While working as the presiding charity auctioneer and sommelier at the week long Telluride Wine Festival I had the opportunity to meet Red Zeppelin Winery’s stylistically eccentric wine maker, Mr. Stillman Brown. Mr. Brown greeted me with his trademark salutation, “Elvis died for your sins”, and it was at that point that I knew Stillman Brown and I were to become wine industry peers.
“Swilly Idle”, as he is known to his friends, wine maker Stillman Brown is a charming modern day version of Sid Vicious – meets – Elvis Presley with a sprinkling of Ward Cleaver for conservative good measure. His striking appearance (vintage 1980’s punk) is just as intriguing as the destined to be cult status wines that he currently produces at Red Zeppelin Winery (Cayucos, California – Central Coast Appellation). A former political science major turned renegade wine maker with a bent for baroque music and punk rock, his wines feature the same quintessential harmony and balance between the elegant and the austere as demonstrated in his personal dedication to excellent wine making.
Zany with a wry sense of humor, Stillman Brown is quite a charismatic fellow. A traditionalist he is not! However, he is a damn good, no-nonsense winemaker. Mr. Brown has won many awards and received countless accolades for his terrific wines. His syrah has been voted “Best syrah” by the Pacific Rim International Wine Competition, the Wine Spectator magazine, and the San Francisco Chronicle. He is quite passionate about the craft of wine making. “Swilly” is a walking encyclopedia on the topic of wine making. Like Coach John Madden in an engaging football commentary, there’s no stopping him.
At the Telluride Wine Festival’s Trade Tasting, I sampled four Red Zeppelin Winery wines. First, I tried his 2005 Chardonnay, which is a blend of chardonnay and viognier and it is truly beautiful. Next I tried his 2005 Pink Zeppelin (Paso Robles) dry rosè wine. Fruit forward, but not sweet, this rosè is a blend of syrah, grenache, cinsault, and mourvedre grape varietals. This is one of the best rosès I have ever tasted. The third wine I sampled was the 2004 Vindication (Central Coast) which is a blend of 32% cabernet and 68% syrah. Simply put, amazing! The last wine I sampled was the 2004 Central Coast Syrah (Bear Valley Ranch – O’Neill Vineyard). Outstanding! I sold a 5.0 liter imperial of this very same wine at Telluride’s Grand Tasting & Auction for over $900. Mr. Brown’s response, like Elvis, “Thank you very much.”
My only regret was that I was unable to try the now cult classic Red Zeppelin – Hill of Graceland wine. Thankfully, Australia’s Henschke family, producers of Hill of Grace, understand Mr. Brown’s sense of humor, and they do not find Red Zeppelin’s Hill of Graceland limited case production to be a threat to their ultra huge tank farm operation located in Keyneton, South Australia’s Eden Valley appellation. When I jokingly asked Mr. Brown, tongue in cheek, about the Henschke’s “ultra huge tank farm operation” he responded, “No comment” with a knowing smile.
Out of all of the wines I tasted from the various wine maker participants at the Telluride Wine Festival, I was most impressed with Red Zeppelin Winery. I sampled many wines from other nationally and internationally known wine makers that participated in the Telluride Wine Festival, and I truly believe Red Zeppelin Winery is well on its way to very soon becoming a powerhouse winery of note. Both Stillman Brown and Red Zeppelin Winery are under the radar for the moment, but I anticipate that this will soon change. Stillman has plans for Red Zeppelin Winery’s expansion next year in increasing the winery’s case quantity production to accommodate current demand. In the meantime “Swilly” enjoys his life as a would-be 1980’s rock star and former fifth member of the band Winyl Tap turned extrovert winemaker for Red Zeppelin Winery.