byron kusoge

Byron Kosuge, Winemaker

Byron Kosuge, winemaker, is today’s guest on California Wine Country with Steve Jaxon and Dan Berger. Byron Kusoge is the winemaker at his own label, B Kusoge Wines, and he is or has been the winemaker at several other wineries in California and one in Chile.

As the show opens, Steve asks Dan about his wine column this week, which is about Italian wine. Dan described the lesson of the article this way; no matter if you are young or old when you start learning about wine, you have a lifetime to spend learning, and that even if he has been writing about wine for almost 40 years, he still feels that he has a lot to learn. Here is a link to Dan’s column this week,

byron kosuge

Tastings from B Kosuge Wines (click to enlarge).

Today’s Tastings from B Kosuge Wines:

  • 2016 Gamay Noir, Carneros
  • 2015 Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast
  • 2015 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, The Habitat

Byron Kosuge has been making wine for 30 years, but as Dan says, a lot of it was under the radar. He was with Saintsbury in Carneros, Napa Valley, but he didn’t get a lot of publicity. Byron says he liked being behind the scenes. He says he got into wine to make it, not sell it or represent it. He grew up in Davis and his dad was a professor there, though not in wine. He started as an English major but had an aptitude for chemistry and entered the wine program. He took a wine class for students who were not wine majors, and he liked it a lot.

He makes his wine in Sebastopol, but does have one Carneros vineyard he works with. Dan points out that B Kosuge wines is a small brand and he makes small quantities. Typically small quantity producers charge a lot but he does not. He says it was important to him for his prices to seem fair on “the global stage.” For example, when he started making a Gamay, the grape that makes Cru Beaujolais. He says for many years Gamay was dismissed as only for that.

His wines are available on his website and he has been sold at retail in Bottle Barn sometimes, when there is supply, since he makes so little of it.

byron kosuge

(L-R) Byron Kosuge and Dan Berger.

Dan says of the Chardonnay that they are tasting, that it is delicate, fragrant, citrussy, blossomy. It’s not a sipping wine, it’s for having with food so its beautiful structure will work within that context. About 2/3s of it is done in oak and some in a concrete egg, which Steve and Dan insiste he explain. It’s a little tank, shaped like an egg. His interest in it is for properties associated with the egg shape, but he wanted it in concrete and not stainless steel. He wanted to ferment and age in the same tank, which he can’t do in stainless steel. He says the wine gets a little bit of oxygen so it develops more quickly as it would in stainless steel. The end result is a portion of the wine that is quite fresh and perfumed and bright, and another part that is richer, has more oak, typical California Chardonnay, and they get put together. Steve says the result is very subtle. Dan says you start to salivate as soon as you taste it, “…it entices you with its little nuances.”

Byron Kosuge was the winemaker at Saintsbury.  Dan notes that they never made ostentatious wines and he asks Byron Kosuge whether their style was already set when he started working there. He says the style was established since 1981 when he started in 1985. The founders were Burgundy lovers and that was their inspiration and their standard. They make Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, almost exclusively.

Byron Kosuge tells how he thinks many young winemakers come out of school with a good idea of the way they want to make wine; he had no idea at that stage, he just wanted a job. He feels that he was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

Dan suggests that this Chardonnay is an all-purpose wine and it will be even better in three or four years. Byron Kosuge says he does not necessarily set out to make a long-lived wine, but rather for it to be balanced, complete and refreshing. He thinks it’s a by-product of making wine that way, that it will also age well. Dan thinks the bottle is worthy of a $55 or $60 price, even if it sells for $35.

Next they taste a Gamay, which is typically used to make Gamay Beaujolais or Beujolais Nouveau. That trivializes the variety, but this is Gamay Noir as it should be: serious, top drawer stuff. You don’t have to age it very much and it goes with everything. It can be chilled or served at room temperature.

Finally they taste a Pinot Noir, that Dan says was made specifically to age in the bottle. Byron Kosuge explains that he makes several different Pinot Noirs. The wine is called The Habitat. It comes from a vineyard just outside of Sebastopol. The wines that he wants to make are very flavorful. The alcohol is 13.6%, which is not overpowering. He describes that the vineyard is “intensively farmed” with a lot of hand labor, pruning and weeding, and it gives a low yield. He says, the closer to ideal fruit you can get, the fewer things you have to do in the winery to adjust it. You have to get so many things right, to get “the sweet spot.”

He does not have a tasting room, but since he is a one man show, it would be hard for him to manage. He only makes about 1000 cases, which is his intention. “It’s human sized, one human, me,” he says. He doesn’t want to take on investors and grow, because it is his labor of love.

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