Grapes Of Rock

The rock band Tool are known for their heavy, intricate and atmospheric albums; for songs that are given room to breathe and often last for ten minutes or more. They are also infamous for taking as long to make an album as it took Stanley Kubrick to make a film. Their last one 10,000 Days came out 5 years after the one before it, and it has now been ten years since they released an album at all. Some fans and music critics have reacted to this wait with disdain, beginning to wonder if their new album will come out at all. Others – namely wine connoisseurs – have had reason to celebrate.

Tool’s singer/lyricist Maynard James Keenan founded Caduceus Cellars in 2004. Living in Northern Arizona, he had often wondered why its “harsh yet mystical” climate wasn’t being utilised to grow grapes. It didn’t occur to him that he could do this himself, until one day when he was looking at Mingus Mountain while drinking a glass of Chateauneuf du Pape. In his own words, “I decided then and there to plant a vineyard”. A lot of people thought he was mad, responding to the idea with concern more than excitement, but there were those who believed in him and encouraged him further. It also helped to discover his great-grandfather ‘Spirito’ Marzo owned vineyards in Italy and made wine himself. Keenan has described feeling a deep sense of kinship with him upon hearing this.

With no idea what his imaginary wine would taste like, Keenan thought about where his own favourites had come from. As luck would have it, they belonged to areas of Italy and Spain where the climate resembled that of Northern Arizona. Everything was falling into place. We don’t know exactly what happened next, but somewhere along the line a team assembled to pick out clones and rootstocks which would suit the area – a place Keenan describes as “thick, dense, rich, complex, engaging, emotional and spiritual”. His hometown of Jerome was chosen as the setting for their first vineyard, and over the years it has blossomed to include five different blocks bearing the name Merkin Vineyards.

Now, people often refer to Tool as an experimental band. A look at the history of Caduceus Cellars shows that this could easily be said of Keenan’s wine as well. Their first – a Primer Paso – was inspired by Australian reds but with an Italian twist. In an attempt to create an unusual blend, the vanilla usually associated with popular Australian Shirazes was reduced to make way for Italian Malvasia. More recently they experimented with making a Nebbiolo in the vein of a Tempranillo Blanco, only to be put off by the idea of “all the daunting chemical treatment crap”. This led to the creation of an extraordinary Nebbiolo Rosé – one that “kicks ass”. Their Nagual del Marzo – a Sangiovese – is a tribute to Keenan’s great-grandfather. All are a result of passionate exploration; of what he considers a spiritual endeavour to transcend the mundane. To illustrate this point, he refers us to a quote by the French writer Marie-Henri Beyle, more famously known as Stendhal – “The more one pleases generally, the less one pleases profoundly”.

The word ‘art’ is usually reserved for paintings or classical music, but it’s not necessarily what is created which defines the term so much as how it is created. Think of the difference between a cheap lamp and a chandelier. They both serve the same function. One is there simply to exist though while the other has been made to enthral; to provoke a deep feeling of appreciation. Food and drink may have been shoved in the back seat when it comes to the discussion of art, but it takes skill and dedication to make a truly great meal or beverage.

It takes someone who sees them as an art.

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