Maynard James Keenan has sold many millions of albums as the frontman of Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer. The legendary vocalist has also delighted audiences worldwide as an actor, appearing within Mr. Show, Comedy Bang! Bang! and Crank: High Voltage. But what many may not know about this metal rocker is that he is the owner of two Arizona wine labels (Merkin Vineyards and Caduceus Cellars) and very involved with the Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room and Osteria restaurant. Keenan also has a pizza truck in the works with chef Dirk Flanigan.[redlated]
While doing press for Eat the Elephant – the first new album by A Perfect Circle in 14 years – I spoke with Keenan by phone. He can be followed on Twitter via @MJKeenan, while the Merkin Vineyards Osteria is online.
The Daily Meal: How did your journey about food and wine begin?
Maynard James Keenan: I grew up in junior high and high school in Michigan. We lived right in the middle of an orchard in West Michigan. My dad always had an acre or half-acre of vegetable gardens. As a kid, when it was bow-hunting season, we would have venison in the freezer whenever he would go out and hunt. Of course there’s a lot of fishing in that area. That’s just what I’m used to, garden to table. Going into the military and getting into bands is pretty horrifying in terms of food.
So when did the idea of becoming a restaurateur occur to you?
It was just along the lines of pairing the wine with food. Seeing some of the wines out of Arizona, their acid retention, their structure, they just lend themselves well with the pairing. It is opposed to what you saw in the ’90s and early 2000s with large bold wines out of California, Australia, South Africa, Mendoza – high-alcohol, extracted, oak-driven wine that you have for dinner. Our wines speak more to the 12.8, 12.135 percent alcohol, high-acid.
You have two different wine labels. How do they differ from one another?
It used to be that Merkin Vineyards wines were more affordable, but same cellar, same treatment, same process, easier access, easier to find. Now it’s kind of progressed to where the majority of the Merkin wines are from southern Arizona, and the majority of the Caduceus Wine Cellars wines are from northern Arizona.
Do you find that the Arizona wine industry working together? Is it a friendly gathering among vineyards out there?
A lot of diversity, of course, especially because there’s not a lot of recognition for the state; never mind outside of the state, even within the state. It’s always a struggle to get restaurateurs to buy into the process and buy into the industry. It’s a thriving industry in spite of the opposition. We don’t have the same rights and privileges that the majority of other states have when it comes to winemaking, California especially. Arizona boasts about being less regulated than California, that’s kind of their claim to fame, that California is overregulated and Arizona is more wild and free. But not when it comes to the winemaking, we are very restricted, which we would like to change. We’re trying to help and march that along, but even so, with all that opposition there’s hurdles and obstacles to get over. We still have an economic impact on the state of $3.3 billion, so I guess that we’re onto something.
Is there a lot of overlap between the winemaking and music industries? Have you encountered other people who have been successful within both?
Most of my friends are actually from bands that have kind of crossed over into wine, spirits, beers. They might be successful, but they’re not as hands-on as I am. It was pretty much me and my wife in the cellar for years. She got pregnant, we now have a three-and-a-half-year-old, going on four. I recruited my friend Tim White, so it’s just he and I in the cellar generally.
I’ve read that you yourself were developing the baguette at the Osteria. So you are also hands-on with the food there?
I developed some specific recipes, but the chef of course – Chef Chris Smith – has taken it and has just knocked it out of the park. He’s a fantastic guy with a lot of history there. The recipes sort of started in my kitchen then they were handed over him to make them more sustainable, which is better. I just bought a pizza truck as well. Chef Dirk Flanigan of Chicago is helping me develop the dough. At our elevation, 4,500, 5,000 feet, yeast and other things react differently. So we’re trying to develop a perfect crust.
Not a perfect circle?
This interview has been edited for clarity, and we encourage you to try American wines from outside Napa.