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Behind the Scenes of a Legendary Winemaker's First Solo Performance

If boldness is a key to success in the risky business of winemaking, then Michael Browne may have staying power. A rare winemaker, Browne counts flying on the trapeze and walking the high wire among his specialties. This month, the 45-year-old Santa Rosa resident celebrates his eccentric past with the release of his first estate wine project, Cirq.

At age 12, Browne joined the traveling one-ring Wenatchee Youth Circus based in his Washington hometown. “The first year, I learned how to ride the unicycle,” he recalls. “Three years later, I was eating fire. It dawned on me—I didn’t know how to do any of this before I started.” This fearless approach to trying new things soon became his trademark.

In 1997, while working as a waiter in Santa Rosa, Browne pooled his tips with co-worker Dan Kosta to buy a half-ton of grapes and a used wine barrel in the name of pursuing his dream of someday making wine that “somebody, somewhere would rate 90 points.” Undaunted by early vintages that tasted more like vinegar than award-winning wine, the pair persisted. In 2011, Wine Spectator named Kosta Browne’s 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir wine of the year.

For his first solo venture in wine, Browne headed back into unfamiliar territory. He teamed with winegrowing legend Charlie Chenoweth (Kistler and Merry Edwards are clients) to plant grapes on thirteen-and-one-half acres in the hills above Sebastopol. Called Treehouse, the vineyard has no water (they truck it in), and it has Martian-red volcanic soil, which adds to the wine’s hue and taste. “I want to introduce people to these special places,” says Browne. He does so in his 2011 debut vintage—a blend of five different pinot noir clones from eight blocks, all harvested separately. With a new degree of finesse in his vineyard and his wine, Browne is perfecting his act.

CIRQ | Russian River Valley from Eric Wolfinger on Vimeo.

This article was published in 7x7's December/January issue. Click here to subscribe.