This week I had the opportunity to interview one of the most interesting and thought provoking winemakers around. On February 21st, Joel Peterson, founder and winemaker at Ravenswood Winery, will be inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame in Napa Valley. There, he will take his place beside many of the great American vintners including one of Joel’s early mentors, Andre Tchelistcheff. While Joel seemed genuinely surprised by the honor, many who know him are more surprised it had not happened sooner.
Earlier this week we had the opportunity to join winemaker Andrew Schweiger of Schweiger Vineyards for a wonderful winemaker dinner at CRU Wine Bar – Park Meadows in Denver. The restaurant was closed for the event which was attended by at least fifty people. I doubt anyone went home disappointed in the wine, Andrew’s presentation or the food. The menu was very well thought out and showcased the wines beautifully. More on that later…
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.
Do you remember the old 7-UP ads from 1975 for the UnCola? If Napa wineries are best regarded for their cabernets, then Benessere is the Un-Cabernet; specializing in Italian varietals.
I have to say that when these winery samples arrived at my office I wasn’t jumping around with excitement. My past experience with Italian wines has been uneventful, at best. I know many of you love them but until I tasted these wines from Benessere I was not on the bandwagon. While I may not bang a drum for Italian wines as a whole, I will bang a gong for these beauties.
A while back Donna and I received an invitation to meet, eat and drink with historic Napa Valley winemaker Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone. The dinner was held during a starlit evening on the rooftop patio of their Denver distributor. The crowd was not too big and many of us were not very familiar with this fairly small producer. Stu Smith cut quite a figure as he spoke easily and generously with the guests. Husky and bearded, Stu reminded me of Jeremiah Johnson after a trip to the barber shop. His style is soft but firm, a real straight shooter. Some weeks later I was talking to a restaurateur who referred to Stu as “the real deal.” I could not agree more.