A Conversation with Red Zeppelin Winery owner and winemaker Stillman Brown.
Recently, we had the opportunity to sample a delicious Paso Robles Cabernet (Red Zeppelin) and powerful Monterey Petite Sirah (Black Zeppelin) from Red Zeppelin Winery. We also were able to chat with owner, winemaker and self professed “party animal” Stillman Brown.
Red Zeppelin Winery (yes, the name is a play on the classic rock band) on the Central Coast was started in 2003 as an offshoot of Jory Winery which Stillman co-founded nearly ten years earlier. Stillman, a reformed political science major at Cal, has no formal viticulture education. However, early into our conversation it was apparent his wine making knowledge is vast and leans towards the scientific. That said, Stillman is a very funny, eclectic and sometimes absurd force of personality. His trademark salutation “Elvis died for your sins,” is a line only a man who goes by the nickname Swilly Idle (he somewhat resembles Billy Idol) could pull off with a straight face.
I knew Stillman “Swilly” was my kind of winemaker early on when I asked what sets him apart from other winemakers. His response was “I have a tattoo of the cartoon character Plankton on my right earlobe, I throw the wildest winery parties (Wet Zeppelin parties) in the world, and I always carry a pH meter concealed on my person. Okay, so I made up the part about carrying the pH meter.”
Behind his sharp wit and zaniness, Stillman Brown is a very serious, multiple award winning, winemaker who views his profession as an “opportunity to be artistic” and enjoys “pushing the frontiers by planting something where it hasn’t been planted before.” Red Zeppelin does not own any vineyards but Stillman works very closely with his growers, which in some cases have planted vines at his direction on property that had not been used for viticulture before.
“In the best case I will have planned the planting of something very unusual; the first Alicante Bouschet in Paso Robles in over fifty years, or Pinot Noir four miles from the ocean north of Cayucos (extreme cool-climate is an understatement) – in other cases I act as the consultant for an already planted vineyard (Gill Vineyard west of Paso Robles, or Bear Valley in remote SE Monterey county) and so have more control than the ‘average’ buyer.”
Vineyard yield or as Stillman says “bottles per vine” is integral to his wine making process. “I have grafted over or planted some fairly extreme vineyard sites over the years, and I always seek to control yields, but it’s only part of the artistic and scientific process that goes into making outstanding wine.”
As for his wines, Stillman describes them as “individualistic, within the boundaries of science” and has no desire to make wines that “taste like other wines on the market.” His wine making goals are simple from Swilly’s zany perspective “Personality and drinkability – the aromas and flavors should be distinctive, and the palate should be balanced and drinkable. Of course, if you need roast wolverine to match the tannins, that’s just part of it.” On that note, Stillman has in barrel a “35 proof Syrah that doesn’t show as hot,” and no, he is not going to cut the alcohol. Makes you wonder if he’ll package the bottle with a commemorative Red Zeppelin – “Elvis died for your sins” shot glass. 😉
Interestingly, the Red Zeppelin and Black Zeppelin label designations refer more to the characteristics of the wine rather than the varietal. Expect a bottle of Black Zeppelin to be dark, laden with flavors of black fruit and concentrated with plenty of tannins. While a Red Zeppelin will be less intense with red fruit flavors instead of black. Red Zeppelin Winery also produces 2009 White Zeppelin, a Chardonnay with a touch of Viognier adding structure.
The wines we sampled and reviewed were the 2007 Red Zeppelin Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon and the newly released 2009 Black Zeppelin Petite Sirah. Click the links to read the full reviews. The Black Zeppelin recently received a gold medal from Beverage Tasting Institute. Both received a rating of 4/5 from Bacchus and Beery, a “very good wine.”
Since Red Zeppelin does not have a tasting facility, the only way you can order these wines is directly from the infamous Swilly Idle, himself. Stillman has been kind enough to offer Bacchus and Beery readers his “friends, family, fans and stalkers’ wholesale pricing,” which works out to just $256 per case ($21 Btl.) plus shipping. To take advantage of this great offer, contact Stillman directly at StillmanB@aol.com or (805) 550-6492 and mention Bacchus and Beery Wine Blog
…and remember “Elvis died for you sins.”