Drinking with Tool Frontman and Winemaker Maynard James Keenan

While in New York City, the iconic co-founder/singer for Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer talks with Kenny Herzog about everything from mastering pasta to winemaking to, well, baby shit.

maynard james keenan tool winemaker musician

When Maynard James Keenan detects a nose of “baby shit” in a glass of rosé, it’s far from an insult. The Tool co-founder/singer, frontman for A Perfect Circle and Puscifer (whose new album, he confirms exclusively with PUNCH, is “almost finished” and should be expected “hopefully in the fall”), and, as of the past several years, winemaker, doesn’t claim to speak the exclusive language of wine. “I think there’s a lot of wine-speak that’s a bunch of horseshit,” he says, finding utility once more in the euphemism for nature’s fertilizer. “I just like what I like.”

That’s evident in the 51-year-old artist-cum-winemaker‘s apparel on this crisp spring afternoon in New York City (the Arizonan is in town schmoozing and boozing on behalf of his Caduceus Cellars and Merkin wine lines). We’re at the newly opened Rebelle bistro on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and Maynard arrives fashionably late, adorned in a powder-blue jacket, slacks and shirt offset by a more traditional gray-and-red floral tie.

It’s clear he feels at home here, having dined all week on chef Daniel Eddy’s French-inspired menu. But this sit-down’s all about baby shit, the aforementioned descriptor Keenan affectionately calls on to describe what he and I both decide is our favorite glass of the day, a 2013 Chateau de Pibarnon Bandol Rosé, one of four rosés—two of them from Keenan’s wineries—poured by Rebelle’s co-owner and wine director Patrick Cappiello.

“It hits on a bunch of different levels,” Keenan expands about the Bandol. “You’ve got the acid up front. There’s a lychee-fruit nose on it and a little petrol. But then when it gets on your palate, there’s that that bright, right down-the-middle acid, but then it has kind of a tannin stuff on the side that’s coating your tongue and hanging around.”

Out in the broader world of wine commerce and collecting, he’s definitely “had people try to trip me up” with “big five-dollar words with 16 syllables in them.” As to why such hazing never deterred him, he draws a parallel to the irrepressible yen that led him to headline arenas and festivals for years with Tool and A Perfect Circle. It’s no more complicated than will beckoning way. Or as Keenan puts it, “I don’t know how the fuck a microphone works. I seem to be okay with that.”

His assessment belies earlier demurrals about possessing an elementary wine vocabulary. But according to Keenan, the difference between he and your vintage Sideways snob is that his turns of phrase, much like Caduceus’ grapes, are the result of an organic process.

Out in the broader world of wine commerce and collecting, he’s definitely “had people try to trip me up” with “big five-dollar words with 16 syllables in them.” As to why such hazing never deterred him, he draws a parallel to the irrepressible urge that led him to headline arenas and festivals for years with Tool and A Perfect Circle. It’s no more complicated than will beckoning way. Or as Keenan puts it, “I don’t know how the fuck a microphone works. I seem to be okay with that.”

Here, the question gnawing at any fan of the above-referenced bands would be, “How did this rock god go from selling more than half a million copies of Tool’s last studio in its first week to sitting at this table, neatly appointed, sounding relatively refined about a seemingly incongruous pastime?”

Again, the answer is surprisingly straightforward. Keenan has historically enjoyed the occasional Asahi Black (he does not, however, go in for the punch of IPAs) or glass of peaty Highlands Scotch like Oban. And while he acknowledges that when it comes to fermented fruit, “Everybody has their first wine that they all of a sudden decide they more than like wine, ” he differentiates himself as, “that weirdo that all of a sudden had a couple of wines and went, ‘I wanna make one.’”

After getting schooled on wine while touring in Europe throughout the 1990s, his interest crystallized into a new career after moving from LA to Arizona in 2000. It was there, in the Verde Valley region, that he found a literally untapped resource of arid desert that, with the right attention, could generate bountiful fruit. By 2007, he took joint custody of what would become the Arizona Stronghold vineyard, which sourced the grapes for Caduceus and other labels. Earlier this year, he solely inherited the property and redubbed it Buhl Memorial Vineyard. It’s been a gradual process, but after all, any pursuit worth its rewards—be it starting a band or farming land—requires obsessiveness. Or as Keenan rhetorically counters, “Doesn’t anything? Who sits around obsessively making gnocchi except somebody who’s really passionate about it?”

As we return to our lineup of wines, he’s growing more self-assured as a battery of glasses piles up in front of us. The  2013 Bernard Baudry Chinon Rosé is a bit too tart and precise for our shared preferences, but Keenan offers up a few pairing ideas anyway. “I’m immediately thinking of all the little dishes I could have with this, like some kind of spring-salad mix with maybe watermelon and tomatoes,” he says. “Or maybe this is just a lemon-bar-on-the-porch [selection], you know?”

Minutes later, we throw back a round of his own 2013 Merkin Shinola Rosado and he perks up, returning to the salad pairing: “That one goes with the watermelon, small-cherry-tomato salad with mint.” Moving onto Caduceus’ more robust 2013 Nagual del Marzo, Keenan amends the previous plant-based recommendations with a tip toward charcuterie, but also clarifies that as this kind of tasting carries on, a variety of senses are mutually altered.

While tempting to see where this might take us, it’s time for me to head out. Keenan recommends a nap and cup of coffee, though he’ll be toughing it out, as his wife and nine-month-old are en route for a meal. But before I go, I can’t help but inquire about what’s next for a guy with so much on his plate. Appropriately calling back to the notion of obsessive gnocchi-makers, he responds with a glint in his eye, “I’d like to master pasta.”

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FROM AROUND THE WEB
  • I would not mind sitting down with a bottle, putting on the Thirteenth Step and discussing life with this guy.

    • stewham

      I hear hes not to friendly

      • Well I’d have to judge for myself.

        • alonso

          lol

  • KenLark

    Keenan served me ravioli once at his wine bar. He appreciated me saying “Thanks Chef.” He already knows pasta.

  • Paul Skjordal

    Wonder if the Vineyard is named after Henry Buhl? Anyone certain or have more insight? Would love to know!

  • neoharp72

    One of the more interesting guys out there. Hope that new Tool album lands sometime this year!

    • edthsdgh

      Im happy if we get another album at all.

  • MagicJesus

    Oban is not peaty…

  • His wine really tasty. A lot of Pete Gago influence you can never go wrong. Cheers Maynard….. .. ……

  • joshua hurst

    hoping they take their sweet ass time finishing the record. need to have my mind blown.