By Niki D’Andrea
I’ve been a music journalist for more than 15 years, and people often ask me, “Who was the coolest/nicest person you’ve ever interviewed?” That’s always a tough question, because so many of the “rock stars” I’ve come into contact with have been amicable people. The question, “Who was the rudest person you’ve ever interviewed?” is much easier for me to answer. The least nice person I’ve ever interviewed also happens to be the singer of one of my all-time favorite bands, Tool. I am talking about Maynard James Keenan, who is also the singer for A Perfect Circle and his one-man project Puscifer, as well as a novice wine maker.
My one and only interview with Keenan happened more than two years ago, when Tool was touring in support of their 10,000 Days album. I was told by the band’s publicist that “somebody from Tool” would be calling me between 5 and 6 p.m. MST. I was not told who would be calling, and assumed I might get Tool drummer Danny Carey. I did not expect to get a call from Keenan.
But I did, 30 minutes after the time frame I was given. It was disastrous. Keenan gave glib answers to my carefully-prepared questions, if he answered them at all (Keenan’s an alleged gun enthusiast, and I was flat-out told “NO” when I inquired about his favorite firearms). He upbraided me for suggesting that Tool had a devout cult/underground following (“We’ve sold ten million records,” he chided), and I think he even called me “child” at one point. By the time we got to talking about Keenan’s vineyards and wines, I was throwing barbs, too, sharing my visions of him getting barefoot and stomping around in some barrels, squashing grapes between his toes. Clearly, I thought he acted like an asshole, and I got the distinct impression that he thought I was an idiot. It was the most buzzkill-worthy 15 minutes of my career. And yet that singularly craptacular encounter provides literary fodder for me even today. And Tool is still one of my all-time favorite bands.
Considering that Keenan’s Merkin Vineyards and Caduceus Cellars lie in Phoenix’s proverbial backyard (they are located in Cornville, Arizona, about 20 minutes north of Jerome and 10 minutes south of Sedona), I felt compelled to stop and drink of Keenan’s vinos. So on a recent, rainy weekend trip through northern Arizona, I cooled my heels in the tasting room at Page Springs Cellars, where new releases from Keenan’s Caduceus Cellars are available for tastings and purchase.
(A quick profile of me as a wine drinker: I only drink red wines; I find white wines too dry and they give me headaches. I am not very knowledgeable about wines beyond knowing that I like fruity red ones, particularly if they are cheap. In short: I am not a wine snob. Keenan labels himself a “novice winemaker,” and I’d say “novice wine drinker” is a rather apt description for me).
Page Springs Cellars is located in the surprisingly lush mountains of its namesake Page Springs. It’s an unassuming white, modular-style-looking building, surrounded by trees and vineyards, with a spacious patio deck for guests to drink and enjoy the eco-rich surroundings. My girlfriend and I were the only people who stayed inside at the counter to enjoy our flight of wines.
Of the five wines we tried, two were Caduceus Cellars releases: the 2005 Nagual de la NAGA, and the 2005 Nagual Del SENSEI. The Nagual de la NAGA is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese, and it’s a potent wine with a rich, fruity taste and a hint of spice. (Keenan describes it as having “aroma like a new world Tuscan meets old world Brunello”.) The second wine we tasted, the Nagual Del SENSEI, is a blend of Cabernet and Syrah. It was a fruity wine, too, but much sweeter than the de la NAGA. (Keenan’s description: “It doesn’t have the French undertones that the 04 SENSEI had, but it most definitely has the body, fruit, and structure.”)
Maynard James Keenan holds a bottle of his Nagual Del SENSEI wine.
I ended up purchasing a bottle of Caduceus Cellars wine that wasn’t part of the tasting: the 2006 Merkin Vineyards Chupacabra. Purchased partly because it’s named after a mythical creature that drinks blood from livestock and partly because it cost less than $30, my bottle of Chupacabra is now the pride of my mini-fridge. Lately, I’ve been having a glass at night, right before bed. This wine tastes spicier around the edges to me, with rich, smokey fruit flavors dead-center on the tongue. The bottle’s design is simple but appealing, with a sepia-toned, vintage-looking label decorated with a replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Vetruvian Man” drawing with a bunch of deep purple, luscious grapes hanging over the loins. The back of the bottle has this mystic-cryptic inscription from Keenan:
“The Trickster. The Shape Shifter. The ever elusive shadow who mutates with the Sun and Moon. One year a Dragon, another a Snake. This is our Mystery Hand. Think forest, not trees. Think weather, not rain. Stare, and the CHUPACABRA, who dwells in your heart and not in your head, will vanish. Only a True Alchemist can draw holy blood from a stone, and the CHUPACABRA is his opus, his phoenix, his cherub, his child. Bravo, Mr. Gloomski, Bravo! – M.J. Keenan, Owner & Novice Winemaker”
I’ll decipher some meaning out of that another night, when I can drink several glasses and ponder Maynard’s trip. Even in the meantime, I’ve been checking out the Web site for Caduceus Cellars (www.caduceus.org), where Keenan maintains a journal and has an entry about the 06 SENSEI that explains the creation and evolution of the Chupacabra wine (there are some cool graphics on the site, too). Vino lovers can also order wines from the site (most of the Caduceus wines are limited quantity; there were only 500 cases made of 2006 Merkin Vineyards Chupacabra).
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The 2006 Merkin Vineyards Chupacabra.
Even if I’m not a fan of Keenan’s attitude, his wine is pretty damn good, and his music is amazing. Sadly, I doubt we’ll be talking grape-squishing again anytime soon.