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The Aspen Times

http://www.aspentimes.com/article/20080613/AE/769191021

ASPEN — Some decades ago, Mick Fleetwood had little interest in wine. And who could blame him? Several times a year, on his early visits to the U.S. — he says the experience was very different in Europe — the British-born Fleetwood would subject himself to the discomfort and degradation of ordering wine to go with dinner. No matter how good the bottle may have been, the process left him with a bad taste in his mouth.

“It was people sitting in a restaurant, quivering in their boots, thinking, ‘What are we going to order?’” said Fleetwood. “In truth, they were just told what to like. And I remember sitting there drinking, and thinking, ‘Oh, I’m supposed to like this — and not necessarily liking it.’”

Fleetwood turned his attention away from oenology, and focused instead on music. It proved to be a wise decision; he has never seemed to need outside prodding to know what sounded good to his ears. In his earliest days, it was blues-rock — first with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, then, beginning in the late ’60s, with the earliest incarnation of Fleetwood Mac. In the mid-’70s, with the addition of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, the band’s sound took a sharp turn, toward radio-friendly pop-rock. It was an assured stylistic change, however, as Fleetwood Mac turned out such essential ’70s works as 1975’s eponymous album and 1977’s “Rumours.”

A decade and a half ago, Fleetwood had another abrupt about-face, this time in his offstage life. It was almost certainly a good thing; Fleetwood Mac was one of the primary symbols of rock ’n’ roll excess, mid-’70s-style, and Fleetwood himself was never known to exclude himself from the party. His 1990 memoir, “Fleetwood: My Life and Adventures with Fleetwood Mac,” recounts his cocaine addiction and bankruptcy. And in looking to switch things up, Fleetwood decided on a new beverage to go with his new ways: wine.

“Probably about 16 years ago or so,” said Fleetwood, by phone from his home on Maui. “That was a journey that started really from a change in lifestyle. My crazy rock ’n’ roll lineage wound down a bit; my home life changed. I started entertaining at home, not going out so much.”

(An aside: The life change apparently did not include going any easier on his drum kit. Not long after this adjustment, Fleetwood played a New Year’s Eve gig at the old Double Diamond in Aspen, on a bill with rockabilly singer Billy Burnette, a member of the latter-day Fleetwood Mac, and then little-known singer, Sheryl Crow. I happened to be backstage in the company of Fleetwood, and we had a pleasant drink and conversation. He was then called to his drum set, and started playing the show while we were still sharing our moment together. Standing a few feet from the six-foot, six-inch Fleetwood as he played, I was shaken by the force of his drumming, and his near-manic energy.)

While getting into wine — at least in part through his wife, Lynn, who he says loves to cook — Fleetwood began wanting to simplify the process of finding wines he enjoyed. He had no desire to go back to those days when ordering a bottle in a restaurant was an uncomfortable, uncertain, and often disappointing experience. He took to wondering how nice it would be if he could make his own wines, those made to his own tastes. Eventually, these thoughts took the form of spoken words, and one of those listening was Jonathan Todd, who had become a business associate and friend of Fleetwood’s.

“I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if ... ?’ How great would it be if I had wines I loved all the time? I thought you’d have to have a vineyard, et cetera,” said the 60-year-old Fleetwood. “And Jonathan said, the reality is you can do that.
“It was sort of, be careful what you wish for.”

Fleetwood makes an appearance at this weekend’s Food & Wine Classic in Aspen as a winemaker, a wine appreciator and a musician. Mick Fleetwood Private Cellar, the winemaking business he launched six years ago, will be among the exhibitors at Food & Wine. On Saturday, the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band will perform on Fanny Hill in Snowmass Village, as part of Fleetwood’s Uncorked Tour. The 6:15 p.m. concert, which revisits the drummer’s roots in blues-rock, will be preceded by a VIP reception, featuring cuisine paired with Fleetwood wines.

One role Fleetwood won’t be inhabiting at the Classic is that of know-it-all wine expert. He got into wine to enjoy the experience, not to spread stress about the beverage.

“I said, one of the things I believe in, I’m not a hoity-toity wine person,” said Fleetwood of his beginnings as a winemaker. “I don’t want people to be intimidated because they don’t know how the sun was shining on the vineyard in 1952. They don’t need to know that to know what they like.”

Fleetwood decided he would be guided only by his own likes and dislikes. The first of what he calls his “simple grand rules” of his wine venture was this: “Mick Fleetwood Private Cellar would be exactly and only controlled by my palate,” he said. “Everyone knows that would be the criteria.

“Which could have been really restrictive. If I had a taste for vinegar, we wouldn’t be talking right now.”

It appears that Fleetwood’s wine preferences have been embraced by the bigger wine culture. His wines — which are vineyard-independent, meaning he uses the grapes from various growers, most of them in California — have been toasted in competitions and in industry publications. In a blind tasting of 50 wines bearing a celebrity label, Fleetwood took top honors. Among his smattering of honors in more standard competitions is a gold medal for his Chardonnay in the 2005 Long Beach Cru Wine Competition.

Fleetwood wasn’t aiming even that high when he began. “I was quite selfish, quite personal. I knew I would like the wines I was choosing,” he said. Even when he released his first wine in 1998, a blend of 75 percent Merlot and 25 percent Cabernet Franc, he wasn’t thinking of how it would be received. “I was so thrilled to be doing what we were doing, that I didn’t have much fear. I should have.”

By the third or fourth release, Fleetwood became concerned with how the wine would taste to palates other than his own. “At that point, you are aware that people liked the first ‘album,’” he said, comparing his winemaking to his musical efforts. “That was magical: You weren’t laughed out of town. You’re going, ‘OK, this is great.’ At that point, you’re aware you’re doing something of a certain caliber.”

That was when Fleetwood knew he’d fallen into a second career. “It’s not a ‘sort-of’ thing,” said Fleetwood, who has released 18 wines under his label. “Then it becomes hard work. You have to knuckle down because you know you’re going forward. You have to keep up the quality. You’re promoting the brand.”

Fleetwood has made a habit of talking to virtually any member of the wine media; he likens it to the early days of Fleetwood Mac, when he would promote the band by visiting college radio stations to give interviews.

There are other parallels between his music-making and his winemaking. He says his tastes in both are analogous: “I like a mellowness. I don’t like to be hit between the eyes with real spiky experiences. I don’t need to go there. I don’t enjoy being attacked by a wine, having the tannins strip the enamel off my teeth.”

And there is his role he has taken in both endeavors. As the drummer in Fleetwood Mac, Fleetwood wasn’t the man out in front, charting the direction of the music. Similarly, he doesn’t aim to be pulling the wine world to a new frontier. Rather, he wants to be a stand-in for the common drinker, looking for something pleasing to accompany his meal.

“My main contribution in Fleetwood Mac was to be a good sounding board,” he said. “Lindsay [Buckingham] would turn around and go, ‘Does that feel good?’ I like things to be believable, and he really honors that that’s where I come from. I really see that that’s my main contribution: ‘How is this coming off? How is it affecting people?’

“I try to keep that alive. And that’s how we do the wine.”

The Mick Fleetwood Uncorked Tour is featured this weekend at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Also, the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band plays at 5 p.m. Saturday on Fanny Hill in Snowmass Village.