Podcast episode 5 – Arizona's Maynard James Keenan

Maynard James Keenan by Alex Landeen

How do you grow wine in a high-elevation desert? In this episode, musician/winemaker Maynard James Keenan talks to Elaine Chukan Brown about taking a chance on Arizona terroir, dodging monsoons and why he’s leaning into classic Mediterranean varieties.

Those who follow the musical career of Maynard James Keenan, lead singer of bands such as Tool, Puscifer and A Perfect Circle, may not know that he is an accomplished winemaker in the Grand Canyon state. He planted his first vines in Arizona in 2002 and from 2009 has been making such good wine at Caduceus Cellars that he has become a bit of a poster boy for Arizona wine. He tells wine writer and ex-Arizona resident Elaine Chukan Brown how the late South Australian winemaker Taras Ochota inspired him to become America’s pioneer of unusual blends – a red wine variety blended with a white one, for instance. He reveals himself as a real wine geek and committed farm-to-table restaurateur – in fact there’s hardly any mention of music in this intriguing conversation with the man who has arguably done most to put Arizona on the world wine map. Listen in on SpotifyAppleStitcherGoogle Podcasts, or wherever else you listen to your podcasts.

Photo of Maynard James Keenan by Alex Landeen.

Transcript of episode 5 – The rock star who's putting Arizona wine on the map, hosted by Elaine Chukan Brown with special guest Maynard James Keenan

ELAINE: Maynard James Keenan. I am so happy to see you. You're in the middle of harvest in Arizona. Thank you so much for making time.

MAYNARD: No problem.

ELAINE: You of course are well known as being the lead singer for multiple bands, including Tool, Puscifer, and A Perfect Circle. But we are here today to talk entirely about your work in wine, which actually is how I also got to know you. One of the things that's really interesting about what you do is you fell in love with a small mining town on top of a mountain – Jerome, Arizona. And after some time there getting to know the place, you realized that it would be a great spot to try your hand at wine. One of the vineyards that you planted, the Judith Block, is terraced on the side of a mountain in Jerome, Arizona.

So, I was hoping you could tell us just more about the work you're doing there. What compelled you to plant the Judith Block, and why wine in Arizona?

MAYNARD: I think what most people will probably say, as you're talking to them, two prominent responses. It's a family affair and you got into it because it's generational. Or if you got into it on your own, it's most likely because somehow wine chose you and I can't trace it. All of a sudden, I was just planting grapes. Having been around the world, seeing some sites, seeing some places, seen the process, specifically at Pegasus Bay in New Zealand, one of the promoters, reps ... can't remember who. They're going to be mad now that I don't remember who it was, took me to see the process and just watching the forklift, the hopper to the stemmer into whatever bin tank. It dawned on me, I love wine and this doesn't look like something I couldn't navigate.

So I kind of dove in, planted vineyards in 2002, staged in the cellar around 2004, started making my own wines in 2009. I think you probably know, like anything else, you have an aptitude for it or you don't. Having now dove in going, yeah, guys going to come out and help us out work harvest. You hire people, you hire interns, you have friends come out to work it. Literally one out of 20, maybe 50 ends up sticking around. It's just not for everybody.

ELAINE: Well, and it's a lot of physical labour too.

MAYNARD: Yeah, but I think it's a lot of ... for me, I'm really good at logistics, mental hopscotch, and being able to change directions in the moment, being very adaptable in the moment. If you're not adaptable in the midst of all this chaos, you're screwed. And able to see the long game and the immediate game to identify things that are doing well in your area. Having the patience to wait, to see if they're doing well in your area. I see a lot of guys, they'll have vineyards for three or four years that just started producing three or four years, and then they pull them out because they don't believe in the potential of whatever it was they planted. That's just not enough time. You don't know. There's no way.

ELAINE: Well, and it should be said too that, when you started planting vineyards in Arizona, there really weren't that many vineyards in Arizona. And definitely not very much in that Verde Valley area. But just in the state at the time, the industry was still very young. There weren't a lot of vineyards. So it was a big leap for you to plant in Jerome in the Verde Valley, but also at such high elevation.

