Monday, June 29, 2009

Caduceus, Merkin, & Tool - Oh My!

There are lots of famous wealthy people who decide to diversify once they strike it rich. It's about brand building I suppose. Or maintaining a 360-degree media consciousness. Actors open restaurants, singers start clothing lines, strippers become porn stars and then become escorts. It's all about squeezing money out of every possible stream, channel, and orifice.

But in most of these instances, it's not a labor of love. It's just a bunch of big companies figuring out new ways to make money on the same crappy Chinese sunglasses. Jay-Z is no more a fashion designer than Sasha Grey is a legitimate actress.

But when the motivation to use your considerable financial resources to pursue non-autochthonous business ventures is pure--driven by an honest passion--you get some damn good salad dressings. Or, in the case of Caduceus Cellars, some really good wine.

The baby of Tool/A Perfect Circle/Puscifer frontman Maynard James Keenan, Caduceus Cellars represents an effort to bring world-class winemaking back to Arizona. Maynard was at Silverlake Wine last weekend presenting a few releases from Caduceus and its brother, Merkin Vineyards.

Only one of the wines poured was from the Arizona vineyards--they were planted in 2004 so wine from the first harvest was just bottled this past year--but there's nothing wrong with what they've been doing so far using fruit mostly sourced from Paso Robles. Eric Glomski takes the lead on the winemaking, but after a short conversation with Maynard (where we talked about yields, distribution, and temperature, amongst other things), it was eminently clear that he's more than just a money guy. He's out there in the dirt, in the cellars, and has a clear mission for his winery and a very active hand in the winemaking.

First up was a white wine (the Arizona one), Dos Ladrones, roughly equal parts Chardonnay and Malvasia Bianca. Girlfriend Charlie and I were both, at first pour, turned off to the wine. It was very tight and tasted underripe. We were thinking "Oh hell, some over-hyped celebrity wine here." But as the wine warmed (reaching about 57 degrees, Maynard said, the wine is at its best) it opened up beautifully. Really beautifully, actually. Very cool stuff and I think clearly expressive of what Arizona white wine can be.

Next up was the flagship "Primer Paso" wine, made up primarily of Syrah with a dose of Malvasia (from Arizona) in there. What would prove to be a trait of all the Caduceus wine was what made it eminently appealing: there was a lot of acid for a red. This was a food wine.

My favorite of the tasting was the Naga, a primarily Sangiovese blend made from Paso Robles fruit. Unlike most Sangioveses I've had from Paso Robles, this wasn't overly extracted and the acidity shown through nicely. Mostly Italian-styled, but with more bright fruit.

As much as I did like the Naga, I'm stoked on the Merkin Vineyards Chupacabra. The one thing about Caduceus Cellars and the cachet attached to its owner is that they can charge quite a bit for their wine. The wines are priced fairly given the quality, production size (tiny tiny) and the serious costs associated with starting up a vineyard from scratch, but I'm not going to lie: there are plenty of wines to be had of comparable quality for considerably less. But the Chupacabra, made from an annually changing blend of varietals (mostly Cab & Syrah), hits a nice ~$20 price point and serves as a solid introduction to the style of the more prohibitively priced Caduceus wines. Big fruit, good tannins, and that brisk acidity--a good barbecue wine for summer.

What was just so cool was to hear a guy who could easily use the novelty of his star power to make some horseshit crap but instead he's made wine a part of his life, all while campaigning hard for what could be a new major wine region in the United States.

So the only negative opinion I really have about the wines is that they're really expensive. But with the Chupacabra and a growing estate vineyard, hopefully Caduceus/Merkin will have more wines across the price spectrum.

Caduceus Cellars Wines are available throughout Los Angeles, including at Silverlake Wine, The Cheese Store of Silverlake, Liquid Wine & Spirits, and select Whole Foods.


yutjangsah said...

hey hey, i was there too! i probably saw you and your gf. wht a small world.

David J.D. said...

More than likely. Good stuff.

Jeff said...

There's a really interesting thing on Vaynerchuk's show with Maynard. He seems like he knows his shit. I've wanted to try the wines too, but kind of figured they wouldn't be all that great...

David J.D. said...

Check the stuff out. As I mentioned, the Chupacabra is a good intro that isn't prohibitively expensive.

J. Song said...

I'm glad to hear that Caduceus was good. I received a shipment of wines from Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, another of Mr. Keenan's projects, and was not impressed. But then again, who knows? Having been shipped, they might have been stored in some hot-ass warehouse for a few days.

Joon S.