A zeppelin makes a historic landing in Morro Bay—but this one is no airship. This time it’s Stillman Brown, owner and winemaker of Red Zeppelin Wines, opening his first tasting room. Like its eccentric winemaker, aka Swilly Idle or Swilly von Zeppelin, it’s like nothing you would expect. Suitably named the Zeppelin Hangar, it’s housed in the Hwy. 41 Antique Emporium owned and operated by Francine Esposito. If you’re like me, you’ll have a difficult time passing through this 12,000-square-foot treasure trove of collectible art, museum pieces, furniture, vintage clothing, costume and real jewelry, and so much more, all in perfect condition at fair prices. There’s also a beautiful 1906 Landau, like the wedding coach that carried Prince William and Princess Kate. Esposito said she calls her place “FranMart.” Alluring as it is, the wafting aromas of Red Zeppelin wines will pull you back to the new tasting room on the patio.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
The tasting room is all dressed up in pink (Stillman’s favorite color), Elvis photos, stacks of interesting wine cases—available for purchase—and original artwork by Adam Licsko. In fact, wine lovers will recognize the art that has been featured on Stillman’s wine labels. The walls hold an album’s worth of photos from the Wet Zeppelin music and wine events Stillman organizes and describes as “the wildest party you’ll ever go to!” The proceeds provide scholarships for Cal Poly students in the winemaking and viticulture programs.
Stillman, a small producer with a cult following, described his philosophy on his website: “Stillman’s concentration on low-yielding super-premium cool-climate varietals such as Syrah and Pinot Noir means that Red Zeppelin will remain a small, exclusive winery, emphasizing wines of the highest quality with distinctive personalities.”
The wines are as distinctive as is the winemaker, and many have been my picks in Cuisine over the years.
With harvest going on in the mornings, during Stillman’s 32 years of making wine, he has been bringing in grape clusters so guests can taste the berries. If you haven’t had the experience before, it will surprise you. Unlike simple table grapes, you can taste the flavors you would recognize if you were drinking the finished wine—sans oak, of course.
It’s safely said: There’s no other tasting room in the county with a dancing cage. It’s well worth driving over to Morro Bay to check it out, where you’ll undoubtedly find the charismatic Stillman pouring his wines, both current releases and library wines, for you. His girlfriend “the Swamp Siren,” aka Alexis Louis Fontenot, helps out on weekends. He’s also hawking Meth Leppard CDs and Wet Zeppelin II T-shirts. Out on the pleasant and huge garden patio, guests can sip from an array of Swilly’s bold, flavorful wines. Those who care to light up will enjoy the designated smoking section where you don’t have to fear getting busted for smoking cigarettes.
Don’t let his wild statements or offbeat sense of humor fool you. This is serious winemaking, which you’ll know by seeing 25 years’ worth of award ribbons hanging behind the tasting bar. Stillman offers the lone wine club that only ships what you order, and joining is free. The Zeppelin Wine Hangar is at 520 Atascadero Road in Morro Bay (it shares a parking lot with Miner’s Hardware). Open daily noon to 5 p.m., the tasting fee is $5. For more information, call 550-6492 or check it out at redzeppelinwinery.com. If you should decide to visit the Zeppelin Hangar on Thursday, Oct. 6, be sure to wish Swilly a very happy birthday!
Celebration of Harvest
I first attended this outstanding fall event in the early 1990s, several years before becoming a Central Coast resident, and have returned nearly every year since. On a glorious, serene, sunny October day, I found all of the unique winemakers that made up the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association united in Santa Ynez Valley to offer their fine wines. Unlike many Napa Valley events I had attended, here these friendly, down-to-earth artisans pour their own wines and talk with their many fans. Today, the event has many more winery members, making it bigger and better than ever before. You’ll still meet pioneers like Richard Sanford at Alma Rosa, Fred Brander of Brander Vineyard, Ken Brown with his eponymous brand, and Jim Clendenen and Bob Lindquist of Au Bon Climat/Qupe (respectively). And there seem to be more newcomers than I’ve ever seen at this year’s festival. There’s live music by “Sean Wiggins and lOne gOat,” and Margie Nelson. Don’t miss the silent auction for collectible wines and lifestyle lots, or the chance to meet Rex Pickett, author of Sideways, the Oscar-winning movie, who will be signing copies of his new book Vertical.
The region’s best restaurants and specialty food purveyors are always there, too, passing out wine-friendly food samples. This year, they include Hitching Post II, which once fed guests steak fresh off the sizzling grill with crispy French fries; Full of Life Flatbread, with their artisan pizzas bubbling with delicious cheeses in the wood burning oven; and Chef Rick at Far Western Tavern; plus much more.
If you can’t make the harvest celebration, on Saturday, Oct. 8 at Rancho Sisquoc
Winery, there’s no reason to miss the great open house events taking place Friday through Sunday, where you can imbibe on each winery’s latest releases, enjoy a gourmet lunch or complimentary nibbles, and most bring in entertainment. At the festival, your ticket provides all of the tastings, both wine and food, for just $75 at the gate. For details about the celebration or winery open house events, and/or tickets, visit sbcountywine.com or call 688-0881. ∆
Contact New Times Cuisine columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org.