Pinot Days Winemaker Weeks: Michael Browne, Co-Founder and Winemaker of Kosta Browne

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Steven Rigisich
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Pinot Days Winemaker Weeks: Michael Browne, Co-Founder and Winemaker of Kosta Browne

#1 Post by Steven Rigisich »

I don’t think Michael Browne needs an introduction. I will, however, tell you a bit of history that you may not know. Michael, Dan Kosta and Don Baumhefner were the wine directors at John Ash in the ‘90s. Dan and Michael probably tasted more pinot during their time there than most of us will taste in a lifetime. They paid their dues and really understood the wine, the marketplace, the people, and, inevitably, the poseurs.

There is no doubt that what they are doing with the Kosta Browne pinot program is revolutionary. All you have to do is open a bottle. The wines are fascinating, always evolving, profound, and in balance, and yet powerful and full-bodied. There is nobody who is making better modern-style pinot than Michael. More importantly, Michael, Dan and Chris are devoted to the pinot industry. If you take the time to sit back and ask Michael a question and engage in dialogue, you have a chance to learn more about domestic pinot than you ever have. You might even want to ask him about his John Ash days; he undoubtedly has many fascinating stories from those days, when he, Dan and Don were running the premier pinot restaurant program in the country. Whatever you ask Michael you will find him compelling, humble and visionary. Enjoy.

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#2 Post by JKim »

Michael,
Welcome to the discussion. Big fan since the early days (KB is my wife's fav). Congrats on all the success, especially your new site at the Barlow. Any plans for a public tasting room or will you stay by appt. only? KB can be polarizing, but I'm firmly in the camp of liking different styles and there's room for everyone. Along the same vein, I would like to hear your views on the whole ABV/balance debate. How has your wine making evolved to where it is now? I see that Chardonnay is going to be part of the portfolio, any other varietals in the future? What other pinot producers do you like drinking, both domestic and Burgundy?

I'll open a 07 SVD tonight. [cheers.gif]
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#3 Post by Michael Browne »

Thanks Steve and Lisa for having me be a part of the discussion! I hope to be as responsive as I can today and tomorrow. I am going to a charily auction event in about an hour although I am going to try to post on my phone. If that does not work I will hopefully be back on around 3:00. Looking forward to the discussion!

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#4 Post by Michael Browne »

JKim wrote:Michael,
Welcome to the discussion. Big fan since the early days (KB is my wife's fav). Congrats on all the success, especially your new site at the Barlow. Any plans for a public tasting room or will you stay by appt. only? KB can be polarizing, but I'm firmly in the camp of liking different styles and there's room for everyone. Along the same vein, I would like to hear your views on the whole ABV/balance debate. How has your wine making evolved to where it is now? I see that Chardonnay is going to be part of the portfolio, any other varietals in the future? What other pinot producers do you like drinking, both domestic and Burgundy?

I'll open a 07 SVD tonight. [cheers.gif]
JKim,

I am glad you have enjoyed the wines for some time. Certainly and evolution for us.

We are all very excited about the new winery at The Barlow. We have been discussing a potential new winery site for over a year and we cannot think of a better place for KB that the Barlow. http://www.thebarlow.net/ The project is in downtown Sebastopol and has always been a center of manufacturing and production for many different types of businesses over the years. The new Barlow project will focus on food, arts, wine and well being for the community. It will be the new site for the Sebastopol Farmer's market along with a few restaurants and manufactures with retail store fronts for numerous types of businesses focused on food and the arts. There will also be a fish monger, a butcher and a full time produce stand among other cool stuff. I can't wait. We are building a winery larger than what we need with the idea of never moving again. We are looking forward to all of the space!

We have no plans for a public Kosta Browne tasting room as we do not have the inventory to support one. We are however thinking of producing wine under a label just for the Barlow and having a tasting room for that although we have not decided if we are going to do that or not. Since the whole concept of the Barlow is for businesses to produce and sell their goods at The Barlow we think it would be a good idea to do that and just for the Barlow. I would love any thoughts from board members on that idea. For Kosta Browne we will remain by appointment only although we hope to have a few more appointments. We also plan to invite more people to our pick up days. We are very limited in the number of people we can invite to pick up at our current location and would like to increase the number as it is one of the few times we can meet face to face with a number of our customers.

Kosta Browne has certainly been a polarizing brand. I can't say we have always enjoyed this aspect but we have gotten used to it. Frankly I do not understand what the big deal is. We have always just been trying to make the best Pinot Noir we can and market and sell it in the best way we see to do that. There are many styles of Pinot Noir out there and we just want to get our wine to people who like our style.