MAYNARD: Yeah, and land is a little more expensive, a lot more expensive up in the Verde Valley. But arguably there's at least three very distinct growing regions in this state. We have three AVAs, but I don't think it's limited to that. I think there's other areas that, once we really find our groove of what grows here and then apply that template to other areas here, make the adjustments, the areas are ... it's such a diverse geology here.

ELAINE: So the first vineyards in Arizona went in the area of Sonoita and then they kind of start moving east into Willcox. Then as we mentioned, you also have vineyards up north in Verde Valley, but those three areas are really distinctive growing regions, and you're growing both in Willcox and Verde Valley. Could you tell us just a little bit more about what kinds of conditions are you dealing with?

MAYNARD: Well, the biggest challenge is there's going to be a late spring frost. A hundred percent there's going to be. So our farming practices, we've kind of adjusted our farming practices to make sure that our vines, when they go to sleep after harvest, they go to sleep with plenty of energy. Their bellies are full. So when they wake up in the spring, we're not having to cram nutrients and do all this stuff to kind of get them back in shape because that's not enough time for the vine to actually absorb all the armour that it needs to combat that spring frost.

ELAINE: A spring frost or a fall freeze that can actually kill a vine. So we're talking about Arizona has such cold weather in certain times of year that it could actually damage the vineyard.

MAYNARD: Correct. There's always going to be something around 10 degrees, 15 degrees the first week of May.

ELAINE: In Fahrenheit.

MAYNARD: It's going to happen. Whether it happens directly on your vineyard or not is another question. We're farming at high elevation, so we're farming anywhere between 3,000 feet and 5,000 feet generally. So because we have elevation, of course we get snow in the winter. So we also do risk that snap that we might get in November. But again, if the vines are healthy, they have an immune system basically that can come back from that. So we might get secondary buds pushing depending on the frost, depending on the winter freeze. One of the blocks here, we got hammered so bad that we're not sure we're going to get any fruit on it next year because it got frosted so bad, but the vines are still healthy. They just lost their fruit.

The trick is just understanding those challenges, understanding you're going to have some of these weird things you didn't expect. We drop a lot of fruit in our sites. We're really trying to pay attention to variety and location to figure out what that vine wants to carry to make sure it's super comfortable and not be greedy about it. As soon as you get greedy, the quality drops. You lose fruit because you have too much fruit on it. Right now for '22, this is a very wet year. Down in Willcox at the Buhl Memorial site, a 70-acre site in Southern Arizona, 4,300 feet, we've had straight rain for two weeks straight.

ELAINE: Well, and that's something about Arizona a lot of people don't realize, too – that, end of summer, early fall, there's huge monsoon season, but that falls right around harvest time for grapes.

MAYNARD: So if you're greedy and you set too much fruit, you lost all of it, because all it takes is one bunch to go bad. That rot can take over in less than 48 hours because you get the monsoons, but then you get the sun that comes out the next morning. If the fruit doesn't dry, doesn't have any kind of air circulation around it, it just turns to powder. It's screwed immediately.

ELAINE: So we should clarify, when a vine has more grapes on it, it ripens those grapes more slowly. So if you're leaving a lot of fruit to try to get more crop, you're slowing the ripening and then you're getting hit hard by monsoon season. That creates mildew, mould and rot at the worst of it.

MAYNARD: Yeah. So I think the big equation here, the challenge here is understanding we do have sun and the sun will burn your berries. So you need canopy, but you need airflow underneath the canopy because of the monsoon. So there's that equation of you want your little solar panels to see the sun so they can ripen properly, and then you want airflow around the fruit.

ELAINE: One of the things I really admire about the work you're doing with wine, too, is just how you work with your team. You've had a long-standing vineyard manager, Chris Turner, that you work closely with.

MAYNARD: Jesse Noble's down in southern Arizona – Jesse and Chris.

ELAINE: Yeah. So Chris Turner up north, Jesse Noble down south, and you've really given them a lot of ground to do what's best for the site to speak to other experts around the world even, to learn, how do we adjust what they've learned where they are to improve what we're doing in Arizona. [Be]cause Arizona is still early enough that you and your team and other producers in the state are actually at the forefront of figuring out how do we grow in a high-elevation desert that has spring frost and harvest monsoons. It's a whole new world really.

