To put it mildly, today’s interviewee guest is a bona fide bad-ass rock star. Oh, yeah – he happens to know his wine, as well.
Geoff Tate is best known as the voice behind uber-rockers Queensryche, who garnered critical acclaim after releasing the brilliant hard rock concept album Operation: Mindcrime in 1988 – followed shortly afterwards by a chronicle of their ambitious live rendition of the entire album (Operation: Livecrime, which on a bad-ass scale of 1 to 10 comes in somewhere around a 37). Their 1990 studio release, Empire, went triple-platinum and catapulted Queensryche into cross-over super-stardom, launching about a thousand copy-cat hard rock acts who tried – but never quite matched – the uniqueness of Empire’s best-known track, the power-ballad Silent Lucidity.
In other words, Queensryche ruled hard-rock in the early `90s.
They’ve been rocking ever since, maintaining a hard-edged musical integrity, exploring social themes, and continuing to push their own boundaries even when those directions meant less fame. A core group of fans have followed them throughout, and Queensryche is currently touring in support of their latest release, American Soldier, a chronicle of wartime experiences based on conversations with American military personnel, and consequently one of their boldest artistic statements to date.
Tate, a Washington native, has been making wine with Walla Walla producer Three Rivers Winery for the last few years, starting off with a Bordeaux-style red blend called Insania and recently adding a Bordeaux-style white blend to the Insania lineup.
I tasted samples of the 2009 Insania White and 2008 Insania Red, and found both quite good and clearly made with food pairing in mind. the wines might not be to everyone’s tastes (the Insania red being relatively big at 14.5% abv) but it will take only one sniff to dispel any doubts that the wines aren’t serious, or that they’re simply another celebrity vanity project.
The 2009 white (mostly Sauvignon Blanc) is the simpler of the two, with tasty melon and citrus moving into a “fleshy” mouthfeel (thanks to a healthy dose of barrel-fermented Semillon). It’s not svelte, but clearly the fruit from Red Mountain’s Klipsun vineyard (which makes up over half the Insania white blend) has great potential; here it delivers a wine that totally rocks with shrimp and avocado burritos.
The 2008 Insania Red (primarily Cabernet Sauvignon, with dollops of Merlot, Malbec and a tiny portion of Cab Franc) offers complexity on the nose that one wouldn’t expect from a wine sourced from six different vineyards. The almost sweet and very dark fruit is complimented by cedar and black olive notes, and there’s enough acidity in Insania to tame its brooding tannins with a beef filet; it might be big, but it’s anything but dumb.
Geoff was kind enough to take some time out of the Queensryche touring schedule to answer a few questions about Insania and offer his take on several wine topics. What follows is an insight into a wine-knowledgeable hard-rocking brain, and fans of Queensryche’s music will not be surprised to find that Geoff has strong opinions – specifically, on where to go for wine recommendations, pairing wine with fine cuisine, and wine’s role in American society.
Geoff Tate: I met Holly and her husband Andy several years ago at a wine dinner that my wife Susan and I attended at Three Rivers in Walla Walla. We both became fans of her wines and were impressed with her talent. We all got along famously and had a wonderful time eating and drinking, in fact as the evening progressed, the four of us exited the party and ended up in the barrel room as Andy deftly scaled the mountain of barrels to siphon off tastes of the many wines that were in development. Their enthusiasm for their work was infectious. Years later, the four of us were sitting around after one of my shows tasting wines and the idea for creating a signature wine for me was mentioned, well … that started the ball rolling and we stayed up most of the night discussing the possibilities. The next day, when we sobered up, the idea still sounded fun so 5 years later …here we are.
1WD: It seems the obvious question is to ask how a rock star got "into" wine, but with other rockers like Les Claypool, Maynard James Keenan, and even Whitesnake releasing wines it doesn’t strike me at all as strange – but it does seem to get media coverage whenever a rocker releases a wine or professes to be a fan of vino. Why do you think those situations garner such media attention? Do you think rock musicians have been unfairly pegged as a beer / hard liquor / drugs crowd?
GT: I am fortunate to be able to travel for a living. Travel opens one’s mind to experience and for me, the wine experience has been full of variety. The culture of wine in America is very young but in other parts of the world it is ancient. Thousands of years of trial and error have made for some amazing complexities to arise. In France, Spain, parts of South America, the Middle East and Asia, some variety of wine is served with every meal. Food and wine go together and that is our approach to Insania. It is designed with food pairing in mind. As far as media attention and rock musicians go … I would say that it’s very simple explanation, publicists. Almost all the “news” we get these days is generated and overseen by publicists. It’s his or her job to tell everyone what everyone else is doing.
