Wild child, circus performer, celebrated vintner: Michael Browne’s path to viticultural success was and is highly curious. In his new autobiography, Pinot Rocks, A Winding Journey Through Intense Elegance, Browne details the unusual events and experiences that inspired his ultimate achievement as one of the most celebrated vintners on the American wine scene.
The co-founder of Kosta Browne started his vinous venture in 1997 on a shoestring budget, and with the goal of helping people create meaningful moments via wine. Having sold KB after nearly 20 years at the helm, Browne is now proprietor of boutique wine brands Cirq, named for his teenage days as a fire eater and trapeze artist, and Chev, in honor of his love for classic Chevrolet automobiles.
In Pinot Rocks, Browne provides unapologetic and honest insight into his maverick and rogue-ish ways; the book serves as a muse for anyone hoping to chase a dream, and leaves the reader encouraged and enthused.
What was your inspiration for writing the book?
I just wanted to get part of my story in print for my family. I wish that I had some stories of my family’s past and present that I could learn from.
James Laube from Wine Spectator told me a few years ago that I should write my story but I did not know how to do it. I did a talk in Napa a few years ago and a guy that spoke before me was talking about his book company. I was the final speaker at the event. I was waiting in the back to go on and the preface to my talk came up on the screen. I was standing next to the book company guy and he said, “Oh, I love that wine.” He looks at me and said, “That’s you! I love your story; you need to get it in print.” It took me a while to pull the trigger, but I finally did. He, Tucker Max, is one of the founders of his company, Scribe Media, and he worked with me personally to accomplish the task. Super cool and very smart person. It took more than four years to complete. I could not have done it without him.
The journal/diary format is raw and honest. You write the way you speak. Was it your idea to craft the book in this manner?
It was not my idea since I did not know how to write a book but I was encouraged to tell a raw story. It was not the most comfortable thing for me, but I’m glad I took this route.
Your childhood was wild and free—so different from current youth, whose lives tend to be over-scheduled. How did this impact your path?
It made me think on my own. It was and is not always easy but that is something that I find valuable. Sometimes I try to tell my three kids how they should do things when I think they are doing something wrong. But when I get out of the way and do my best to merely support, it is wonderful to see what transpires. We don’t let them run free through the streets, so to speak, but we do our best to give them their freedom as they see fit. Very important.
I found the book inspiring in its classic ‘set a goal and make it happen’ conviction. What did you intend as the takeaway for readers?
Work hard no matter what may have troubled you in the past. Go for your dreams and keep building on what you believe in. It will happen if you don’t let go. Let people be who they are. If they ask for help, verbally or non-verbally, do your best. Step in when you feel it is needed and then get out of the way. Not the easiest thing to do but doable.
Your story proves that anyone, with hard work, can make it happen in the wine industry, yet you aren’t particularly encouraging when people express interest in following your path.
I used to overly encourage people because I love to see people succeed. Then I witnessed many whose dreams got trampled within the reality of what may happen. It has crushed many people’s dreams. I do my best not to discourage anyone although I try to impress upon them a sense of caution. It is not all unicorns and rainbows, although it can work. Just like with any business or industry.
You have a chapter on storytelling and tastings that I found particularly entertaining. Which group is your favorite to host, the novices, or the know-it-alls?
Every group is my favorite. If they happen to find their way to us, it is for a reason. I just love to be around people and hear their stories. If we can add something positive to their day, then our mission has been accomplished.
You don’t mention the when, how, and why of the sale of KB.
Private business matter things. I will say however that I am very pleased Duckhorn Wines took over the helm at Kosta Browne. Very talented group of people.
You briefly mention your girlfriend Sarah in the beginning of the book, who I believe became your wife?
We have been married for over 20 years. She has been very instrumental in our success and more importantly, the happiness of our family. Not sure how I found her but I did.
William Shatner is the voice of your audiobook. How did that come about?
Scribe Media said I needed a narrator. I thought, well, I would like William Shatner to do it. What a great voice and superb storyteller. So, I called my friend Mike Horn who has a radio company (CRN) and is good friends with Mr. Shatner. The next week, I was on the phone with him and he agreed to do it. Very professional person.
Your current wine brands are Cirq and Chev. How does each differ from Kosta Browne?
I make wines that I like, although it is constantly evolving. Cirq is fine lined with precision as best we can. Chev is a bit more broad but not over the top. Cirq is now a one wine brand from The Russian River Valley, while Chev is more regional in approach: Russian River Valley, Oregon, Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Rita Hills. What we mainly are focusing on is the aspect of Mother Nature and what each vintage has to bring. Very exciting to me.