In The Beginning…
At Brown Estate our reputation has been built upon — and we continue to be known best for — one thing, and we don’t mean making wine. We mean making zinfandel.
The history of our family’s serendipitous relationship with the unassuming zinfandel grape can be found here. In 1996, after a decade of selling our fruit to other producers, we harvested what would become our first eponymous vintage of Napa Valley zin. A year later we bottled it — sans label, as we hadn’t yet decided upon a name — and then began the cycle anew, for such is the seasonal rhythm of what we do, beginnings and endings running together in a perennial loop of cultivating, farming, harvesting, crushing, barreling, bottling, and so forth.
Two more vintages followed before we unanimously determined that naming our fledgling wine label called for the most obvious course of action. In 1999 our then four-year-old winemaking startup was christened Brown Estate… just in time to have labels made for our first two vintages — 1996 and 1997, aged in unlabeled bottles known as shiners for 24 and 12 months respectively — so we could show them at the big dance, the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) annual Grand Tasting in San Francisco.
It was January 2000, and thanks in part to a simultaneous Wine Spectator item about us, our ZAP debut was a smash.
Just half a year later the warehouse where our wine was stored caught fire. All was lost — our entire newly-bottled and not-yet-released 1998 vintage along with what remained of 1996 and 1997.
Five years after we’d embarked upon this unlikely (ad)venture, and just months after we’d “arrived,” we had no wine to sell. So for seven months we went dark, so to speak.
Meanwhile, our farming and winemaking operations continued, and that fall we harvested our 2000 zin and bottled our 1999. Given the circumstances, we could not get the latter to market fast enough. Restaurants and wine shops that were early Brown Estate adopters kindly held space for us on their lists and shelves, and we didn’t want to exhaust their patience. In January 2001 we returned to ZAP, where normally we would have debuted our 1998 zin. Instead, of necessity, we presented our 1999 — literally the only wine we had to show for ourselves. As luck would have it, prior to the fire we’d sent two bottles of our 1998 to Robert M. Parker, Jr., widely regarded as the most influential wine critic in the world. His December 2000 review in the Wine Advocate made us a little misty-eyed, but it also rolled out a red carpet for our newest vintage.
And so at our second ZAP, after a rollercoaster year, we were embraced once more with tremendous enthusiasm. With our 1999 zin as a rallying point — a veritable phoenix from the ashes — wholesale and consumer support resumed and Brown Estate was back in business… on a release schedule now a year ahead of its time.
All these vintages later, the early release of our flagship Napa Valley Zinfandel has become tradition thanks to two immutable facts: (1) we never can make up for our lost 1998 vintage and (2) the wine typically sells out within a year. The latter is a good problem, the former… c’est la vino.