Monday, January 17, 2011

Wine Movie: Blood Into Wine

I'm inherently suspicious of celebrities or other simply rich people who jump into making wine, even if out of passion. It's like any other field: proper training and experience are vital components of success, though often celebs simply outsource the work to others with the necessary background. Thus, I approached the documentary Blood Into Wine with some suspicion. It presents the story of Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan's (pictured on the right) winery Caduceus, located in the Verde Valley of Arizona.

The documentary, however, peels away various misconceptions I had going into it. Just as one might expect Arizona to be blisteringly hot--it's not at higher elevations where Keenan farms--I'd expect Keenan to be kind of a stuffy, obnoxious guy thinking he is running some modern day wine plantation. He's not, though sometimes a bit of overconfidence shows. In reality, he's down to earth about his approach. Most impressively, he has joined forces with Eric Glomsky, a professionally trained winemaker. Glomsky isn't simply his wine-monkey, though, not by a long shot. There's a give and take evident, and Keenan views Glomsky as a mentor, not an employee.

Glomsky actually steals the show at times with his passion for the 'terroir' of Northern Arizona. He has a clear distrust for the wine establishment's hard-wired belief that certain regions and styles are inherently superior. Much to his credit, Keenan also does not go around name dropping famous producers or regions much, nor does he seem concerned that his wines are not imitating those of other regions. In fact, when James Suckling (pictured on the left) compares Keenan's wines to various reference points, Keenan rather visibly seems annoyed. The blog HFF delves into this subject a bit more deeply, and is definitely worth a read. Suckling comes across, unsurprisingly, as a pompous snob; out of all wine critics, he is probably the one who most fully personifies the typical wine snob stereotype.

There are definitely some running gags intended to bring levity to the proceedings, but fall a bit flat. In sum, though, I came away with a positive view of Maynard Keenan James and am especially interested in tasting Verde Valley wines at some point. This is a very good wine documentary that balances nerd appeal with more broadly accessible material. Additionally, it's worth adding that Caduceus' wines have dropped in price recently. When I checked out the price list over a year ago, it was kind of outrageous for wines with no track record. The wines are still not cheap, but they are more in line with what I'd expect for a younger wine region. It's not that I don't think the wines could command a premium eventually. Rather the market is competitive, and it's probably smart to get the wine into folks' hands to try rather than make it just a collectible.


Jeff said...

Your review seems more complete than mine. I don't know if you are a fan of Tool, but I as pretty surprised when I found out that Maynard was making wine. It just didn't seem to fit. Wine is sort of anti-psychedelic in many ways. At least if you're evaluating a drug by its effect on the mind a la Timothy Leary's scale of consciousness. And Tool certainly has a fair amount of association with drugs that take you in a different direction than wine. There is a fair amount of "third eye" imagery, and let's just say that wine doesn't open up your third eye. Something else does...

I don't know if you've checked out the website for Caduceus, but it's very Tooly in its design.

I almost went to see Maynard when he was at my Whole Foods, but then I realized that it would be ridiculous. Anyways, I know that you can still get these wines at my Whole Foods, although they are still fairly expensive. I think that's one reason why I've never sprung for them--at north of $25 for the cheapest one (and around $75 for th most expensive).

Cabfrancophile said...

I've been to the website. While I'm not a huge fan of Tool, I am familiar with their music and recall some of their creep, cool videos from the 90s. Definitely has the style I'd expect. Not a fan of the Flash animation--that was another aspect that annoyed me when I first heard of Caduceus.

It does seem like Maynard is entering into a more balanced phase of his life. The angsty rock star life was cathartic, and now the wine operation is a different outlet.

I do wish they had a cheaper bottling. But everything used to be $40-$100, I think, so that's a start. I wonder if Glomsky's Page Spring Cellars gets any distribution alongside Caduceus.

Jeff said...

At one point, I was really obsessed with Tool. I vividly remember hearing Aenima for the first time. I'd never heard anything quite like it. The thing that I really liked about Tool was the fact that they were melodic but heavy at the same time, which is different from a lot of heavy bands that are a lot more thrashy. They have a unique sound.

Yeah, the flash animation is obnoxious. The visual style is similar in a lot of ways though.

I thought it was very interesting to see the interview with James Suckling. What a douchebag. Seriously, I just couldn't get over how pretentious and silly he was. Steve Heimoff was a breath of fresh air in comparison.

Cabfrancophile said...

Tool is really recognizable--I don't have any of their albums but their sound is unique.

Suckling is by far the biggest douche in the wine world. I don't know if you've seen any of his teaser videos for his new website--Wine Spectator booted him out recently--but they are so ridiculous you have to ask if this guy is joking or serious. Sadly, I think he is serious.

Heimoff definitely seems to market himself intentionally as a more populist, less elitist reviewer. But you know what, it's working and largely rings true. It seemed like in the movie they cut away from his tasting of the wines before the reveal of what was what. Or was I just not paying attention?

Jeff said...

Funny that you mention that about Heimoff. I was noticed the same thing. There's no reveal. My guess is that he trashed their wine or something because they made the point a couple of minutes before that people have ingrained palates.

No, I haven't watched any of the Suckling stuff. Life is too short! Is it funny enough to warrant watching or will it just make me cringe with regret?

Cabfrancophile said...

Suckling's "teaser" videos will simultaneously make you laugh, cry, vomit, have explosive diarrhea and generally be left speechless.

They deserve their own blog post, actually, but were taken down from youtube for a while by Suckling as he rolled out increasingly more obnoxious videos.

Jeff said...

Interesting little sizzle reel...just him name-dropping? Weird. He's got very odd diction. Maybe because he doesn't live in the States? Weirdly obnoxious. What's up with his hair?