When I started making wine in 1997 I knew absolutely nothing about making wine. A true green horn. I started volunteering at Deerfield Ranch Winery in Kenwood with Robert Rex and worked for him for 8 years. Robert taught me a great deal about making wine and also about being an entrepreneur. He helped me in more ways than I can say. When we first started producing Pinot Noir for Kosta Browne I did what felt right not having any Pinot Noir experience and very little winemaking experience. We made our wine as well as some of the Deerfield wines at Roche Winery where John Ferrington was the wine maker. His family planted Ferrington Vineyard in Anderson Valley and he spent some time At Williams Selyem prior to the sale of that brand. John taught me quite a bit about Pinot Noir as well as showing me the true passion for the grape. John unfortunately passed away in 2001. He was a true friend and I still miss him. Our first commercial Pinot Noir, the 2000 Cohn Vineyard is dedicated to John.

In 2001 and 2002 we made a bit more Pinot Noir and I just went with my gut feeling and my palate to decide on pick dates, barrels and other aspects such as whole cluster. I did not read too many books on the subject and did not attend any classes. I just went for it. Mainly because I did not have the time for anything else. I had a full time job at Deerfield, a sommelier gig at John Ash & Co and a new baby boy, plus Kosta Browne. Busy times. We did what we could do. In 2001 Chris Costello joined Dan and I as a partner and raised the needed capital and got our finances and structure put together. He has been a huge asset ever since!

Our winemaking style started out as what we thought was right and what tasted good at the time but some of the early wines were too high in alcohol and just too big. Some people say we designed it that way but it is hard to design something if you do not know what you are doing. We liked the intensity but we wanted to balance the wines more. That is what we have been focused on ever since. I think we started to get very close with the 2007 vintage, although I love the 05's and many of the early wines we made. I am trying to hit alcohols in the low to mid 14's. I like this level.

As far as the alcohol debate goes, I think it gets blown out of proportion. If a wine is balanced then it is balanced. Does it matter what is on the label? pH is much more of an important factor that alcohol in my opinion although alcohol is very important as well as tannins and fruit. I am sure there will be more to come on that.

Love to get more specific on any of these topics and more. Looking forward to it!

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Re: Pinot Days Winemaker Weeks: Michael Browne, Co-Founder and Winemaker of Kosta Browne

#5 Post by Tony Lombardi »

A big thanks to Steve & Lisa and all the folks who put on killer Pinot Days events around the country. Happy KB can play a part ... What Pinot Noir are you drinking today?

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#6 Post by Jane Crabill »

I purchased two bottles each of the 2007 Kosta Browne Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and the 2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. When I opened one each of the bottles, to my surprise I found I preferred the Sonoma Coast. Usually I am attracted to the Russian River Valley profile in Pinots. I opened my second bottle of the Sonoma Coast Tuesday evening. On Wednesday I was attending a Bordeaux wine dinner in Raleigh so I didn't get back to the recorked, refrigerated Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast until Thursday evening. It had really come together over those two days. Sonoma Coast is such a large AVA and the wines are so different that I haven't discovered a Sonoma Coast profile. Do you think there is a "starting" profile for Sonoma Coast wines? What vineyards contribute grapes to your Sonoma Coast blend and at what stage in the winemaking is the blend made? What other producers have vineyards nearby?
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#7 Post by Michael Browne »

Hi Jane,

I love the 07's although they do still need a couple of years in the cellar IMO. Your experience with the opened bottle over 2 days is a good indicator of that. My favorites between the RRV and SC change from year to year. Not sure why.

Sonoma Coast is a very large AVA so it is hard to get a good sense of the appellation as a whole and what characteristics is gives. There is mainly the true Sonoma Coast and the Petaluma Gap http://www.petalumagap.com/ . The 07 has fruit from Gap's Crown in the northern region of the Petaluma Gap, Terra de Promissio in the middle area of the Petaluma Gap and also Some fruit from Dutton Manzana in Green Valley. The Dutton Vineyard is in RRV, SC and GV. In 2008 we added Walala which is in the mountains near Annapolis. Very cool vineyard. The fruit from this vineyard has more structure and flavors more similar to some Oregon pinots I have had. Starting in 08 our Sonoma Coast blend is comprised almost entirely from Gap's Crown (which we also vineyard designate), Terra de Promissio and Walala.

We blend all of our wines just before bottling. We never rack any of the barrels until be blend for bottling.