MAYNARD: Yeah. You can get all kinds of advice from UC Davis that doesn't necessarily apply here. Some of it's good advice, but until they actually set up shop here and really dig in for a couple seasons to see what actually happens here and look at our data, they're not really going to have any good advice for you. But the good news is because of the elevation, because just the overall, I guess you call it terroir, although we don't really have a lot of information yet to really kind of start formulating that word here. We're Mediterranean, so some of the stuff we have to grow that does well are those Mediterranean kind of Spanish, Italian, Southern Rhône grapes. Pinot Noir is not the wisest thing to plant here. I'm sure there's a microclimate for it, but why? Just figure out the thing that wants to be here and is versatile and flexible here.

ELAINE: One of the things that you've really done a lot of is trying out unexpected varieties. Arizona kind of first planted the obvious grapes Cabernet, Chardonnay, and over time has really been shifting to what you're describing, those kind of Spanish and Italian-originating varieties. So could you tell us a little bit more about what are some of the grapes you're most excited about, some of the wines you're most excited about that you've been growing there?

MAYNARD: Well, there's two answers to that and I'll go down the practical one first. You go to some region that has a grape, that it doesn't really grow like a weed, but it's a resilient grape. It's generous, and when you really do some work and massage it can be very elegant. So you're looking for that balance of what can you put on the table for a lower price point? What can you do some extra work with and make it a nice, high-end, desirable, unique, expressive wine worth talking about? At the end of the day, those both have to be delicious. They can't be something you have to explain. So in our region, it seems like things like Tempranillo, we're able to get the really cool, unique stuff out of them, but we're also able to go, let's make a big batch of something that we can sell to pay the bills, keep the lights on while we're aging this other crazy thing. But then you really want to find out, so what's the cool one that grows well here, but it's going to be a little more work to do, but it's undeniable. That's always going to be the puzzle for us here. For me and my cellar, it's things like Nebbiolo and Sagrantino and Aglianico. Vermentino, obviously, is the workhorse, but, you know, weird things like Albariño and Malvasia and Vermentino are doing really well here.

ELAINE: Honestly, one of the great surprises in my wine career has been tasting Malvasia from Arizona and falling completely in love with it. I have taken different expressions of Malvasia literally to tastings around the world and consistently it's a standout. Winemakers from other countries, sommeliers from other countries, wine lovers from other countries, I'll pour it for them without saying what it is. Immediately they're in love with it and then they have to know what it is. it's the big shock. It's from Arizona. It's fantastic. I really see it as one of the top grapes coming out of that region.

MAYNARD: If you look at that grape and where it grows well, and where it expresses well, the obvious thing is to step to the right and left and figure out what else grows in that region. So that's why we've explored everything. We're pretty convinced it's the Piemonte clone of Malvasia. So plant Barbera, plant Nebbiolo, and things of that ilk, and then figure out that little strata that goes across the Mediterranean. What else grows in that area? So we're seeing a lot of success with those things, with Malvasia being the clue.

ELAINE: That's fantastic. I like that way of describing things too, thinking about how do emerging regions continue to evolve. But when you do find that grape that does fantastic, it becomes the clue, and you look at what else grows in the regions with it

MAYNARD: As a grower, as a winemaker, I'm sure you can perform some magic and pull something out of your hat that might not necessarily want to be here. You can probably pull it off, but you're looking for that one that kind of pulls itself off. Malvasia tends to be that thing. We've done everything with it. I've done an orange wine. I've done an early pick, still bite. I've done a really early pick and blended at 50/50 with Chardonnay and done a Pet-Nat that's just killing it. People are loving it. It's a total sneak attack. You put that in front of them and it's this gorgeous kind-of Italian sparkling wine expression, not necessarily a champagne expression. So now what else can we grab that's going to be that versatile thing? Barbera, Sezão. Sezão is doing great, because you're looking for that acid and you're looking for that beef to kind of add into things rather than using or relying on Petite Sirah, which tends to rot way more quickly than Sezão does.

ELAINE: Well. So let's step to the side and talk about your kind of life experience a little more too. Of course, you're known for your career in recording and as a creative artist, not just in terms of music, but in so many other ways too, that really show up in how you present your music, but also how you present your wines. But long ago, I think I remember that you actually grew up with a family that was really into gardening, into food, connected to farming in some way. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

MAYNARD: Yeah. I grew up ... well, I was born in Ohio and then, when I figured out that I was born in Ohio, I ran to Michigan. No offense, Ohio.

