of specific wines without a single mention of quality of characteristics. It’s all about brand and positioning. Or perhaps they think the qualitative reasons are implied. Still ... those are getting to be some hefty tariffs!
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#35 Post by Jason Hagen » June 25th, 2018, 4:31 pm

What are Dan and Michael up to these days?

J

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#36 Post by ericleehall » June 25th, 2018, 5:20 pm

Steve L Gellman wrote:Observation series sounds interesting
Kosta Browne’s ‘The Gallery’ to open in Sebastopol

Guests will have the chance to taste the new label — Observations Series — produced by winemaker Nico Cueva.

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#37 Post by Richard Albert » June 25th, 2018, 5:27 pm

There an easy to understand observation here:
To help the PE maintain revenue stream with their significant investment, while selling X number of cases at FOB, offset by selling new wine productions at higher retail. $145 for Cerise is a near perfect balance Without knowing the number of cases on each side of the equation, it makes sense to do so, regardless.
Simple, logical approach to obtain the growth and the stability advantages of wholesale relationships.
After all, dtc can be a vintage fickle proposition should there be several poor quality vintages close together, even with today's technological advantages to help minimize problematic vintage quality variations.
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#38 Post by Tom Gutting » June 26th, 2018, 6:40 am

Jason Hagen wrote:What are Dan and Michael up to these days?

J
I think Michael is doing the Cirq wines. But not sure if that’s the only project. Unsure what Dan is working on. I thought I saw it in an article a while back but can’t seem to locate it. In short, I’m not much help!
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#39 Post by Scott Jameson » June 26th, 2018, 7:24 am

Jason Hagen wrote:What are Dan and Michael up to these days?

J
Here's a link for Michael's Cirq Act II project ... https://cirqactii.com/

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#40 Post by Bdklein » June 26th, 2018, 7:57 am

Michael Browne posted on WB within the last month or so to help clarify Cirq, KB, and Cirq II. Can do a search to find it if so desired .
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#41 Post by AndrewH » July 2nd, 2018, 6:24 am

While I'm a long-time purchaser of KB wines and a fan, I'm curious as to whether this direction will work. Is KB such a premier name that it's acquired "cult" status such that it can command prices in the mid-$100s for some wines? As others note, there's a lot of stiff competition as it is, and adding "premium" tiers seems like a strategy that may be hard to win long term . . .
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#42 Post by larry schaffer » July 2nd, 2018, 8:43 am

KB has been quite successful with their PR and marketing over the past few years, and I do not think that that will change anytime soon.

Has KB actually made the announcement about their new structure and plans to their current and potential wine club members yet or just in the trade piece Adam originally referenced?

My guess is that they are hoping that 'brand KB' will become the 'Silver Oak' of the 90s and that the general consumer will equate the name with 'can't miss' quality and consistency at a premium price and will get loads and loads of placements at top restaurants...

Cheers.
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#43 Post by AndrewH » July 2nd, 2018, 9:07 am

I received an email noting the "Observation" series. Nothing about pricing or the "Grower's Series"

From the email (highlight mine):
In The Gallery, we welcome you to enjoy both rare library wines and our newly minted, Observations Series. Winemaker Nico Cueva identified several unique lots from the 2016 vintage that were so distinct, he felt strongly they shouldn’t be blended into the traditional portfolio of KB wines. This was the beginning of our concept for Observations – to identify something so exceptional that it would serve as a hallmark for the vintage. These wines push boundaries while honoring the Kosta Browne commitment to quality, intensity and elegance. Given the extremely limited volume of the Observations Series wines, we are unable to include these within our normal Spring and Fall Offerings and instead look forward to sharing them with you in The Gallery.
Andrew H e i m e r t

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larry schaffer
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#44 Post by larry schaffer » July 2nd, 2018, 9:56 am

Andrew,

Thanks. Was this sent just to wine club members or those on the waiting list as well?

My guess is that what Adam pointed to will be picked up in the main WS shortly and you will see loads more press on it - all helping raise awareness for KB. As I said, they have done a great job maintaining presence and pertinence - not something easy to do with as many wines and brands out there these days.

Cheers!
larry schaffer
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#45 Post by AndrewH » July 2nd, 2018, 11:02 am

larry schaffer wrote:Andrew,

Thanks. Was this sent just to wine club members or those on the waiting list as well?
Hi Larry - I'm a "member" (I guess it is?) as I've been buying from the KB list for about 10 years now, so I don't know if waitlist folks also received.
Andrew H e i m e r t

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#46 Post by Steve L Gellman » July 12th, 2018, 3:23 am

Just received an offer for the Observation wines. Wish list only.




Kosta Browne Winery


Dear Steve,

Over the past two years, we have been quietly curating a new series of wines to share with you. It began with several unique lots from the 2016 vintage that were so distinct, Winemaker Nico Cueva felt strongly they should stand out from the traditional portfolio of Kosta Browne wines.

This initiated the concept for Observations – to identify a wine so exceptional that it could serve as a hallmark for the vintage. These wines push boundaries while honoring our commitment to quality, intensity and elegance.

Given the extremely limited volume of the Observations Series, we are unable to include them in our normal spring and fall offerings. However, we look forward to sharing these wines with you exclusively in The Gallery, a dedicated space for members to experience our approach to winemaking, which will be completed in August. We also understand that a visit may not be possible in your near future, so we have set aside a few bottles of the Observations wines to share with those who are interested. We have activated your account with an opportunity to wish for the Observations Series now through July 20th.

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#47 Post by Bud Carey » July 12th, 2018, 4:24 am

How much $$$???
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#48 Post by Russ Williams » July 12th, 2018, 6:46 am

$150???
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#49 Post by Bud Carey » July 12th, 2018, 9:17 am

I would hope not...
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#50 Post by Bdklein » July 12th, 2018, 9:33 am

Bud Carey wrote:I would hope not...
Less than Cirq?
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