Wine 101: A Q&A with Maynard James Keenan

features-holidaywiningmaynardBeer and rock and roll? Sure. A glass of Sauvignon Blanc while listening to Tool, A Perfect Circle, or Puscifer? Perhaps. Frontman Maynard James Keenan is changing our stereotype of the stuffy upper-class sipping a fine chardonnay before a night at the opera. Though rock music and wine may not be a synonymous paring, his foray into winemaking is challenging perceptions and educating vino newbies. Music fans and connoisseurs are taking notice of the musician’s Arizona vineyard as Keenan combines his vintner knowledge with art and embarks on a series of bottle signings in Nevada, California, and Arizona.

Smash Magazine: Where did your interest in winemaking come from?

Keenan: My initial interest in wine came from Boston when I was living in Boston and my friend, Curt, was working in an Italian wine shop there. I didn’t really get into it at that point, but that kind of sparked my interest and I saw his interest. It seemed interesting and complex and kind of a vast world with no possible way to understand it all, so I didn’t really get into it right away. But then touring a lot and being exposed to different climates, different landscapes, and then connecting the wines with the cuisine there is what kind of really set the hook.

Smash: Your family has a history in winemaking. Did that have any influence for you?

Keenan: Only as a confirmation. I didn’t know about it until I was actually planting vines.

Smash: How do you think the world of music and wine can relate? Are there similarities or differences?

Keenan: They’re expressions. They make the daily routine of getting up, eating, walking around, working, eating, going back to bed—they make those mundane processes have a little bit more meaning, more than just being clocks waiting to turn off. They make the ticking more worthwhile.

Smash: How did Arizona Stronghold Vineyards come about and how did you meet Eric Glomski, the vineyard’s co-owner?

Keenan: I met Eric when he was working with Echo Canyon Winery and about to start his own winery called Page Springs Cellars. He saw that I was planting grapes and he was lending a hand trying to help me, guide my way in understanding how to plant them and make sure that they grow. But there’s four years before you see any grapes off those so he said, “Well, why don’t you get some grapes from California in the mean time and do a custom crush at Page Springs Cellars and I’ll walk you through the whole wine-making process for the next four years.” So that started in ’03, made my first wine in ’04, and fell in love with it right away and it escalated. Our energies kind of seemed to mingle properly so we ended up getting together on a venture. It’s called Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, which is separate from his Page Springs Cellars Winery and separate from my Caduceus and Merkin Vineyards label. The Stronghold Vineyards is 66 acres outside of Wilcox in Arizona. We purchased that vineyard together and have a winery that’s connected to it.

Smash: How involved are you in the wine making process?

Keenan: As much as I can be and still be an administrator and still handle the marketing of it. I’m not out there every day sweating in the hot sun, but I was certainly there to plant my own vines. I’d go out there every day to check on things, walk through the vineyards, drive around. I don’t spend a lot of time down at the Wilcox vineyards because it’s a five hour drive away, but I do go down there every month to check on everything.

Smash: Right now, since the economy is scary and many people can’t splurge on a formal wine class, what are some tips you’d offer for those interested in learning about real wine that doesn’t come in a box?

Keenan: Well, depending on your area, there should be wine stores that do wine tastings that are relatively inexpensive. You can go to most places and check on your local wine shop—or even some restaurants—and see what tastings are coming up. For example in the Silver Lake side of L.A., the Silver Lake Wine Shop [silverlakewine.com] twice a week does $12 flights of whites and reds Mondays and Thursdays. So for 12 bucks, you can meet up with a hundred different people and taste six different wines and learn about it every week. But it’s a gradual process. You’re not going to learn everything in a short period of time when it really does take just the ability to trust your own palate.

Smash: What are some key elements you find in enjoying a good glass of wine?

Keenan: Food. The proper paring can take a wine and take it to a whole new level and vice versa.

Smash: What is the response thus far from your fans in regards to your delving into winemaking?

Keenan: I haven’t really paid too much attention because their experiences are their own business. But it seems like people are understanding there’s a whole other side to this that they probably hadn’t seen before and they’re discovering it and I’m trying to help guide them.

Smash: What about wine connoisseurs? Have you received any feedback from them?

Absolutely. We’ve had some pretty good scores from “Wine Spectator” and some good feedback from some national publications and some noteworthy chefs and sommeliers that had really good things to say about the wine.

Smash: What is your ultimate goal with the vineyard?

Keenan: In general, we’re just trying to set up a new wine industry in Northern Arizona because there wasn’t one. The hope would be that it will lend stability to a local economy, create more of a locally grown atmosphere, local first, sustainability, bullet-proof economy, bullet-proof community, and if we’re successful in that, we won’t know in our lifetime. It’ll take several decades for that to really take shape, but our hope is that that’s what happens.

Smash: Do you feel that there’s a separation between your persona as a musician versus a vineyard owner?

Keenan: An artist is an artist—it’s hard to say. No, I don’t wear wigs in vineyard. Creative processes are a creative processes. They’re all different, but it’s still creative energy.

Smash: There is an art to creating a good wine. Can you explain the method and time that goes into wine making for readers that may be unfamiliar with the process?

Keenan: It definitely takes a lot of patience. Like a painter staring at a blank canvas, it’s not going to happen all in one sitting. Generally speaking, it’s going to take a matter of allowing things to happen. With a vineyard, it takes four years for you to find out whether or not the grapes will grow. Then you have to figure out whether or not the grapes are worthy of being made into wine. Then, of course, you have to pay attention to what’s happening with each individual batch of grapes because they can go through their different changes and they’re very emotional. It’s a matter of blending utilitarianism with artistic processes; It’s art and science perfectly combined.

Smash: For someone who has yet to experience any of your wines, what would be a good introductory selection?

Keenan: Of course, the Arizona Stronghold Wines are a good start because they’re relatively low priced and if you’re not into wine at all, it would probably be smart to start there. If you’re a connoisseur, then I would say to try those as well, but also try the Caduceus wines just because those are the higher-end stuff.

Smash: As far as your musical career, do you have anything planned for the near future?

Keenan: It’s possible that there might be some performances in Vegas for Puscifer. That’s all I can say.

Smash: Is there anything else “Smash Mag’s” readers should know about your involvement with the vineyards?

Keenan: Politically and economically and socially speaking, just looking at the stock market crashes and all kinds of crazy chaos going on everywhere, if you look at the small communities in Europe that have wineries and vineyards as their cornerstone, you’ll notice that they’re relatively unaffected by all the crap going on around them. No matter who’s in charge, those local communities kind of bond together in that community effort tend to be relatively bullet-proof. That’s just something to look at.

Keenan and Glomski will be signing bottles of their wines at Whole Foods in Las Vegas on November 5 and December 9. For times, locations, and more information, visit http://www.arizonastrongholdvineyards.com.

Originally published in Smash Magazine.

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