We had the honor of hosting Maynard James Keenan for a Winemaker Dinner focused around his Caduceus Cellars wines from Arizona. Fans of his wine and music were eager to speak with him and he was exceedingly cool and collected, as usual, and made sure to talk with everyone participating. We got the opportunity to ask him some questions for those of you who weren't able to join us. Thanks so much Maynard!
What are some of your most memorable wine drinking experiences?
Those experiences can easily be divided into two categories.
First, the moments when you have a focused enlightening experience with a new region, producer, or varietal.
Second, those gatherings where the wine was as important as the company and the dinner.
But truth be told the majority of either flavor of those moments involved an Italian wine.
Soldera Reserva usually makes an appearance.
How has the southwest wine culture changed since you began Caduceus?
It’s changed quite a bit actually. We’ve had a few pioneers reach outside the state. Dos Cabezas and Callaghan have been poured at the White House.
But those were little islands in the middle of a sea of anonymity. We’re slowly changing that. I’ve poured all over the country for 10 years now. As well as through Canada, Europe, and Australia. It’s usually my own wines, but I make sure I tell the whole story of AZ. Otherwise my efforts just seem like a lightning strike. If those i pour for see potential in our region I make sure to let them know that there are easily a dozen winemakers kicking my ass there.
How do you feel about the wine industry's perception of new and upcoming regions? Has this perception changed over the last decade in your opinion?
The world is too damn big and too damn busy for people to be expected to openly accept or even try new things. It’s understandable. But it doesn’t keep us from fighting the good fight. We have potential in AZ. Our state is like a little Italy. So many varieties do so well all over the state. Which works for and against us. Mendoza is Malbec. Easy. We are everything. Not so easy. Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Garnacha, Syrah, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Mourvedre/Monestrell, Merlot, Aglianico, Petit Verdot all do very well. It’s a good problem to have, but not when it comes to establishing an identity.
What have you found is your biggest challenge making wine in the southwest?
Working together as a state. There are those that still believe you can get away with over cropping. Willamette Valley is a good example of what we are not.
The growers there all agreed from the start that no corners can be cut in the vineyard if you expect to be taken seriously as a region. And they of course all agreed that their wines needed to be 100% Oregon fruit. Otherwise you might as well be manufacturing lunch boxes or baby dolls. That can be done anywhere.
They understood that their wines need to speak of a place. And you can’t expect to do that at 5 tons an acre. Several of the producers are launching a quality control group on March 11th. We’re still working out many of the details, but if you’re interested, check us out at www.ARIZONAVIGNERONSALLIANCE.org
Do you have any advice for new winemakers?
To quote my old extremely practical drunk land lord, "Son. Sell that guitar. Put the money towards some courses in accounting with an eye to the future.”
A friend of mine has a New Zealand wine called "Cash Burn.” You see where I’m going with this? Basically, if you’re going to get into this, know that it won’t be easy. It will be more hardship than romance, but in the end I truly believe it’s worth it.