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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

It’s June 16, and a mammoth line is coiling like an intestine around the inside of the River Street Whole Foods parking garage, clogged with cheerful miscreants in black T-shirts and baggy pants. We’re circling a booth filled with wine, and inside that booth is a tiny tent where Maynard James Keenan, the lead singer of Tool and A Perfect Circle, is waiting to sign every single bottle. He’s spreading the gospel of his latest venture: a quest to bring wine to Arizona’s Verde Valley, via Stronghold Vineyards (which Keenan co-owns with winemaker Eric Glomski) and his own Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards.

It’s a strange that a guy as notoriously elusive Keenan would be willing to spend the day giving himself hand cramps in this yuppie dungeon. Then again, his fervor for the Verde Valley vineyards makes a lot of sense. In contrast to his music, which has for so long served as fodder for horrendously tacky MySpace profiles and unfortunate tattoos, wine is unfuckwithable. As he quips in the trailer for Blood into Wine (an upcoming documentary about Stronghold), “You let the grape speak for itself.” He’s finally made something that no depressed angstling can repurpose into an away message or a shitty piece of fan fiction, and that’s a hell of a feat.

I’ve been dreading this signing, envisioning total chaos, but the event staffers are running a tight ship. By the time we line up, we’ve already pre-ordered our wine. I’m getting Stronghold’s 2008 Tazi, a white “vino quattro” (made from Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Malvasia grapes; $17.98). My friend Andy has sprung for the red 2006 Caduceus Anubis (a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Sangiovese; $32.98). We both pick up the 2006 Merkin Chupacabra, a mystery red ($19.98).

There’s a diverse crowd here: amid the obvious Tool devotees, broomstick-skirted hippies with strollers jostle up against ruddy jocks and khaki-clad office drones playing hooky. One of the wispy blondes in front of us exclaims, “Maybe he’ll sign my body!” (Her plan is to turn the flesh signature into a tattoo.) A guy behind her clutches a framed Tool Revolver spread in the hopes that Keenan will put his scribble on it. Fat chance.

As we near Keenan’s tent, we’re funneled through increasingly Draconian security. We’re handed our wines, and then liberated of our bags and any other suspicious objects. And then — pow! — the big moment arrives. I’m face to face with Maynard and Glomski, and they’re smiling and thanking me and scrawling on my bottles. Six nanoseconds later, I’m washed up on the sidewalk, reunited with my belongings. Show’s over.

Afterward, we hunker down in a (very gracious) nearby bar to uncork the Chupacabra. The label proclaims: “Only a True Alchemist can draw holy blood from a stone.” Peppery and leathery in the nose, it’s very smooth and not too dry. “Totally cherries,” remarks my hobbyist-vintner friend Jimmy. Thumbs up all around — seems like Keenan's stumbled onto some true alchemy here.


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