Maynard James Keenan

by Andrew Frey
April 2010

Maynard James Keenan of Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer

Maynard James Keenan of Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer

Part 2 of my conversation with Maynard James Keenan: Squeezing Life Into Arizona.

These days, when you see a picture of the infamous and enigmatic Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle, Puscifer), he is sporting and promoting something related to his wine making efforts. Often times it IS a bottle of wine. Look closely. The wine will say it is a Caduceus Cellars wine.[] (The Caduceus is the ancient symbol for commerce.)  Maynard and his business partner Eric Glomski have become vine pioneers for their wine making efforts in northern Arizona near Jerome.

Blood Into Wine: The Arizona Stronghold is a documentary that tells the story of these upstarts as they grow, squeeze and ferment in the Verde Valley. The land in this area is arid like a lot of Arizona, but it has more structure and certain characteristics that make it uniquely advantageous to the grape growing sector as Maynard explains. Mr. Keenan is very passionate about his wine and that really shines through.

Have you always been a wine enthusiast?
“Over time. In my mid 20s. That’s when I started getting into it.”

What is your current favorite wine you have made/make?

“They are all very site specific and blend specific so it is kinda hard to separate off which is my favorite but they all seem to be expressing where they are from which is the goal.”

What do you feel makes the grapes and wine from your vineyard different from others in the area or in the world?
“Just in general, wine from a specific spot is gonna be different than another spot because the sun shines on it differently, the rain falls on it differently the soil constitution is different. It is a good wine maker’s job to get out of the way and let that occur. In our valley we have a similar terrain to parts of Sicily or Sardinia or Spain, Italy or Southern Rhone. If you have had a wine from any of those regions you will see they are definitely different. The terrain and elevations are similar. But that is about as close as we can come to describing the areas.”

Are your grapes/wines organic or biodynamic?
“We are not biodynamic, but we are as organic as we can be without being certified. It depends on which certification you go through. There are some California certifications that are pretty rigorous and if you are anywhere near a road or a neighbor pretty much negates the possibility of getting certified through that company. Most of the other ones its hard to say whether they are truly testing what’s happening. But as far as organic, we are as organic as can be.”

What do you have to say about the state of food in this country?
“I think it is kind of undermining the ability for us to fend for ourselves. It’s kind of the goal of what we are doing in our orchards and vineyards and garden’s in Northern Arizona is to re-express to people that they can do this on their own. It’s not that hard to grow your own food. We’ve been tricked into thinking that it is.”

I understand you are an owner in a market in Jerome, AZ.
“We are in the process of building it. Most of our produce and fruits we are processing them into jams, preserves dried herbs, pestos and they are for sale and being served in the tasting room.”

What do you consider to be the “prettiest” grape (or are grapes not that vain?

“Ya, they are really not that vain. They are specific to their site and they are very specific to their varietals. Early on they are a little clumsy; pimples and knock kneed. But as they grow up a bit they come into their own.”

Do the vines have a specific appearance based on location as well?

“Depending on which clone you are picking for your site. You can pick the same clone for several sites and depending on the nutrients of the particular site, the vigor of the vine could be extreme or not at all. You could have a vine that is very spindly or the leaves just going crazy on it; the vine just spreading. It all depends on the site.”

How many types of grapes are you currently raising?
“In northern Arizona roughly a dozen. In southern Arizona about two dozen different varietals.”

And how much land does that occupy?

“In Northern Arizona I’m about 12 acres and Eric is about 6. In Southern Arizona we have two sites that total to about 160 acres. The southern Arizona sites have been there for a while. We purchased them from other farmers. The ones in Northern Arizona are the ones that are more specific to our State, our wine. They are a lot smaller blocks. Most of them are hand farmed. Down south we have larger sites and they are set up so you can actually go through and weed with tractors.”

Has your wine making become profitable yet?
“We’re still digging our way outta the hole,” Keenan sighs. “Basically we’ve been in the hole since 2002 and it will take a couple more years to completely get out of the hole. You don’t see dollar one from a bottle for 7 years.”

If you know then what you know now, what would you do differently?
“Some of the sites I of course would have adjusted what we planed and what infrastructure we put in place first. But I wouldn’t have known that unless we made the mistake first.”

Being in Arizona, is water a big issue?
“It can be. It’s more a matter of education at this point that people realize that when somebody owns a piece of land or a piece of land becomes available, it’s a lot smarter to put vines on it than it is to let somebody develop houses on it. The vines in general for fine wine grapes, comparing per square foot, the vines are using about 1/8th the amount of water a household would.”

In the documentary you have several shaman’s blessing the land and different wines. What roll do you feel your ancestors play in the wine making process?
“They definitely guide us in terms of paying attention to the important stuff. Making sure we are paying attention to the weather. Making sure we are paying attention to the land and not forcing our ideas onto that process. Especially where we are at; on our land we have mesquite trees. They don’t tend to push their leaves until the frost danger is passed. So if you think that the frost danger has passed and you look at the mesquite and they haven’t started to push their leaves, you’re wrong! Because they know. Centuries of growing on those spots they have tuned themselves to that process, because if they get frosted they die. We pay attention to those kind of things. That’s just one example of thousands of examples. Just driving down the road in your Prius, you may not notice those kinds of things. You actually have to get out of you car and live on that land to understand it.”

I really like the Flower of Life symbol woven into the Caduceus Cellars logo. How has sacred geometry influenced your wine making?

“Paying attention to resonance. Tuning your guitar it sounds better. If you at least understand the basic geometries. Also, pay attention to your intuition. You’ll be a lot better off. Just listen. It’s not necessarily so much a mental process as it is an intuitive process. The geometry is there. You just have to tap into it naturally. A spider doesn’t have to go to school to learn how to weave it’s web. It’s part of it’s nature. We all have that in there, we just need to be reminded.”

Do you have any thoughts on 2012? 
“I have a theory,” Maynard replies slyly. “I don’t think we quite truly understand the nature of the airwaves, in terms of satellite images broadcasted into your homes and onto your TV or cell phone technology. I don’t think we truly understand the nature of that. So my guess is that some guy long ago, let’s use Nostradamus as an example. Or some Mayan king who had a filling and he filled it with gold or some kind of metal to fix his teeth and all of a sudden he started picking up signals over time and what these guys were seeing was the trailer for 2012 (the movie) and they started telling the story.

So all these signals were beaming into the atmosphere. Perhaps they traveled over time back to Nostradamus and so nothing is going to happen, it’s just a bad John Cusack film.

How about that theory? Or. It’s the end of the world and none of this matters.

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