There are many other vineyards in the Petaluma Gap region and just a few near our vineyard in Annapolis. Peay, Emeritus, Kendall Jackson and a few others have holdings in and around Annapolis. I believe Thomas Brown has a vineyard up there as well.

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#8 Post by Michael Browne »

Heading to the Wine Women and Cheese auction benefiting the YWCA. http://www.ywca.org/site/pp.asp?c=fuLTI6OXH&b=67374

We do many benefit auctions around the country to support a number of fantastic charities. I am very happy to attend a local event. I will try to keep up with replies if I can do it on my phone. If not I should be back around 3:00.

Thanks!

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#9 Post by Bud Carey »

Hi Michael... do you have any new vineyard sources on your radar? Also, how will the move to the town impact your planned production levels?
Sounds like a fantastic move. Looking forward to seeing the new digs when you move in.
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#10 Post by Michael Browne »

Hi Bud,

We added Giusti Vineyard in 2008. Great vineyard in Forestville that was designated by Benzinger for a few years. It is slated for our RRV although you may see a designate sometime in the future.

The only other new vineyards are for our Chardonnay program. We have Zio Tony and Charles Ranch from the Martinellis, Heintz Home Ranch and Heinz Searby and Ulysses Valdez's UV Vineyard. All of these will be blended to make one chardonnay. We are calling it One Sixteen after the highway. We bottles our first in January which is an 09 from Zio Tony.

The new facility will not prompt us from our growth plan that we have had in place for 2 years now. We will just have plenty of room. We are holding our pinot production for now and all of our growth will come with our chardonnay program. We are adding a new pinot in 2010 though. Santa Lucia Highlands appellation wine. The fruit is from Gary Franscioni's Sierra Mar Vineyard and the Garys' new Soberanes Vineyard. Killer stuff!

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#11 Post by Jane Crabill »

Interesting that you have Gap's Crown in the Sonoma Coast blend. I have purchased Roessler and Sojourn Gap's Crown but haven't opened them yet. I did taste the Sojourn's at Pinot on the River last year.

I am fond of Charles Heintz Chardonnay having been introduced to it in Lioco wines. That's a coup for you in obtaining some of the grapes.

Thanks for answering my questions.
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#12 Post by Bud Carey »

Thanks, Michael.
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#13 Post by Lisa Rigisich »

Tony Lombardi wrote:What Pinot Noir are you drinking today?
2011 La Cerveza del Pacifico, with lime from the Mexican market. Because it takes a lot of beer to make pinot (Days). [whistle.gif]

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#14 Post by Ken Zinns »

Hey Michael!

Good to see you on the board here. Really nice overview of your evolution as a winemaker in the earlier post - thanks for sharing that with everyone.

Have ever considered adding any Anderson Valley vineyards for your Pinot sources? Particularly with the direction your Pinots have been headed in recent years, I think it would be really interesting to see what you could do with some Anderson Valley fruit. I'll be heading up there tomorrow to help pour at their Pinot Festival.

I got to move around some bins of your Sierra Mar fruit last fall when I was helping out a bit at Ed Kurtzman's winery in SF! When the truck arrived from SLH, Ed's bins were all the way in the back, so we had to move yours out of the way first. I remember the fruit looked really good, should be a nice component in your SLH blend. It will be fun to see how that vineyard develops as the vines mature.

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#15 Post by Michael Browne »

Jane Crabill wrote:Interesting that you have Gap's Crown in the Sonoma Coast blend. I have purchased Roessler and Sojourn Gap's Crown but haven't opened them yet. I did taste the Sojourn's at Pinot on the River last year.

I am fond of Charles Heintz Chardonnay having been introduced to it in Lioco wines. That's a coup for you in obtaining some of the grapes.

Thanks for answering my questions.
I love Gap's Crown. Killer fruit and a gerat group of people. They also own and farm Walala in Annapolis. We use the best fruit we can get our hands on for our appellation wines.

Coup for sure on the chard sources. Can't wait to get the grapes in!

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#16 Post by Michael Browne »

Ken Zinns wrote:Hey Michael!

Good to see you on the board here. Really nice overview of your evolution as a winemaker in the earlier post - thanks for sharing that with everyone.

Have ever considered adding any Anderson Valley vineyards for your Pinot sources? Particularly with the direction your Pinots have been headed in recent years, I think it would be really interesting to see what you could do with some Anderson Valley fruit. I'll be heading up there tomorrow to help pour at their Pinot Festival.

