At face value, heavy metal and the wine industry seem like an odd couple. On one side you have spikes, patches, denim and leather, and on the other slick and stylish suits (perhaps a monocle). But if you look past the surface, these two categories are far more similar than one might think.
Heavy metal has always been my first love. My party animal uncles blasting a steady stream of KISS and other hard rock probably bears most of the blame—er, credit. High school garage bands aside, what does one do when one’s passion for all things fast and heavy is isolated in the middle-of-nowhere town of Walla Walla, Washington?
I turned to writing and freelanced for publications like Alternative Press and Thrasher in the early 2000s, which helped me hit the road with some big names on tour. This eventually allowed me to land a job at Century Media Records, a label founded in the late 80s that established the careers of many iconic names in metal such as Napalm Death and Behemoth.
But after years of touring around the world, doing everything from tour managing to merch sales, I was feeling burnt out and bled dry.
So, I hit the “reset button” and headed home.
In the eight years I had been gone, the number of wineries in Walla Walla had jumped from 13 to 113 and the region’s reputation for exceptional wines was skyrocketing. I decided to dip my toe in the water of this new-to-me realm, first working in online marketing before switching to winery management.
Are we talking about a Pinot from the Santa Rita Hills or Sweden’s prog-metal maestros Opeth?
It didn’t take long to recognize something oddly familiar in the wine world. Those cheesy aesthetic differences quickly faded and, in their place, surprising parallels appeared in just about every category.
Each had their share of rockstar personas and adoring fans, of course, but that was just the beginning.
There were also the wine and music distributors that could be the saving grace for a winery or band as easily as they could be the bane of either group’s existence. Often, a winery with a lot of buzz would get snatched up by a larger corporate entity, which catapulted them to the global stage. Similarly, if a lot of hype surrounded a band, they were often signed onto a large record label, which meant an easier road to touring, marketing and other opportunities for growth.
In the press, a stellar review or low score in wine could be the difference between selling out of product or sitting on pallets of it. Similarly, in metal, a great review or front-cover exposure could be the difference between your album being featured proudly on an endcap or collecting dust in the bargain bin.
Even terminology and descriptors seemed mirrored between metal and wine: “There are many layers of complexity and details in its deep richness that are revealed over time.” Are we talking about a Pinot from the Santa Rita Hills or Sweden’s prog-metal maestros Opeth?
What I also saw as an endearing trait of each was the continuous quest for knowledge and the granular details of the craft both groups appreciated. Wine drinkers didn’t just want to know what they were enjoying, but they’d ask questions such as: “Where was it from?” “Who made it?” “What vintage?” “Was it aged in concrete or barrels, if the latter, how much was new oak?”
With metalheads, it was a similar trail of breadcrumbs: “Where is this band from?” “Who produced this record?” “Digital or analog?” “What bands are listed in the ‘Thank You’ credits?”
The enthusiastic zeal shared by adherents in either camp is contagious, and I think many fans are initially hooked by the passion and excitement displayed by those already fully onboard with either wine or metal.
However, wine and metal each possess their fair share of insufferable blowhards. You’ve got your pedantic wine guru espousing the merits of a certain wine with the caveat, “But they’re nowhere near the 2009 or 2010 vintages of Bordeaux.” This is almost the direct counter part of a metalhead saying thrash metal peaked in the late ’80s, or declaring, “Yea, sure, all Iron Maiden is great, but nothing is of the caliber of their first six records.”
To help combat that, I started a zine, Blood Of Gods, to celebrate wine and metal in equal measure, as well as to poke holes in the elitism and discrimination each are still trying to shake.
Generally speaking, metal has used its music and message to challenge the establishment and authority, carving out a niche for intense volume and emotions often missing from the mainstream. In recent years, there has been a growing number of winemakers who are also loudly railing against the outmoded social confines of their industry to make it more inclusive.
Heavy metal and wine? An unlikely dynamic duo for pushing against the status quo, but when combined can break down barriers and gatekeeping. This means more fun, a brighter future for each, and the best brutal tunes to mind-blowing libation quotient you’ll ever party to.