ELAINE: Had to go north, get closer to the lakes. A little more interesting terrain.

MAYNARD: Yeah, I had to go up there. So I lived in Mason County, Michigan, a little small town called Scottville directly across Lake Michigan from Milwaukee. A lot of farming there – hogs, cattle, apples, peaches, cherries, asparagus. It's asparagus central. Morel mushrooms would grow right in our front yard because [inaudible] we had the old apple orchard up front. So when the season was right, the conditions are right, we would gather morels right out in the front yard. The Gourmet Mushroom factory is right there in Scottville. So quite a bit of the mushrooms that get shipped around that whole region come from Scottville. Of course, we had our vegetable garden there as well. My dad taught me all about cutworms, trying to get our corn to grow. We're right in the middle of a huge corn field right there. Our neighbours have acres and acres of corn and you're surrounded by, of course, deer everywhere. It's very rural and very farming.

ELAINE: My impression though, is that, that early experience with growing food and being in an agricultural community, but also being able to grow your own food, that of course that connects to vineyards. But actually the part that I found really inspiring and interesting was that, it seems to me, it's tied to the work you've been doing more recently in Arizona with food crops, both growing your own, but also helping to support local food crops. That's been factoring into restaurant work that you've been investing in too. Could you tell us more about that?

MAYNARD: Yeah. We have several greenhouses. We're actually building another one up on the hill in Cottonwood. The obvious stuff that you grow in those things, a lot of greens, micro greens, herbs, of course, basil and whatnot. We have cherry tomatoes. We have every kind of pepper you can think of. Sweet peppers are kind of the cornerstone, but in Arizona, you can grow hot peppers all day. Just quite a bit of those kind of things. Actually, we have an old, tiny house and an Airstream, but the Airstream is just not salvageable, so we completely reworked it. The Airstream and the tiny house are our mushroom factory. So we're growing oyster mushrooms in the small trailers on site. We have orchard on site too. So I do a cider from all of our apples. We have about 40 apple trees.

We just planted a bunch more. I cure my own olives for the tasting rooms, 20 producing olive trees. Now we planted another 25, I think. So those will be ready to start producing olives probably in another three years. We do mead because there's a lot of honey that's in Arizona; straight sparkling mead in a can. We're trying as much as we can to bring in the local flora and fauna to kind of go with the wines because it does go in hand.

ELAINE: So a lot of this is being channelled through the Merkin Osteria.

MAYNARD: Yeah, Merkin Osteria. We're actually building the new version of that up on the hill and Cottonwood called the Trattoria. We're going to add a pizza oven up there. We have the Scottsdale Merkin location, an old town Scottsdale that has the pizza oven in a smaller menu, but the Osteria has more handmade pastas and all of our garden items on the menu there. Of course some Caduceus up in Jerome. There's always small plates that Brian and Allen are putting together from some of our produce. I say we have about 40, 50 ducks. So a lot of our pasta, the egg-yolk pasta that we get are using the duck eggs. We use the whites to make some quiche. With the Osteria up to the hill to become the Trattoria. The existing building will become a brunch place. We just ordered a coffee roaster to put in there. So we're going to actually roast our own coffees and have a lot of the menus again will be from our gardens.

ELAINE: You've helped create these destination restaurants that have really honestly helped reinvigorate some of these tiny towns in Northern Arizona. Scottsdale and kind of central Arizona outside Phoenix, obviously that was well established and you have the Merkin tasting room there, but up north, Cottonwood has been a town that's kind of struggled to take off in different ways. There's been different efforts over time to bring in different kinds of food programs, like a great cheese shop or things like that. But you've been able to invest in this kind of multilevel approach with the greenhouses, the birds, now building a pizza oven, these different efforts. It's helped make Cottonwood a destination for food, and that helps then in turn support the tasting rooms too.

MAYNARD: Yeah, I think it's kind of the way I'm making wine. I'll probably go off into a tangent here. I'm Italian, so I respond more to those acid-forward, food-friendly wines, and some of the way we've been approaching the winemaking here has been that earlier pick that was inspired to me by Taras picking his grenache early and doing longer extended maceration.

