Of my forty-three thousand Facebook friends, I know approximately four of them personally—the rest I solicited over the years so that I could make smarmy rejoinders to their heartfelt postings in the firm belief that I would become the Oscar Wilde of social media.
Turns out, I’m not even the Oscar Madison of social media.
So, once that bubble burst, I was left with a list of saps longer than Schindler’s (another unfunny Oscar), most of whom, for some reason, I didn’t want to offend by summary dismissal. So, nothing remained for me but one of three choices: Put them to work in my enamelware factory in Kraków, learn to play the pied pipes and lure them all to their deaths in the Weser River or figure out who at least a couple of them are.
As you may suppose, I did not begin with the meme junkies, the folks who post endless photos of their pets, the people who put up self-help posters assuring me that I am not the jerk-off I actually am or people who brag about traveling to extremely cool and exotic places while I molder through another Michigan winter. I focused instead on those Facebook posters who regularly have something bright to say, regardless of context, creed, accuracy or propriety.
And that’s how I bumped into Stillman Brown.
As A Political Savant, Brown Is A Pretty Good Winemaker
The California vintner (nee Poli Sci major)—he of the pink suits, yellow hair and Elvis fixation—began his eno existence with Jory Winery, which he co-founded in 1984 with Dan Lewis. Jory quickly developed a reputation for esoteric labels and laser beam chardonnays and pinot noirs—the result, in part, of employing rare vines like the Corton-Charlemagne clone grown at the Lion Oaks Ranch in Gilroy. A sister Jory Winery in Santa Fe, New Mexico produced internationally recognized sauvignon blancs, and that’s where Brown unveiled what the Wine Compass blog refers to as ‘the infamous painting of the death of Elvis that spawned their legendary parties…’
Couldn’t find a copy of that particular masterwork online, but I will say this: True to his ’80s roots, Brown describes himself via terminology not used since that prehistoric era of silly hair and Tiananmen Square: As a party animal. And in fact, these days, his shindigs are as heavily promoted as his wines, and they must be raucous affairs indeed, because his wines—self-styled as premium and super premium (one step below Divine premium)—certainly are.
Better Punster Than Pundit?
Among the several Jory labels Brown created, one of them—Red Zeppelin—is alive and well; it became an independent winery in 2003 specializing in Rhône varietals. For some reason, Brown (who normally doesn’t suffer fools gladly) feels obligated to explain to his website readers that Red Zeppelin is ‘a pun on the rock band’ and then—inexplicably—fails to mention which rock band, thus doubtlessly leaving those supremely challenged winos who required the explanation to begin with all the more confused.
He goes on to point out that such witty California labeling, famously illustrated in Bonny Doon’s Cigare Volant, was actually the brainchild of his winemaking homeboy Thomas Kruse of Gilroy, whose own name is a clever calembour on that psycho, couch-leaping Scientologist and/or the Hover-Round dude, who did not (equally inexplicably) invent the wheelchair that Tom Cruise used in Born On The 4th Of July.
Anyway, Back To The Wine
So, Stillman Brown, ensconced within Poubelle-Blanche-sur-la-Mer (White-Trash-by-the-Sea) without a vineyard, manages to turn out five thousand cases of really sharp wine each year, each with a personality as distinct as his own. Beyond the ones covered below, using fruit from Paso Robles, Monterey County and San Luis Obispo County, Brown produces a 100% syrah and a non-vintage blend of cabernet sauvignon and syrah called Vindication. There’s also a sub-species of White Zeppelin that includes chardonnay, riesling and viognier.
Distributed chiefly through direct shipment, it is highly recommended that you call and order live—Stillman prefers it that way, and you get a chance for an eccentric chat with the guy, wherein sex and politics are definitely on limits, up to and including the death of capitalism and gay porn.
In fact, the only thing you might come up that would get under Mr. Brown’s non-brown skin is if you were to refer to a ‘zeppelin’ as a ‘blimp’.
That’s trouble with a capital ‘T’, which rhymes with ‘P’, which stands for ‘Pruss’, and the last time it happened, the conflagration was truly epic. It began in Stillman’s Hawaiian shirt just ahead of his port fin, quickly spreading to his starboard side. After the heat caused his hip flask to blow, his whole rear end imploded, and with the subsequent loss of buoyancy, his bow descended rapidly. On the way down, the letters on his t-shirt, ‘Elvis Died For Your Sins’, were engulfed spectacularly in flames.
Fortunately, there were five newsreel cameras on hand to record the whole thing, and Brown’s last words can clearly be heard:
“You bloody idiot! A zeppelin is a metal-framed, rigid airship built by a specific company—Luftschiffbau Zeppelin of Germany. A blimp has no internal structure, duh! It’s shape is maintained by the pressure of gasses with its…”
That’s all there is; Mr. Brown’s total destruction time was a little under sixteen seconds, leaving witnesses with no time to respond with a cute, Oscar Wilde-quality quip regarding blimps and Elvis Presley’s final dirigible-esque ‘look’.
Oh, the humanity.
Chateau d’Abalone Grenache Blanc, Hall Ranch, Paso Robles, 2011, around $25: One of Brown’s ‘esoteric’ varietals, one that most folks have never heard of, let alone tried, mostly because it is rarely released as a stand-alone, although in the Central Coast, it’s becoming a bit trendy. Reasonably potent (13.4% ABV) with green apple, grapefruit, honey and citrus notes, it provides a touch of effervescence (my bottle anyway) and a fierce acidic attack; Chateau d’Abalone would, in fact, be a nice foil for abalone—and that’s no baloney.
Red Zeppelin Winery, ‘Dry Pink Wine’, Paso Robles, 2011, about $25: A beautiful Tavel-style rosé, more body, tannin and structure than is generally seen in California pink, whether sweet or dry. This one’s the latter with bells on—crisp, strawberry and watermelon-scented with generous characteristics of grenache (raspberry jam) and syrah (wild blueberry) evident behind a floral footprint. Serious minerality and a juicy backbone—nice choice for tuna steaks on the grill.
Red Zeppelin Winery, Black Zeppelin Petite Sirah, Hames Valley, 2009, around $40: Grapes hail from a remote corner of southeast Monterey; the wine is voluptuous and visceral, showing tarry plum, fragrant blackberry, brown sugar and cedar with a nice spicy lift to the nose. It’s a chog choice for the cellar, but if you must commit infanticide, try it with a chunk of steer as well-marbled as Elvis was the night he descended from his throne once and for all.
To order wine or discuss Elvis, zeppelins, Oscar Wilde or the serious inconsistency between the government’s arguments for the mandate and for the Medicaid expansion: