Wine is a dry enough subject already without people feeling the need to subject unbelievers to documentaries about it.
That’s why it took something more colourful in the shape of the unlikely 2004 blockbuster Sideways to A-list the wine industry in the American collective consciousness. (Or at least that’s how the myth has it.)
And such is the evangelical slant of Ryan Page and Christopher Pomerenke’s Blood Into Wine – part biopic of Maynard James Keenan, part advert for the US wine industry as a whole – that the concept might not sound too palatable. Fortunately, you don’t watch films with your tongue, or taste wine with your ears, and if neither of those observations sound coherent or relevant, then take this one instead; you don’t have to be a Tool fan and a wine fan to enjoy this documentary, (although it’ll definitely help if you’re one or the other).
I hate Tool. And I hate A Perfect Circle. Having watched Blood Into Wine I now hate Puscifer too, (who I’d never heard of before). But I’ve got time for Maynard: he seems like a good guy. Weird, arrogant and self-absorbed perhaps, but admirable in his professionalism and doggedness. He’s a man on a mission, whatever he’s up to: be it transforming the face of shouty US mainstream rock or trying to (almost) single-handedly put Arizona on the US wine map.
That ‘almost’ is a sticky subject here, because the co-star of the film seems like the star of the show down by the vines; Eric Glomski is afforded a place on the DVD cover and plenty of screen time, but plenty of that is spent bemoaning the inevitable life-in-the-shadows status being the winemaker to Maynard’s celebrity vineyard owner: “I’m only the winemaker. Don’t mind me.”
While Maynard’s signing bottles of Cab Sav for Tool fans, Eric does sometimes seem like a spare part standing to his left. What is he? The vineyard drummer or something?
Obviously, there are precedents for winemakers becoming celebrities as opposed to the opposite process (take K Vintners’ Charles Smith), but it must be a drag making wine with the guy from Tool sometimes.
What unites both these dudes, though, is what really drives this documentary: passion. Both have a palpable passion for the wine they make, and for the Arizona soil that nourishes their vines. There’s no doubt they’re serious about it. A celebrity wine-growing venture this may be – and it may well be dismissed as such – but these guys are in for the long haul. It’s been a good seven years since they first planted and this documentary may be their biggest marketing ploy to date (until Maynard goes the Al Stewart route and pens a wine concept album) but it’s also a testament to how far they’ve come.
Maynard may occasionally come across as slightly humourless as he paws about in red soil banging on about terroir, but it’s his lack of rock star excess and dumb hedonism that’s his selling point as a focus for this documentary. As I said, I don’t care for his music, but as a man trying to grow grapes in a difficult environment, and a man who believes it’s worth doing so for the unique product he can produce, I have tremendous respect for him. I am interested in what he has to say (and his vineyard drummer – sorry, winemaker!) The celebrity status hurdle is a high one – particularly with cameos from Fairuza Balk and Milla Jovovich to roll your eyes through – but I guess that’s part of being Maynard, and that’s part of being a figurehead for (sigh) Merkin Vineyards and/or Caduceus Cellars.
You know he’s serious when he keeps a straight face through cartoonishly-dumb skits with a couple of oafish wine-hating TV hosts, and if you still doubted it you damn well know he is when he names his first non-blended Cabernet Sauvignon after his dead mum. Such a gesture could come across as trite when translated through a TV screen if this were the celebrity-focused video memoirs of a rock douche; but Maynard is just a regular guy really. An incredibly hardworking, probably difficult, possibly autistic, regular guy. So, yeah: high five.
Whether the wine is there on the global quality scale is clearly debatable. Arizona’s got a long way to go before it’s going to even try to compete with California.
I’d love to try it, but, unfortunately, you don’t watch films with your tongue.
(Email me for a postal address, PR guys: I want samples!)
Some of the many drinking scenes include a blind tasting session with a guy who I think was Steve Heimoff, and it did sort of trail off after he said one of the wines tasted all dusty and uncomplicated – there was no smooth segue there and no catharsis neither. But everyone knows wine takes time and Merkin is a young vineyard. It certainly seems possible on the evidence presented that Maynard & Glomski’s wines could one day rival the boldest of the Barossa Valley‘s reds. And if they don’t, it sure won’t be from a lack of trying.
You can read more about Blood into Wine here.
And you can buy the doc on DVD here.