“Food and wine go together and that is our approach to Insania. It is designed with food pairing in mind.”
1WD: You’ve released two wines with Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla, both of them blends. What attracted you to blending (vs. releasing a 100% varietal wine)? How did you decide on the components for the blends?
GT: In my opinion, making wine is a science, whereas blending is the true art of the winemaker.
1WD: Do you ever sit back in a comfortable chair in your home, pour a glass of Insania and listen to songs like "Sign Of The Times" and think "Damn, I am a total bad-ass!" Because I could totally see myself doing that…
GT: Ha! I like to share wine and drink it with people who appreciate it. I also like to hear what everyone has to say about it when they drink it. A fine bottle of wine is like a beautiful woman. The more time you spend with her, the more she reveals herself to you. There are subtle nuances and surprises with each taste. Wine is a lot like music in that everyone experiences it differently. Every person has his or her own unique sense of taste and smell. Some like spicy some don’t etc.
1WD: For Queensryche’s latest release, American Soldier, as research you interviewed veterans and enlistees from almost all of the wars that America has fought in modern times. That’s quite an artistic work ethic; do you approach the winemaking for Insania with a similar sense of immersion, or is your participation more hands-off, or somewhere in-between…?
GT: I dive in all the way when it comes to the blending process. Holly is an incredible wine maker and needs no assistance but she always asks me each time we blend what I want Insania to be. We have tasted so many different wines and discussed the nuances of each so much that she knows what I like … and what I like is for Insania to be consistent vintage after vintage.
“A fine bottle of wine is like a beautiful woman. The more time you spend with her, the more she reveals herself to you.”
1WD: If the Insania Red and Insania White were Queensryche songs, which would they be?
GT: Insania red would be “Suite: Sister Mary” from “Operation Mindcrime”. It’s dark, brooding, exhilarating and it takes you on one hell of a journey. Insania white would “Doin’ Fine” from “Tribe”. Happy, light and carefree.
1WD: What styles of wine do you prefer? Was there a particular style or idea that you were aiming for Insania to achieve?
GT: Our idea was to take the wonderful fruit of the Colombia Valley and create a distinctive Washington wine in the French style using the classic French varietals. The red had to be complex with a powerful, muscular body, a jammy nose and restrained oak. I wanted the wine to pair well with food. I wanted a wine that you could cellar for years; pull it out for that special dinner and it would knock everyone’s socks off. The white was a completely different approach. Drinking the Insania white is like drinking the perfect summer day. The nose is floral with citrus fruit. I wanted it to be the perfect accompaniment to shellfish. Picture a hot summer evening on the waterfront, everyone gathered together for a beach barbecue. Oysters, clams and mussels washed down with chilled Insania white. That’s my idea of “living”.
1WD: How do you absorb your wine information, in terms of sources about wine and reviews, etc.? Do you think the Internet and social media are having an impact on the wine world (positive or negative)?
GT: I read the wine magazines occasionally but I prefer to have one on one contact with some one I know shares my sensibilities and tastes. My “go to guy” is Joe Euro. He owns The Wine Seller in Port Townsend and is a damn fine musician as well.
“Picture a hot summer evening on the waterfront, everyone gathered together for a beach barbecue. Oysters, clams and mussels washed down with chilled Insania white. That’s my idea of living.”
1WD: What’s next for Insania? Anything that we should be on the lookout for in the future?
GT: We are set to begin blending for the 2009 vintage in September with the release in Spring. The Holiday barrel tasting is the first week of December in Walla Walla and I’ll be there at the winery pouring and playing some music. It’s always a great time and I look forward to the barrel tasting each year. Queensryche is busy in the studio creating our next album, which we hope to release in the Spring of 2011.
1WD: Can I hang out with you backstage sometime? That probably sounds a little crazy… but the alternative was going to be me asking if I could sit in on a song on stage with you someday (I’m a bass player), but that would probably cause my head to literally explode all over the stage from the coolness factor, so I think it’s better if we just don’t go there…
GT: You can come to any show anytime! Bring your bass and some wine, it will be fun!
[ Editor’s note: I’m guessing it will need to be a *very* nice bottle if I expect to get past security… ]
(images: queensryche.com, geofftate.com, threeriverswinery.com, 1winedude.com)