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Wine Talk: Geoff Tate

Queensrÿche's lead singer brings some rock n' roll, and a new Bordeaux-style blend, to Washington's Walla Walla appellation

Tina Benitez
Posted: October 31, 2008

Geoff Tate, 49, lead vocalist of Queensrÿche, the heavy metal band that earned multiple gold and platinum records albums with hits like "Jet City Woman" and "Silent Lucidity," is one busy guy. More than 27 years since they first formed in Seattle, winning worldwide headbanger adulation while touring with bands like Iron Maiden, Kiss, Def Leppard and Metallica, the band continues to rock. They're even putting the finishing touches on a new Queensrÿche album, to be titled American Soldier, which is scheduled for a spring 2009 release. In the midst of creating music, singer Tate is also taking some time to develop his passion for wine.

Like writing hit songs, Tate knows that making great wine is difficult, but that hasn't stopped him from trying. In partnership with Holly Turner and Andy Slusarenko of Three Rivers Winery in Washington's Walla Walla appellation, Tate is taking on a new role as a winemaker-in-training, and is set to release 190 cases of a Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec-based blend next February called Insania ($35). Tate took a break from recording to talk to Wine Spectator about the similarities between making wine and making music.

Wine Spectator: How did you first get into wine?
Geoff Tate: It was through traveling. When the band started touring the world [in the early 1980s], we'd partake in whatever cuisine we came across—record company dinners, lunches, different radio stations, different functions. You're exposed to different wines, so that was my education in wine. My family really didn't drink wine, growing up … I never had a drink of wine until I was traveling. I was about 21, 22.

WS: What were some of your early wine influences?
GT: One of the earliest Napa wines that really left an impression on me was the Joseph Phelps winery. Their Insignia is pretty intense stuff. I really liked what they did with the Cabernet Sauvignon. The first time I had their wine was sometime in the '80s, and I just bought a lot of their stuff. In fact, I bought several cases from the late '70s. That really turned me on to some of the Napa area wines. We travel a lot in Europe, so I get a chance to sample a lot of wines, and that's been more of what shaped my tastes, but then discovering Napa later on was shocking to me.

WS: When did you know that you wanted to go into the winemaking business?
GT: I never actually thought about going into the business until the last two years. My wife is from Germany, and her family has a vineyard. We were visiting with them, and they invited us to work in the vineyard, and we both just loved it. It's really hard work, but it's really satisfying. A short while later, we met Holly Turner and her husband, Andy, in Walla Walla and started talking with them about making Insania.

WS: What do you like about the Walla Walla region?
GT: Walla Walla has a real earthiness to it. I like French wines, and … there's this minerality, especially in the Bordeaux area, that somehow Walla Walla has. Maybe it's the limestone and the rocks there. It's also very fertile in the valley as well, so you can do a lot of different things to control the type of grape that you want. The intense sunshine that Washington has makes for an intense Malbec, which is one of my favorites.

WS: How involved are you in the winemaking process?
GT: Well, I get to wear a lab coat, and I get to do a lot of tasting. I'm definitely not a winemaker. I'm a disciple. I think we all have our limits to what we can and can't observe, taste-wise, but I definitely know what I like and what I don't like. Through our friendship with Holly and Andy, we found that we like and dislike a lot of the same things, so that helps. Like all things, making music, making wine, you make plans. You start with communication, defining what it is you want to do and then the more you talk about it, you find that you're on a path. We were like, "Let's make something really insane."

WS: So is that how you got the name Insania? You wanted to make an insane wine?
GT: We just wanted something that had that spirit of rock n' roll, that energetic feeling you get when the music is loud, when it's pumped up—when you feel this intense kind of rush of Insania, I guess [laughs]. I like that in a wine too, when you uncork something and you don't have any expectations. Maybe you never read about it, and the moment you have it, your mouth just explodes. That's one of the things Insania has—it has lots of layers to it. Malbec has a lot to do with it, and it's about 20 percent Petit Verdot. It has this intensity to it. I think with the barreling, that will mellow it down, but it's going to have a lot of body, a lot of structure.

WS: Would you say winemaking is similar to songwriting?
GT: Yes, it's pretty much like writing a song. You have your basic structure of a song. You know what you're going for, but you don't quite know how you're going to arrive at it. You kind of mix some chords together, and that inspires a melody and before you know it, you have a song. It's similar to wine. You blend those ingredients, and you hope that what you get on the first try is pretty incredible. Wine is very subjective, and it's up for debate and argument and discussion. What makes the Mona Lisa such a valuable painting? If you look at it compared to other paintings, it's not so special to look at—part of it is the story behind it, the mystery of it, that's a very seductive thing. It adds value to something. It makes people want to have it, want to own it.

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