I got to move around some bins of your Sierra Mar fruit last fall when I was helping out a bit at Ed Kurtzman's winery in SF! When the truck arrived from SLH, Ed's bins were all the way in the back, so we had to move yours out of the way first. I remember the fruit looked really good, should be a nice component in your SLH blend. It will be fun to see how that vineyard develops as the vines mature.

Ken
Hi Ken,

Nice to be here! We have thought long and hard for a good amount of time about trying to find some Anderson Valley fruit. Basically I am just lazy (and a bit busy) to travel up there for vineyard visits. We also were not sure if we wanted to add another appellation. We have a lot already. As you know now we decided to source more Santa Lucia fruit. The Franscioni family and the Pisoni family are awesome people. Actually, awesome is an understatement. We consider them family. They are some of the best growers in California today and are more than a pleasure to work with.

2010 was the first year we sourced from Sierra Mar and Soberanes. Your observation on the Sierra Mar is right on. The vineyard is just north of Pisoni at similar elevations. Gary F. planted on the ridge tops up there. Pretty stunning piece of property. The wine is beautiful!

Hopefully see you soon Ken!

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#17 Post by Bruce Rudman »

Hi Michael,

No real question - more of a bit of praise. I was up in Sonoma last week with my wife and we met with Tony Lombardi at your winery on May 10. Let me say he is a great ambassador of your wines!

Keep up the great work.
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#18 Post by Adam Lee »

Michael,

A couple of questions --

1) What are your thoughts on whole cluster ferments? Do you do many?

2) You mentioned trying to balance the wines more in recent vintages....anything special you are doing either in the vineyard or winery to make that happen?

Thanks!

Adam Lee
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#19 Post by JDonner »

Had the oppurtunity to get together with Steve Rigisich and a few others to do a tasting of a few KB's the other night. All wines were slow oxd for 3-4 hours....consumed over a 2 hour period.

2005 Garys- Incrdible perfumed nose of camphor, Black cherry,Cola and baking spices just kept getting better. On the palate Raspberry and Sasparilla with nice spice and a hint of Blood orange alcohol started to show a little as the wine warmed. Just great and felt it could go a few more years.

2005 4 Barrel- My first 4 barrel and oh My! Velvet Iron Curtain muscular but yet so smooth, really liked it! Not as perfumed as the Garys, got some Orange rind and Black fruits just Big but beautiful.

2006- Keefer Ranch-I brought this one and it was Ok but just outclassed by the previous 2 wines. Got better as it warmed up but also showed a little burnt rubber and alcohol as well. Cherrys Prominent. Probably close to peak.

2006-Sonoma Coast- Sage, Dark Plums and Cherrys but just could not stand up to the 2 2005's, nice but pedestrian comparably. Seems like it has nice acidity for Food, nothing really memorable but in balance and a little burnt rubber as well.
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#20 Post by JKim »

I'm opening a 07 Kanzler along with a 02 Armand Clos des Epeneaux tonight. Probably an unfair comparison as the Kanzler needs a couple more years, but it'll be interesting to see the differences. There will be a mix of wine enthusiasts and newbies...it will be fascinating to see which bottle is preferred.
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#21 Post by Michael Browne »

Bruce Rudman wrote:Hi Michael,

No real question - more of a bit of praise. I was up in Sonoma last week with my wife and we met with Tony Lombardi at your winery on May 10. Let me say he is a great ambassador of your wines!

Keep up the great work.
Thanks. Tony is a great guy and we are very lucky to have him on board. I am glad you had a good time.

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#22 Post by Michael Browne »

Adam Lee wrote:Michael,

A couple of questions --

1) What are your thoughts on whole cluster ferments? Do you do many?

2) You mentioned trying to balance the wines more in recent vintages....anything special you are doing either in the vineyard or winery to make that happen?

Thanks!

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines
Hi Adam,

I love whole cluster fermentation. We do a fair amount. On some wine like the Koplen and Garys' we do about 20%-25%. Other like Kanzler and the appellation wines we do about 8%-10%. Keefer, Pisoni, Amber Ridge and Rosella's see no whole cluster.

Whole cluster is tricky because each vineyard reacts differently to the use and the vintage has a lot to do with it as well. We usually gauge the vintage early on during harvest to determine how much we will do. We will taste some of the stems to see how they are and then we just go for it. Gut reaction deal. When we do whole cluster we do it 100% and keep the free-run separate. I can then blend back in the desired amount.

Mainly we are trying to get the fruit riper in the vineyard while maintaining adequate sugars , pH and acids. As you know that is a tricky thing to do. Every year our growers get better at this. In the winery we try to achieve balance by getting the numbers right where we want them which is a bit of a guessing game. One thing that has benefited us is that we are inside so once the ferments get going we leave the lids off so they can blow off some excess alcohol.