ELAINE: Yeah. Taras Ochota from Australia.

MAYNARD: Yeah. It ends up just accidentally working right into our favour because when we see monsoons coming and maybe our Brix are hovering around 22 Brix in a Grenache, I'm not scared of picking at a 22 because I know what's possible. Taras would pick Grenache at 21 and a half, 22 and a half, and come out with this amazing, elegant wine. So we're not scared of those Brix. Most of the California equation is 26, 27 Brix – big, huge things. During COVID lockdown, all of a sudden it's like, oh, we think it's over. So you have a bunch of friends over and we were celebrating the end of the end of the world and I opened up a Grange 1955, a Bin 7, which is a total unicorn Penfolds wine, and a Bin 60A. That's the full-on unicorn.

ELAINE: Yeah. Wow.

MAYNARD: It was still vibrant, it was still alive. It was still fantastic wine, but it was not what you've come to expect from Australian wines. So we've got the FOSS in the lab. So we're like all half-drunk. "Let's go test this wine. Let’s see what it's all about." What we found was that the Bin 60A, which goes for insane money at auction now, was still vibrant. It's still alive, still drinking wonderfully. The Bin 7, not quite as much, and the 1955 Grange, great.

ELAINE: Do you have a sense of when Bin 60A would've been made? I don't remember.

MAYNARD: 1960s.

ELAINE: It was sixties. Okay.

MAYNARD: 1960s wine still drinking beautifully. All of those ... we actually opened in 1982, I think as well. But all of them on the FOSS were all under 12.2 alcohol.

ELAINE: So just for those listening, FOSS just is a machine where you can check the alcohol level and the chemistry of a wine, and you have this because of course you're making wine.

MAYNARD: So you're looking at these wines, they're still alive. They're still kicking. The acidity is still where it should be. The pH hasn't climbed up too much and the alcohols are fairly little. These things were still alive. I don't think even Taras had wines like that. I don't know. But he understood the chemistry back on all the early Bordeaux that you have read about. They're just like these stories that you've heard. Those are all under-12%-alcohol wines, and that just happens to play into the challenges that we have in Arizona trying to get that fruit off the vine before the monsoon comes and ruins it.

So for me it was an eye-opening experience, understanding the approach we were already taking of trying to dodge the problems. If you look at the alcohol, the 12.5, that means they were picking those wines at around 21, 22 Brix, which by today's standards, people would lose their minds. They think I'm crazy when I'm picking wines that are 22 Brix. They think, are you impatient?

ELAINE: Well, and so just to clarify, the Brix is a measurement of the sugar in the fruit when at harvest, and the sugar and the fruit then ferment into alcohol. So it's a sign of what the alcohol level in the finished wine is likely to be.


ELAINE: So you're saying you pick really early, but actually this experience of tasting these older wines that had held up so well, you realize you were right on track with what they had been doing too.

MAYNARD: Correct. It just so happens logistically that it works for us because of them on since. So if I crop less early in the season, the vine is working less hard to ripen that fruit. We have less fruit hanging, so it's not getting humid and risking rot if we do have rain. There's a whole fruit zone that's been leaf-pulled, and so there's airflow around that thing to dry it out. We have full canopies protecting it from the sun, so those little solar panels are collecting their energy to ripen that fruit. So we're actually picking pretty early. So right now I believe we're about 65 tons in my cellar.

ELAINE: In mid-August.

MAYNARD: We only do about 120 tons total. So we're already beyond halfway and that's because of the farming practice we're doing, and we're trying to dodge those monsoons. It just tends to go hand in hand with these beautiful, ageable, historic wines. Now couple that with being served with our local cuisine. We have a high-acid, beautiful food wine that can be drunk now or can be laid down for later, but it's giving you the local experience on steroids.

ELAINE: One of the first times you and I met, you actually were home, testing pasta recipes. One of the things a lot of people don't realize is Arizona has an amazing grain agricultural community. There's a lot of grains indigenous to the Southwest that grow there and then others that grow around the world, but do really well in Arizona. You've been able to channel the local grain crops into the work you're doing with Osteria through handmade pasta there as well. Then like you said, it goes so well with the wines you're making.

