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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Maynard James Keenan: Winemaker

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Though Maynard James Keenan is best known as the raging frontman for the alternative metal band Tool, he’s also a professional winemaker who lives on an Arizona vineyard. He’s aware of the novelty.

“In some ways, the low expectations work in my favor,” Keenan says. “If a wine enthusiast hears who I am before they taste my wine, they may say, ‘Ok, I’ll endure this glass,’ but they’ll be surprised at how good it is after tasting it. They might not take me seriously initially, but if they knew anything about my music, they’d know I take everything I do seriously.”

Keenan is also aware that musicians don’t have a great culinary track record. Mtley Cre’s Vince Neil, one of the few other hard-rock luminaries to dabble in winemaking, for instance, “made a pretty good salad dressing,” Keenan cracks. Keenan’s challenge is to leverage his celebrity without undermining his product.

“I’ve tried to play down my background a little bit, because we want to emphasize what’s in the bottle, not who put it in the bottle,” Keenan explains. “But running a business like this is so complicated, that you need to use every tool at your disposal, every weapon in your arsenal to get on the map these days.”

So he’s toured dozens of Whole Foods around the country to get the word out. He’ll appear at Milwaukee’s Whole Foods (2305 N. Prospect Ave.) on Wednesday, June 3 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. behind two brands: Caduceus Cellars (“the more exclusive, sought-after wine”) and Merkin Vineyards (“the more basic, drink it with everything wine.”) He makes a point of noting that he’ll sign every bottle purchased, not just one per customer (so buy away.)

For the novice wine drinker—and these signings draw almost nothing but novice wine drinkers, many of them in Tool shirts—Keenan offers some basic tips.

“Trust your own palette,” he says. “Don’t pay attention to what other people say about this stuff, you can find amazing bottles of wine for $10 or $20. Nobody can tell you what you like but you, so trust yourself. The second key is to pair with the right food. Don’t drink it with licorice or a McDonald’s hamburger, because the sugar in those condiments or the candy will interfere with your enjoyment of it. If you can, stick to foods you can grow in your own backyard. Take any number of vegetables from your garden, oil them, season with flaky salt and eat them with your wine. Or pair with some cheese—I mean, dude, come on, it’s Milwaukee. So get some fantastic cheese and pair it with your wines. Mix these things together and you’ll have one of the best experiences you’ll ever have.”

And Keenan has hopes that the inevitable collectors who are more interested in scoring a piece of music memorabilia from his signings than a bottle of wine will eventually come around.

“Each bottle is a love letter, a time capsule that gets better with age,” Keenan says. “If someone buys it for the wrong reason, because it’s got my insignia on it, then they put it in the closet and forget about it for four years then break it out when they need a bottle of wine at the last minute for a dinner party, that bottle is going to be way better than they expect. Especially if it’s been stored under the right conditions.”

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