The rise of Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards wines.
Most of what I attribute to Keenan in this post is from the Caduceus website, the rest I guessed at. I don’t know him or his music but I know a bit about wine.
Mr. Keenan is an (anti) celebrity vigneron who is as passionate about and committed to the the art of wine as he is to the art of music and is breaking new ground in the vicinity of Cornville Arizona (south of Flagstaff and west of Sedona) under semi-desert conditions. While busy Jesuits did plant vines a long time ago, the present day state of Arizona wine production has been heavily influenced by this man. Keenan is a musician (Tool, Perfect Circle, Puscifer) who loves wine, lives in the region and was struck by what he considered potentially prime vineyard conditions. He trusted his intuition and devoted his time, talent and treasure to creating vineyards, a winery and ultimately, wine that uniquely expresses the Arizona terroir. This “baby stepping” stranger in a strange land created “templates” for his wines inspired by existing models from Cote Rotie, Australia and Tuscany, for starters. I’m sure the Tempranillo and Garnacha he’s playing with now will accompany some great ideas borrowed from Spain and then of course tweaked into something uniquely Keenan.
His first effort “Primer Paso,” Spanish for “first step,” was from his first vintage, 2004, with a Syrah or Shiraz base made with Australia and Cote Rotie in mind. The goal is to evolve a unique Arizona style of wine. In practice juice has been partially sourced from Arizona with some from California and more recently New Mexico (anyone for a little Gruet bubbly?) with the intention to achieve a 100% Arizona identity in the future. As Keenan says he is striving for wine that reflects his sensibilities as well as those of the source (Arizona). His musical art is described as “thick, dense, rich, complex, engaging, emotional and spiritual.” He describes the spirit of Arizona exactly the same way (thick, dense, rich, complex, engaging, emotional and spiritual) and wants that same vibe to come across in the wine he makes.
In my limited experience tasting some of the Caduceus upper tier, Nagual de la Naga for one gives me that feeling; it is a wine of contemplation. Anyone outside of Jerome, Arizona will have very limited experience tasting his wines as they are produced in exceedingly small quantities at present. I read he does hold tastings at some Whole Foods out near him and does some tastings, bottle signing now and then. This link takes you to info on the Jerome AZ tasting room, in case you happen to be in the area.
It’s not hard to guess that Keenan is a fan of Brunellos, Chateauneuf du Pape and Super Tuscans, just taste his top tier wines. It’s also apparent that he wants to develop wines with terroir and to use oak judiciously, as a subtle framework rather than a 2×4 to the head. He is very involved with the viticulture, tweaking plantings, vineyard layouts, canopy management, et al. so his grapes can “be all they can be.” Must have gotten that idea from his army days.
Finally, very few of his wines are straight varietals. He’s very hands on in blending which gives a wine balance, complexity and dimension. The atypical blends are Chupacabra (The shape shifter) and Shinola which has Sangiovese, Refosco, Primitivo and Dolcetto. one of the more traditionally styled wines is the Primer Paso, mostly Syrah with a little white Malvasia in the as you see in French Cote Rotie. Keenan envisioned several wine “templates” as a starting point rather than a blueprint. “Template” reminds me of “cookie cutter” so it is not too accurate. They are the archetypes for the specific wines, the spirit and motivation. Most of what I attribute to Keenan in this post these are taken from the notes on the Caduceus website. There is lots of annoying animation but the content is good, right from the heart of Maynard James Keenan.
Nagual de la Naga: Not sure what the name means, has something to do with Don Juan and the Yaquis and spirit guides. Here is Keenan’s description: “1990 Sassacaia, 1990 Masseto, I’d be thrilled to live in the immense shadow of the wine from this region of my 1st love, Tuscany. She has a spell cast over me. She taunts me like the Sirens. I believe it’s the dance between the Sangiovese and the Cab. Sav. The beef and cherries. This template is by far the biggest guess. No one in this area has attempted Sangiovese that I am aware of. There is no physical evidence to suggest that we will be able to pull off the NAGA. The Kundalini Serpent. The Mountain Goddess. Only the educated guess based on terroir and some faith in our intuition. I’m hoping that over time we will have Arizona fruit that even remotely resembles the alchemy that emanates from this magic place.”
