Tool’s Maynard James Keenan Talks Wine
The Puscifer and A Perfect Circle singer on winemaking and his new film documenting the challenging process.
With A Perfect Circle’s don’t-call-it-a-reunion tour this fall, one would imagine Maynard James Keenan should be rehearsing with his bandmates. He’s not (yet). Instead, he’s harvesting grapes at his Northern Arizona vineyards for his Caduceus Wines brand.
It’s a detailed and demanding process — especially in the Sonoran Desert! — that’s documented in Blood Into Wine, a film starring Keenan and his winemaking partner, Eric Glomski, plus cameos from pals like actress Milla Jovovich and comedian Patton Oswalt. The film, directed by Ryan Page and Christopher Pomerenke, the guys behind music docs Moog and The Heart Is a Drum Machine, released on DVD in September, along with a soundtrack featuring unreleased and remixed Puscifer tracks.
Keenan took a few minutes to chat with SPIN.com about making, loving, and living wine, as well as having to explain to retiree wine-drinkers what a Merkin, the name of his vineyard, actually is — it’s a pubic hair wig.
Hey, Maynard. How’s it going?
Well, I just got a little cold. But the harvest is in full swing right now, so it’s no time for colds. The days are pretty long and brutal.
How’s the harvest coming?
Great. We started harvesting in mid-to-late August. We got hit with a late-spring frost, which damaged a lot of the vineyard. So, it’s a light year. But it’s a pretty solid, concentrated fruit. We’re pretty stoked.
What about the winemaking process really draws you in?
It’s the chaos. Every year is going to be a different process and every bottle of wine is going to reflect that if you’re successful in your process. Every wine will reflect a different set of moments. This bottle of wine is going to reflect this particular year and it’s going to reflect this particular site. You put them together in that way will never be the same ever again because the year will be different or the combination of elements will be different.
Do you find the winemaking and songwriting process similar?
Yes. It’s all in the layers and complexities and the decision-making and, most importantly, the patience. It takes a lot of patience. You can’t rush anything. That’s one of the golden rules in winemaking — if you’re in the wine cellar working with the wine and you’re not sure what to do, don’t do anything. Just let it be. It’s similar with music. When you’re writing you just have to let it marinate, then come back to it. Don’t rush it, ever.
Tell me a little about the soundtrack for Blood Into Wine.
The guys who made the movie didn’t have a huge budget, so people donated songs. Sound Into Blood Into Wine is basically just the songs that appeared in the movie, some of which are remixes and unreleased stuff, but mainly they’re songs you’ve probably heard before on V is for Vagina or the Don’t Shoot the Messenger EP. They’re previously released songs, but it’s funny how we’ll release the original album, then an album of remixes, and later someone say to me, “I heard that new song you did. It’s awesome. Why wasn’t that on the first record?” Then I say, “Well, it was!”
Tell me about some of the obstacles in winemaking. I imagine there are a ton.
Oh, yea — javelinas, gofers, raccoons. There are a lot of problems on the vineyard.
Have they ever come close to getting the best of you?
No. With the music business you have equally formidable foes, like lawyers, managers, agents, Ticket Master. They’re also awful creatures. You just power through it because you know the art has to happen. You can’t let those things curve your direction.
Which of you Caduceus wines are your favorite and why?
I don’t have a favorite. They’re all separate challenges and are all individuals. It’s like, “Which is your favorite child?” They’re all different growing processes and quite literally go through a lot of changes. You hope to god those changes get into the bottle.
For someone who is a wine novice, like myself, how would you suggest getting involved?
You have to dive right in. The reason you don’t have an appreciation for wine is because that was completely removed from our table; prohibition pretty much interrupted our appreciation of these things. In Europe, wine has been part of the culture for thousands of years. It’s had a chance to develop. So for us to have that removed from our culture, early on in the 20th century, it’s taken along time for us to get back to the appreciation of this art and how it integrates, Ten years ago there wasn’t this many celebrity chefs and cooking shows, but people are starting to grow their awareness and appreciation of how flavors and textures and colors go together, and the wine is an integral part of that. Now we’re getting back as a culture, getting back to the idea of, “Hey, you can grow those in your back yard.” But you basically have some friends bring over various wines and eat what you like to eat and you’ll find one of those wines will resonate with your palate. There’s too much to learn, so don’t worry about not knowing all of it. Just figure out what you like. Don’t worry about whether it’s right or wrong or acceptable.
Your rock and wine personas are very different and I imagine you deal with two very different groups of people.
I have a tasting up here in town and there are a lot of tourists that come through. It’s kind of hard putting an album called V is for Vagina out on the counter. The Sound Into Blood Into Wine soundtrack ends up being a little easier on the palate for people traveling around on a retirement bus.
Do those retirees ever ask what Merkin, the name of your vineyards, actually means? (it’s a pubic hair wig)
They probably do and I probably look at them with a blank stare and ask if they want some more wine.
WATCH: Blood Into Wine trailer