Wine Talk: Maynard James Keenan

Lead singer of Tool is testing his talent with winemaking
Nov 2, 2006

Maynard James Keenan, 42, is all about focus, passion and defying expectations. For example, in 1983 Keenan was a member of the class that entered West Point, the academy that normally produces generals, politicians and CEOs; Keenan became a rock star. As lead singer, he's made six albums with Tool and another three with A Perfect Circle. Not simply content with the 6,000-bottle wine collection stardom has earned him, Keenan is now making his own wine in Cornville, Ariz., near his home. He spoke with Wine Spectator just after he completed a 20-week international tour to promote Tool's latest album, 10,000 Days--right as harvest was underway and just as his winery, Caduceus, was releasing its 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah blend, Sensei.

Wine Spectator: How did you first get interested in wine?
Maynard James Keenan: Being in an occupation that requires me to travel quite a bit, you're just exposed to more cultural things than you would if you were growing up in the suburbs of Boise, Idaho. When you're drinking warm Coca-Cola and your accountants and managers and booking agents are walking around with these nice glasses with nice red juice in it, you say, 'Hey, that doesn't look like what I've been drinking in the dressing room. What's that? I'm not going on stage unless I get to have what you have.'

WS: How big is your wine collection nowadays?
MJK: I'd guess 6,000 bottles. I always have some staple stuff, and I'm always making sure I'm getting a hold of the newest Penfolds releases. [But] I've basically just been concentrating on making it. That's been taking up most of my time.

WS: What convinced you that you could make the kind of wine you want in Arizona?
MJK: Just having traveled through Australia and seeing the climates and seeing the ground and the soil, parts of Italy, Portugal, Spain and southern France, I started to gather the impression that this kind of looks like where I live in Arizona. 5,000 feet, a little bit of snow in the winter. It gets hot, but not insane Phoenix hot. It just seemed like it was a natural progression.

WS: What were some of the challenges of planting and maintaining your own vineyard?
MJK: So far the biggest challenge we're facing is there's no history here, so we have nothing to draw upon. We're kind of shooting in the dark. There are some pretty extreme temperature swings in parts of the year. Last year on one of our lots we had a drop of 50 degrees overnight--not great when we were still watering. Pretty much fried them out; the vines weren't dormant yet, and couldn't handle it. Pretty much killed half the vineyard. We planted some rows tighter just out of space constraints, for an experiment. Great vigor, kinda kept some of the humidity in. But of course, we get monsoons. As soon as the monsoons hit, those were the first sets of grapes to get bunch rot. There's gonna be a lot of tweaking as time goes on.

WS: Where are you getting most of your fruit from while you wait for your own vineyards to produce?
MJK: My main batch of fruit comes from the Paso Robles, Calif., area. And then some of it comes from the Wilcox area, down in southern Arizona. I enjoy making wine with some of the California grapes, but the plan is to eventually be exclusively Arizona grapes. Eric Glomski [my winemaker] is very seasoned. He worked with David Bruce for many years, and he's from Arizona, and he wanted to get back over here because he recognized the same thing I did about this area: that it has huge potential for growing some pretty intense wines that are stressed out a bit, and have something to say.

WS: How involved are you in the growing and the picking decisions?
MJK: I'm as involved as I can be considering my other career. It's crush right now, and I missed all the Sangiovese inoculation, and most of my Syrah. But I just made it home in time for the Cab. It cooled down in California and I just got off the road two days ago, so I'm going to have all my Cab coming in the next two weeks and I'll get to be here for all that: inoculation, pressing, barreling. I'll be doing it with three or four other people here, not watching somebody do it.

WS: In terms of winemaking and blending, you've made some interesting decisions, like adding a touch of Arizona white wine to your Primer Paso red blend. What do you think is the most unusual yet successful winemaking decision you've made?
MJK: That one, in a way, just because I have to understand that my initial fan base for my wine is people who are interested in my band. Which is not necessarily the best thing, since they're not necessarily seasoned wine drinkers who know what they're drinking. But perhaps their friends are or their parents are, so if I can just get that wine into their hands, it'll grow from there because we're doing some pretty good wines here. That initial Malvasia-Shiraz blend, for me, was the introduction to those people, who don't understand a really complex Burgundy or Bordeaux, or a Cab or Rhône Valley-style blend. Something with a little bit of floral nose on it, that's kind of sweet and you drink it and it has a little wood on it. As far as that experiment, I think the Primer Paso kind of did cross over for some people who normally wouldn't drink wine.

WS: Where are you making the wines?
MJK: I'm in the process of building a fairly small facility. I'm operating under Page Spring Cellars' license, until I get my own permit. I'm doing about 1,200 cases, [and] when I build my own facility I might expand it a little bit. But with my limited experience, there's no possible way I could do anything bigger and babysit all that and really understand what's happening with each batch.

WS: How have the other guys in Tool responded, not just to your wines, but maybe some of the classic ones you've shared with them over the years?
MJK: I kinda tricked them at one point with some Bin 389 from Penfolds. Every night I would have a bottle open and give them a sip. I did that for about a month and a half, and then switched it out with something. Each one of them came up to me individually and said, 'Is this the same thing we've been drinking?' And I said, 'No, see, they're different. Gotcha.' For them, who were claiming they have no palate whatsoever and don't know the difference, even they could tell. It was a good education for them.

WS: Which is harder, getting a band together and making it successful, or starting a winery and making it successful?
MJK: I think if you focus on anything hard enough and really put your heart into it, you can take most things to a certain level, but that last 5 percent of the way, either you're gifted or you're not. I just had a knack for vocals and working together with people to make music. That came naturally to me. The winemaking? I don't know. Time will tell if I have that extra 5 percent. I definitely have the 95 percent focus and passion, so we'll see.

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