MAYNARD: You know what the hard part is, people come by and they come through and they want what they want. We've been accustomed to ‘if you want something, you ask Jeff Bezos and he hands it to you in a couple days’. So, that's just a poison that's part of the American culture, probably a lot of places, but I live here, so I see it here. So the idea of an actual seasonal menu, like a daily menu, is rare. Those places that can pull it off do really well because the clientele that they're building understands the temporary nature of agriculture and they're coming in for what they have today, and how they as artists are able to put those things together and present them to you. And by the way, here's our wine from this place that's taken us six years to put it on the table in front of you.

ELAINE: You've been part of this very long-term vision of helping to bring that mindset to Arizona, helping people see Arizona as having that potential for seasonal menus matched to local wines. But how has that process been for you? It's a very long-road investment that you've been making.

MAYNARD: Yeah. It's so easy just to order food off the Shamrock truck, carrots that come pre-cut. I get it, I get it. But the problem is filling in the gaps, and we try our best to make it be from farms down south. But when we have limited land up north and limited resources for people to work…

ELAINE: Well, and food crops and, for the vineyards, it's an everyday project, not just a seasonal one.

MAYNARD: Yeah, that was one of the things during COVID lockdown: we just had to explain to people that we're working. The vines don't care about this virus. We need to be out there dealing with, all those things have to happen, with or without this global thing.

ELAINE: We've mentioned Taras Ochota so many times, I feel like we should take a little time to talk about him. He was a winemaker there in Australia. One of the things that I admire about what you've done is the two of you became friends. You started working with him, in his wine, for a few seasons there. What I love about it was that it really was a collaborative thing. My understanding is you saw it as an opportunity for you to learn, but also to help bring a little more attention to his work too. Could you tell us a little bit about that collaboration about his work? It's very clearly continued to inspire the work you're doing in Arizona.

MAYNARD: The beautiful thing about people like Taras, people that are wired like that, is they might be a master of their craft, but they're never going to correct you about the way, the process, that you have doing your thing. They're going to listen and pay attention because they got where they are because, in a way, they're a sponge. You'll end up filtering out the stuff that's irrelevant later, but he was that sponge. He showed up and they were over here selling wine.

ELAINE: In the States.

MAYNARD: They were traveling around the States and they made the mistake of coming to my house before a big day down in Phoenix. I have a pretty extensive cellar. So his next day did not go well, but I poured him our Caduceus Primer Paso, which is predominantly Syrah with just a dash of 5% Malvasia Bianca in the wine. He was so fascinated by that white-wine component to that Syrah and a lightbulb went off in his head, and he wanted to do a collaboration. He secured grenache from an amazing site in Adelaide Hills. They don't have Malvasia, so he opted for Gewürz.

ELAINE: Yeah, Gewürztraminer.

MAYNARD: Yeah. So he co-fermented that, but he was showing me the process of wild ferments and extended maceration, explaining that if you have to pick it too early and it gets a little grassy with the stems and everything included, he said, don't worry about it. Just make sure you just leave it on there for six weeks minimum. I'm like, this guy's drunk. But he’s right, because then it kind of polymerizes after that amount of time. So those grassy things become these elegant, crazy things that ... because some people, they like the better end of brett, right? They like those very floral…

ELAINE: The lifted parts, yeah.

MAYNARD: Well, the thing he was doing with the extended maceration with the early, early fruit, you were getting a version of those beautiful floral aromatics that, if you had to pressed it two weeks earlier, would've gotten grass. It would've just been an undrinkable mess. But he changed my mind on it. So because of that relationship, now I do a grenache, this whole-cluster, wild ferment and then aged in concrete egg for two months called Airavata. That's all because of my relationship with Taras.

ELAINE: So Taras Ochota founded Ochota Cellars and in 2017, you and Jancis and myself were all at an event together. I helped introduce the two of you, and you poured us that Grenache-Gewürztraminer co-ferment. I was there when Jancis tasted it for the first time. I have to admit…


ELAINE: Oh, she didn't do that. But I have to admit the look on her face and the total surprise of that combination, it's like one of the great memory treasures in my mind is just that image of her and the surprise of tasting a Grenache-Gewürztraminer wine. But I have to say that wine and your work with Syrah and Malvasia, these were unheard of combos at the time. Now a few years later, I'm starting to see this sort of mini trend of people really ... the willingness to experiment more and more has really taken hold. I see it here in California, it’s happening in New Zealand, more people in Australia, you there in Arizona. Worldwide, people are realising, let's do this creative experimental work. The truth is that people like you there in Arizona and Taras in Australia helped open those doors and get us thinking in a different sort of way.

