Vintners who rock
By Joseph Baca
There are hundreds of rock songs about fruit of the vine: Neil Diamond’s “Red Red Wine,” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “Alligator Wine,” Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova.” Having been in or around the wine business for 25 years, though, I never dreamed I would be writing about rock star winery owners. Rock and roll has always been about subversiveness and the counterculture. Wine is highbrow.
When rock stars of my generation were swilling tequila with groupies, hanging from chandeliers and throwing televisions out of hotel room windows, most wine connoisseurs were either of royal lineage or stuffy college professors who ate multiple-course gourmet dinners after attending the symphony. Today, a grape revolution has allowed the middle class to become part of that once elite culture. Rock and roll was invited to the party, too, and some of its stars have turned into ascot-wearing, grape-growing country squires. Some are making sincere efforts at creating a good product. Others, by merely affixing their names to labels, are engaging in pure money-grubbing (we won’t disclose them here, but one rhymes with shmay-cee shmee-cee).
For those not familiar, it’s important to understand that there is no true winery behind most of what people buy today. Land is so expensive in Napa, for instance, that people rent space in massive warehouses, buy grapes, have them delivered, and make and store the juice in the warehouse. It is then sold through a false storefront. Many great winemakers have nothing to do with growing grapes; they just purchase fruit from vineyards with good reputations. Numerous bottles you see on Wine Spectator’s prestigious “Top 100” list are created this way. (Winemakers can also hire a company called Enologix to help chemically enhance the product to guarantee high scores.) The business is not as hands-on as people think. Therefore, any real attempt by a rock star at vinting is a valiant effort, in my estimation, especially if they are turning the soil, pruning the vines and making the wine. It’s really about the love you put into the wine’s creation.
With that caveat, let me present the musicians behind the beautiful cacophony. Below are six from the rock world who have taken up the Bacchanalian indulgence.
• Boz Scaggs is said to be making great Rhone-style wines at his Scaggs Vineyard in Mt. Veeder, Napa. Along with his wife, he is very involved with the creation. (scaggsvineyard.com)
• Bruce Cohn, manager of the Doobie Brothers, makes the best of the bunch at his B.R. Cohn Winery & Olive Oil Company in Sonoma, and he’s completely involved in the day-to-day. (brcohn.com)
• Dave Matthews owns Blenheim Vineyards in Virginia, which he purchased as part of an effort to save the land. The winery is a small patch of what is now an organic farm, and although Matthews is not fully involved, his efforts appear to be sincere. (blenheimvineyards.com)
• Les Claypool of Primus has a nice setup in Sonoma, and rumor has it the wine is good. The writer of the “South Park” theme produces two—Purple Pachyderm and Pink Platypus. Claypool is hands-on. (claypoolcellars.com)
• Maynard James Keenan of Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer is making great wines in Jerome, Ariz., at his Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards. The 2010 film Blood Into Wine documents his efforts. For me, he is the star for his hands-in-the-soil involvement, and the Caduceus website is a must-see. (vino.caduceus.org)
• Mick Fleetwood has a huge line of award-winning bottles he creates at his Mick Fleetwood Private Cellar Wine. Although he is involved in the mixing and tasting, he’s not actually growing grapes. I do give him huge kudos for having the ability to decipher bouquets and aromas after the mountainous amounts of cocaine all the members of his band are rumored to have consumed. (mickfleetwoodprivatecellar.com)
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