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#23 Post by Bud Carey »

Michael... when you move next year, is there going to be any interruption in your normal schedule at the winery, or have you been able to plan around that?
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#24 Post by Michael Browne »

JDonner wrote:Had the oppurtunity to get together with Steve Rigisich and a few others to do a tasting of a few KB's the other night. All wines were slow oxd for 3-4 hours....consumed over a 2 hour period.

2005 Garys- Incrdible perfumed nose of camphor, Black cherry,Cola and baking spices just kept getting better. On the palate Raspberry and Sasparilla with nice spice and a hint of Blood orange alcohol started to show a little as the wine warmed. Just great and felt it could go a few more years.

2005 4 Barrel- My first 4 barrel and oh My! Velvet Iron Curtain muscular but yet so smooth, really liked it! Not as perfumed as the Garys, got some Orange rind and Black fruits just Big but beautiful.

2006- Keefer Ranch-I brought this one and it was Ok but just outclassed by the previous 2 wines. Got better as it warmed up but also showed a little burnt rubber and alcohol as well. Cherrys Prominent. Probably close to peak.

2006-Sonoma Coast- Sage, Dark Plums and Cherrys but just could not stand up to the 2 2005's, nice but pedestrian comparably. Seems like it has nice acidity for Food, nothing really memorable but in balance and a little burnt rubber as well.
Glad you liked the wines and I agree with your assesment. The 06's are showing fairly well now but you put an 05 or two next to them and they will shy away bit.

Thanks for the notes!

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#25 Post by Michael Browne »

JKim wrote:I'm opening a 07 Kanzler along with a 02 Armand Clos des Epeneaux tonight. Probably an unfair comparison as the Kanzler needs a couple more years, but it'll be interesting to see the differences. There will be a mix of wine enthusiasts and newbies...it will be fascinating to see which bottle is preferred.
Sounds very cool. Put a bag on them. Always fun to do it blind as long as everyone is in the dark. Love the 07's. They do need another 2-4 years IMO. Hopefully you will be able decant the Kanzler for 1-2 hours prior to tasting.

Have fun!

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#26 Post by Michael Browne »

Bud Carey wrote:Michael... when you move next year, is there going to be any interruption in your normal schedule at the winery, or have you been able to plan around that?
We are hoping for no issues that would get in the way of what we are doing. We may need to phase into the new winery but we did sign an extra year at our current location which should give us the needed flexibility. Should be interesting.

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#27 Post by T Welch »

Michael,

Thanks for your time here. Which producers really got you interested in Pinot Noir and which producers do you enjoy now?
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#28 Post by Michael Browne »

Truett W e l c h wrote:Michael,

Thanks for your time here. Which producers really got you interested in Pinot Noir and which producers do you enjoy now?
Hi Truett,

In the late 90's I got hooked by the early Garry Farrell's, Dehlinger, Rochioli and of course Williams Selyem among others. I like all kinds of stuff now and tend to jump around. Given a choice I would pick a French white. I love many different regions out there. In terms of California I tend to stick with pinots and crisp whites. Love some of the Anthill Farms wines. Brewer Clifton is always cool and funky in a good way. I still love the Dehlinger wines. Too many to list actually. Lots of cool stuff going on in California right now. Exciting times!

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#29 Post by seanl »

JDonner wrote:Had the oppurtunity to get together with Steve Rigisich and a few others to do a tasting of a few KB's the other night. All wines were slow oxd for 3-4 hours....consumed over a 2 hour period.
I was one of the fortunate few to be included is this special KB tasting with Steve, Joe, and Jeff.

I have been a huge fan of KB's Sonoma Coast and Russian river for the past several years, always picking up most if not all of my allocation every time. While both of the appellation pinots are great, I discovered the 4 Barrel and Gary's both take it to a whole new level. The fact that Joe mentions 'pedestrian' when describing the Sonoma Coast truly shows how special the 4 Barrel and Gary's really are. Both the Gary's and 4 Barrel were incredible, but the Gary's has the most remarkable nose.

Thank you again Steve, Lisa, Joe (and Jeff) for the opportunity to participate!

My question to Michael...I'm cellaring most of my allocation of 07/08/09 Sonomas and Russian Rivers, how long can I truly lay these down for....or in other words, when do you guestimate they'll peak?

Really looking forward to Pinot Days next month!

Thanks,
Sean in SF

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