MAYNARD: Yeah, he's brilliant in that way. He's open-minded in trying things. So on the heels of that, even now we're doing things, and it's all logistics in the cellar. Things come in. I have tanks that are specific sizes. Let's take out a half a bin over here, half a bin of something over there. I've been doing for our outlier series, it's a Caduceus kind of experimental series, at least three or four of these every year where I'll take Malvasia and do 50/50 co-ferment on skins with Tempranillo or Petite Sirah or whatever. We just want to see what's going to happen. What happens when you Malvasia with Barbera 50/50? So it's just an experiment. I would say 25% is an absolute disaster, but the other 75 are like, wow, I never expected that it would turn out this amazing. Do you pursue it further? Yeah, we're going to figure it out.

ELAINE: One of the things we haven't said yet is each of the different wine brands that you're actually making. So could you talk us through those?

MAYNARD: Caduceus Cellars is – I predominantly make it here at my house, bunker, about 8,000 cases, 7,000 cases a year, mostly from Northern Arizona fruit. So fruit grown between 3,200 feet and 5,000 feet, predominantly Mediterranean and Spanish varieties. We have Merkin Vineyards, which is predominantly from the Buhl Memorial site down in Willcox, which is 4,300 feet, an elevated playa. There's Four 8 Wineworks, named after the 48th state of Arizona. That started off as a co-op, kind of an alternating proprietorship, but we had several graduates come out of that incubator, if you will. Chateau Tumbleweed, Bodega Pierce, Saeculum Cellars, Oddity Wine Collective, Heart Wood came out of it.

ELAINE: Those are all other people's brands now.

MAYNARD: All other people's brands now. So that came out of that, but now we're making some changes up here. So the Four 8 Winery is now going to be a standalone brand and we're doing a lot of Northern Arizona Italian varieties for those wines up here. We also do a whole canned program for Puscifer, a lot of sparkling wines. So we have white, red, rosé, cider and mead sparkling in a can. We just won a gold medal for the mead at the TEXSOM.

ELAINE: Well, and you won judges' selection, one of the top wines in the world, for another wine at TEXSOM as well.

MAYNARD: Merkin Vineyards Chupacabra won the judges' selection. So I think just candidly speaking, I think a lot of those contests ... I have a lot of friends that enter the contest because they want the medal. They want to show off the medal. But for me, those contests are more about putting those wines in front of experts. So even if you don't win a medal, some of the comments we've gotten back – kind of behind-the-scenes comments – are that, after everything's done and people can kind of circle back and start looking at ... unveiling wines and seeing what they are. We get a lot of compliments after the fact because they get a chance to sit down with those wines by themselves. Of course, they're always surprised because they don't think Arizona can grow wine. It's interesting to see some of the comments come back after the fact that have nothing to do with it.

So for me, that's the goal of those contests is to put those wines in front of people because now they're going, I need to get to Arizona. I need to go check that out. I'm tasting all these similar things in these wines between Todd and Kelly Bostock and Kent Callaghan and Rune and Sand Reckoner and Saeculum and everybody, Chateau Tumbleweed. We're seeing a common thread in these Arizona grapes, but you need to come see it. Those people are the kind of motivated people, somms for life, they'll make the trek to go check it out. So I can show them the medal to some people who just rolled up in a minivan who are going to go hike, but putting the wines in front of the people that, really, that's their life, I think that's the goal, really.

ELAINE: Well, you've been able to use ... there's a lot of scepticism about so-called celebrity wines, but one of the things you've been able to do is kind of use your connections around the world to bring Arizona wine out and get it in front of people, like you're talking about, and help grow the industry, really bring attention to it. I appreciate how you have actually ... very clearly for everything you talk about in wine, you're so clearly involved, really hands-on making the wine, growing the wine. You're taking a break from harvest right this minute to talk to me. So thank you for that.