Primer Paso: The name means “first step” and it was his first crush and first wine, his first venture into the unknown of Arizona. Here’s what Keenan says about the nature of this wine: “Penfold’s Grange, Torbreck’s Runrig. These are just a couple of the heavy wood influenced, bold fruit, aromatic, tannic Australian reds that inspired me to pursue this endeavor. But rather than try to mimic these established wines and live in their shadow, I chose to pursue a slightly different path. Primer paso is a Shiraz. No doubt. But with a secret. Well it was a secret. With the Primer I’ve tried to tone down the sledgehammer of sweet American wood present in most of the big Aussie Shiraz’s and add the perfect amount of Arizona White wine to take it’s place. The goal is to have the floral nose of a Viognier or Malvasia, the body of a big aussie Shiraz, with a finish that combines the two. A jasmine nasturnium salad, followed by a hearty prime rib. And for desert? An espresso with fresh peach cobbler. Behold… my 'First Step.'”
Chupacabra: This wine is named for a mythical beast (literally “goat sucker”) that attacks livestock and sucks their blood. In the real world they are probably mangy coyotes but in the world of myth and legend they are strange creatures of unknown origin. Here is what Keenan says about the wine: “The Trickster, The Shape Shifter. The ever elusive shadow who mutates with the sun and moon. One year a Dragon, another a Snake. This is our Mystery blend. Think forest, not trees. Think weather, not rain. Stare and the Chupacabra, who dwells in your heart and not in your head, will vanish. Only a true Alchemist can draw holy blood from a stone, and the Chupacabra is his opus, his phoenix his cherub, his child.”
These are just three of many releases but the production of these wines are miniscule, between 250 to 500 cases of each wine.
Until about a year ago we received small allotments of all of these wines and more (there are many different releases) but now the winery sells it exclusively and ships nationwide. However, Mora’s is getting some of the Spring 2012 release, and we also carry the Arizona Stronghold label which is all sourced from Arizona. Our miniscule allocation of Caduceus and Chupacabra is due by the end of July so check in with us in a few weeks.
Mora’s Fine Wines CADUCEUS AND MERKIN VINEYARDS LIMITED OFFERING - Due Summer 2012
Name: CADUCEUS CELLARS 2010 Nagual de la Naga, Bonita Springs Vineyard, Graham County, AZ
Varietals: 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 23% Sangiovese & 8% Tempranillo, Elevation: 42-4600ft, Aging: 12-14 Months in New & Neutral French Oak, Soil: Alluvial Fans with Sandy Loam, Cases Produced: 260, Winemaker: M J Keenan/Tim White
Tasting Notes: A Dusty Hue of Red Plums, Red Licorice with Subtle Hints of Oak & Plump Tannins
Name: CADUCEUS CELLARS 2010 Anubis, Bonita Springs Vineyard, Graham County, AZ
Varietals: 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petite Sirah co/fermented with Malvasia Bianca & 8% Syrah , Elevation: 42-4600ft, Aging: 12-18 Months in New & Neutral French Oak, Soil: Alluvial Fans with Sandy Loam, Cases Produced: 340, Winemaker: M J Keenan
Tasting Notes: Honeyed, Toffee, Cherried Leather in a Cone of Oak
Name: MERKIN VINEYARDS 2011 Shinola, Luna Rosa Vineyard, Luna County, New Mexico
Varietals: 25% Sangiovese, 25% Dolcetto, 25% Refosco, 25% Primitivo, Aging: 10-12 Months in New & Neutral French Oak , Cases Produced: 250, Winemaker: M J Keenan
Tasting Notes: Ruby in Color. An Array of Red Fruits with a Dusty, Oaky back drop hits the nose right away. The Red Fruits play Delicately with the Fine Grained Tannins, Sweet Spice and Rich Leather.
Name: MERKIN VINEYARDS 2011 Chupacabra Shapeshifter, California
Varietals: 42% Petite Sirah, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah, 8% Viognier , Aging: Neutral Oak , Cases Produced: 500 , Winemaker: M J Keenan/Greg Stokes
Tasting Notes: A Purple Hued, Moca covered Pomegranate with Black Plums and Black Raspberries, Focused Coarse Tannins round out a Medium Finish.
Caduceus Cellars and Vineyards, general information
158 MAIN STREET, JEROME, AZ 86331 | MAIL: P.O. BOX 905, JEROME, AZ 86331 WWW.CADUCEUS.ORG | TASTINGROOM@CADUCEUSCELLARS.COM | TEL: 928.639.WINE | FAX: 928.639.3519 | BASIC INFO: 928.634.3444
http://www.caduceus.org/ winery website, funky annoying flash but good mission statements and stuff on the spirit of each wine.
http://speakeasypr.com/news/2012/04/12/caduceus-cellars-merkin-vineyards-spring-releases/ 2012 press release on the new wines
http://www.azstronghold.com/centennialwines.html Arizona Stronghold Vineyards website