Maynard James Keenan, Rockstar Cum Vingeron Signing Bottles O' Vino at Gables Whole Foods Market
But what kind of rocker has time to be a winemaker beyond slapping his name on the label? One with the northern Italian tradition in his blood, as he only recently found out (after getting in the business.) I got a preview of what to expect when I tracked Maynard down on the phone to talk weather patterns, sustainability, the fans, and those trusty critics.
The man is a life force, and whether you're familiar with his music or not, his passion is palpable even on T-Mobile long distance. Keenan is clearly doing what he loves. And for him that means diving in head-first and never looking back.
"When I am inspired by something, I want to know how to do it myself, whether it's eating a nice ravioli or steak made a certain way or drinking a bottle of wine," says Keenan. "So I started asking questions, and it's actually not that complicated. It just takes a lot of money and a lot of time."
The former's no issue. Keenan's a Grammy award-winning artist and one of the most popular rock figures of his generation. Add cultivation and fermentation of grapes, bottle signings, blogging and tweeting in his winery's name @CaduceusCellars -- not to mention squeezing in quality family time (he has a son from a previous relationship) -- and the latter becomes tricky.
But Keenan is not one you underestimate. He's apparently finding the time and becoming something of a meteorologist in the process, learning to track the volatile Arizona weather and its effect on the harvest. Currently he's donning a figurative nurse's outfit to deal with the black and blue aftermath of May's early monsoon and hail on the vine. And we thought we had it rough come summer.
|100% unedited Keenan juice|
"We have had very successful vineyards in the north where it's dry and the soil is right," Keenan notes about Merkin Vineyards (where Caduceus Cellars grapes are grown.) "Down in the lower agricultural areas in flood plane [with Arizona Stronghold] there have been more challenges, but we've managed to navigate our way now. There were failures in the beginning, because we didn't understand what was going on. We're getting a grip on it now."
The "we" is a team of people but most importantly Keenan's mentor and business partner, Arizona Stronghold founder and winemaker Eric Glomski. They're as much social entrepreneurs as culinary, showing people that they can take a piece of land that's privately owned -- one that is eventually going to get sold and destroyed through commercial development anyway -- and put vines instead to provide a living, open and clean environment. It's an equation they hope will add up for folks in Arizona, especially since it's proven so far to do so in dollars.
"People who choose to make this their lifestyle don't see return on efforts or investment for at least seven to eight years, so we're making a statement of perseverance and commitment to become the cornerstone of an entire local industry," he says.
As for influence, the initial bottle signings around Phoenix were successful, and he admits to playing the rock star card (not that he has a choice or anything.)
"People show up to the bottle signings with the music in mind. Now they're coming back for the wine because they see we're not here with our fingers up and ties on," Keenan adds. "It expands your senses and your awareness. I want to show people that there's a whole new world out there."
And the critics? He'll take the wine guys over the music guys any day.
"Like with any form of criticism, in terms of the press, some of it has to do with inserting personality and one's agenda into the mix," asserts Keenan. "With music it's far more subjective than with wine. With the wine critics, a person doesn't get established unless they have demonstrated a consistent palate over time. You have to have a few credentials before you open your mouth. The trick is to figure out what your palate is and find a person who you agree with."
Get a taste of pure, raw Keenan and his divine grape at the Coral Gables Whole Foods Market (6701 Red Road, (305) 421-9421) on Tuesday, June 9 from 4:30 - 7:30 p.m. or cap off a visit to beautiful Sedona, AZ this summer at The Cadusceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room, opening soon in Jerome. Here's a sampling of the grape you can expect to find (thanks Wine Library, who also has the signing rules up on its website):
2006 Merkin Chupacabra - $19.98 - Cabernet Sauvignon / Syrah - California
2008 Arizona Stronghold Vineyards TAZI - $17.98 - Sauvignon Blanc / Riesling / Chardonnay / Malvasia - Arizona
2007 Arizona Stronghold Vineyards NACHISE - $19.98 - Syrah / Grenache / Petite Sirah - Arizona
2007 Arizona Stronghold Vineyards MANGUS - $19.98 - Cabernet Sauvignon / Sangiovese / Merlot - Arizona
2006 Caduceus Anubis - $32.98 - Cabernet Franc / Cabernet Sauvignon / Syrah / Sangiovese - California
2006 Caduceus Naga - $69.98 - Sangiovese / Cabernet Sauvignon - California
2005 Caduceus Sensei (90 points Wine Spectator) - $84.98 - Cabernet Sauvignon and a little Syrah - California