MAYNARD: Yeah, this is great.

ELAINE: But what are the next steps? What is going to happen next for Caduceus for Merkin, for Puscifer, for Four 8 Wineworks?

MAYNARD: Well again, we're trying to figure out what's going to do well here. I think part of it is there's the political hurdles. There's the financial hurdles to really get it done. If there was some kind of state program to raise grants, which people are very scared of grants, but it'd be great to not have to write a two-million-dollar check to find out if Falanghina, Verdicchio, Verdejo, Fiano actually grows here. I would love to just plant a twenty-acre block with a bunch of Italian, Spanish white wines to see, Carricante, what does it do here? I have no idea, but narrowing down what does well helps you narrow down what might do well. But it's a huge check to have to write 30 grand an acre, assuming you own the land and there's power and water to it already.

ELAINE: When we first met, you made the joke that you go on tour as a musician so that you can invest in the next varieties you want to grow in the vineyard.

MAYNARD: Yeah, it's a hundred-percent true because it's very expensive and it's not all successes. We have as many failures as we have successes. When it comes to sites, varieties, approach, it took us four years of growing Nebbiolo to realize that it wanted to be cane-pruned. We're like, why isn't this shoot producing? Oh, look, this book that we should have read that Jancis wrote [Wine Grapes] told us that and we didn't read it. So now we're making a lot of mistakes, but we're learning from them. So I think that's the bigger hurdle. So the next step is we're trying to find that other couple white grapes in Arizona, other than Malvasia that express differently to see what we can come up with as far as a variety of white for the whole state.

ELAINE: When you describe these challenges, there's unique growing conditions that are hard to solve. It's expensive to try new things. Sometimes you lose a vineyard or you have to learn a whole new way of growing that variety. So why keep doing it? What keeps you motivated?

MAYNARD: Insanity, straight-up nuts. Well, because the results are worth it. We've had a couple wine writers or wine creators come out here unofficially. They just happened to be visiting friends and they're around, ‘Hey, bring them in’. We do a blind sneak attack, put all of our Tempranillos in a bag and go, ‘We're having an argument about which one of these Tempranillos is doing better than the other and what site's expressing better than the other. We don't want to score. We just want you to rate these eight Tempranillos one to eight in terms of how you think they fit in the scene’. So, when we un-bagged everything, the Unico of Unico was the number one, obviously, because it's undeniable. Then the next one was the Caduceus, and then it was a Vega Sicilia, and then it was Caduceus, Caduceus, Vega Sicilia. So we weren't bottom of the pack.

I'm not looking for accolades. I'm just saying when you blind taste double-blind, it ends up resetting the bar and expectations for people. So they can't downgrade the Caduceus wines. So to answer your question, why do I keep doing it? Moments like that, where we change minds, and it changed the landscape in Arizona. The cool thing about all this stuff we're doing in Arizona, we talk to everybody, everybody talks to us. We all get along because we're all doing business together, and all that crap on the internet and all the crap on your phone doesn't exist when you're just you're growing things and creating things and producing things, and you need an infrastructure that's the support infrastructure. It's amazing how you can take a deep breath and not have to deal with all that crap.

ELAINE: Wine becomes the great unifier, the coalition builder.


ELAINE: Maynard James Keenan, thank you so much for making time in the middle of harvest to talk to us. You're making Caduceus, Merkin, Puscifer, and Four 8 Wineworks, some of which are in national distribution. People have been able to taste those wines internationally as well. Any tips on best ways for people to find you if they want to locate your work online or the wines themselves?

MAYNARD: Yeah, caduceus.org. We have a store locator. If we ship to your state, there'll be a list of who we can direct-ship to. Then there'll be a list of wholesalers in that state and locations in those states. We're in some places in Canada, parts of Australia and a German company just came through to take over to Germany and distribute throughout the EU. But I suspect it's all going to blow out in Germany right away. But to find our wines domestically, caduceus.org.

ELAINE: Thank you so much for making time. It's really been great to talk to you and super good to connect again, too.

MAYNARD: Nice. Please, and come out whenever you can.

ELAINE: I will. I'll be there as soon as possible now that it's easier to travel again.

MAYNARD: Yes. Good God.