Mick Fleetwood hosted a wine dinner on May 27 at the L.A. Live branch of Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. The legendary Fleetwood Mac co-founder and drummer paired selections from Mick Fleetwood Private Cellar with dishes from his favorite SoCal restaurant. Before the dinner began, Fleetwood discussed his history and approach with wine. Jonathan Todd, who oversees Fleetwood’s marketing, licensing and branding, joined us.
Joshua Lurie: What’s your first wine memory?
Mick Fleetwood: My first wine memory, unfortunately, was bad wine when I was extremely young, sort of the ripple effect, which was sort of like drinking pure sugar. So it wasn’t a good one. It was instant headaches and stuff. Truly, that was many, many, many years ago, probably when I was 16 years old. Then for years it was not my choice of drink. In England it was beer and brandy.
About 20 years ago, which is quite late in the day, really, I had enjoyed wine from time to time, but I was all about the party…In truth, my life calmed down considerably, and I started really enjoying a quiet glass of wine without all the where’s the party, the animal thing. That’s how I started understanding something that I had not a clue about, which is the ambience, the experience of eating and doing what they had done in Europe for many years, eating well with family and in a timely fashion. That became no doubt part of the wine experience. That led me to where I am now in terms of how I approach to wine and how truly it appealed to me, which is somewhat emotional. It was about not getting too complicated or highfalutin…It was about taking your time, making choices and in truth not being intimidated.
Up until the late ’60s, it was not a huge wine drinking population to my knowledge in the United States. People such as myself would invariably find themselves at a special meal being presented something, which is all fine and dandy, but in truth, probably a great many had been drinking something because they probably should rather because they really liked it. The wine experience was somewhat intimidating, just like playing golf was not the done thing by someone who doesn’t have a Rolls Royce. Now it’s an everyman’s game, thank god, and certainly drinking wine in the United States has become incredibly prevalent. Like that whole curve, that’s why I got drawn into it, where I learned not to be intimidated and remain open, which is sort of like making music. Years later, sitting with Jonathan at home, I mentioned wouldn’t it be nice if I could have my own wine. Not a complete joke, a sort of dream. It was a how on earth, as if it would never be possible type of comment, but still wanting it. Jonathan sort of called me out and said I think we can accomplish this.
I said I’m not going to pretend for one moment. I’m someone who knows what he likes. If you ask me to start a record company, I’ll do that, but I’m not about to start a winery, so we set about a different approach that has really been a great success where I’m able to pick and choose and jump around and make the choices, and sort of, in many instances, blend with people, like using a great engineer in the studio. Whatever ends up here, for better or for worse, has been not just sticking my name on it at all. It’s been very in the trenches…A lot of people in the early days thought it was not possible, because we did it on our own in a very boutique approach with those rules. It didn’t interest me in doing this unless I could take full responsibility for what’s in my private cellar.
JL: What is your goal with the private cellar?
Fleetwood: We’ve progressed from to a boutique to a believable platform where people have not only accepted what I’m doing, as another celebrity doing his whatever. We’ve had the honors put upon us to a degree to where it’s more than just a fleeting moment, which is great, and we’ve built the company to a point where we feel this slightly unbelievable way of doing it is totally believable because it’s so involved around my tastes. It could definitely go wrong if my taste was taste was really, really lousy, in how it was accepted, but it’s been accepted on a noticeably, pretty damn healthy platform which gives us comfort to go forward and have an umbilical connection (me) through all the relations of wines that we’re going to be bumping into on our journey. It’s been a really interesting 8 years, a lot of hard work. I’ve been very involved, as you can see. Our whole situation with Costco was very hands on, in presenting the wine, and it was a great success. We learned a lot. We learned things not to do. In the process, when you said, “What was your vision?” My vision was fairly selfish, was about what fun it would be. It’s like somebody saying, what fun it would be to have a boat, until you realize you spend all your money keeping the boat going. My version of that with this, it was a lot more work than I ever imagined. It was not a problem, because I like seeking the actual work to enjoy all the intriguing parts of it have been paid off in terms of wanting to do it.
I don’t usually choose something unless I know it’s going to fit the ambience of what I am. I’m not someone who can get in front of 3000 wine connoisseurs and tell them when the sun was shining on the soil in 1958 in Italy on the hill of some beautiful village, but I am confident in knowing what I like. With those rules, we’ve plowed forward with some measurable success.
JL: What wine reference tools have you used, and do you use to continue to use about wine?
[Jonathan Todd intercedes.]
Jonathan Todd: It’s just such a different paradigm. Mick just rewrote the book, under the theory that the band leader of a great band doesn’t have to know how to consummately play all the instruments, but he has to know what he wants, and he has to know how to tell the musicians how to pull off what he’s hearing. He’s the band leader of the winery, of the terroir, of the vintage and everything that goes with it. He will take wines that we will have sent to him in little vials in ice to hotel rooms that chase him around the country and the world…
Fleetwood: It’s not the idyllic way of doing it.
JT: It’s not what metrics are out there. He’s really ramped up his own pop version of approachable winemaking. He’s the band leader of the vineyard, of the winemaker of the vineyard and all the people on the marketing side to the distribution side. He wants people to pop this bottle and feel what he felt when he brought it in. He’s not holding this up against a bottle of Baron Rothschild ’81 or a ’94. It’s his sensibilities. The same way that a great pop song has a great hook, and you don’t necessarily need to know why, but if you have the magic and can build that, then you can build it. Gold, silver and bronze in his 18 varietal career so far, and millions of dollars in sales and accolades. Now one of the finest wine restaurants on the planet, with 65 locations and a following coast to coast, has come in with their head wine people and has gone, you know what, this guy fits us.
Fleetwood: We’re very happy.
JT: There are no metrics for that.
Fleetwood: You asked me, and then Jonathan jumped in…
JL: What tools or resources do you use?
Fleetwood: Those are the tools. The tools are what you see sitting in front of you [points to his wine bottles], which is sort of what I was trying to say earlier on, for better or for worse. We have situations, understandably, where we were about to work with some wineries, and it was very apparent that they weren’t very comfortable. Nothing unpleasant happened, but you could tell that they knew that I didn’t know very much about the absolute strict heritage of what was happening and how things were done, and this, that and the other. Rather than being open to this creature here, they were very closed off, and they started this whole thing that gets back to what I don’t like, the whole, getting back to the early experiences of my memory…John Cleese wrote about it and has a “How to Enjoy Wine” DVD, and it’s so how I feel about it, because it’s done with humor and it’s about not being intimidated. People are, and have been, generally. When I was sitting there, I wasn’t intimidated, but I could have been. I understand that you won five Grammys for doing what you’re doing, like me working with a great engineer, but a great engineer who’s won five Grammys and a really, really great engineer that has those accolades, is about proving how he bring that to you in an open way without saying, don’t come in here. As an artist, come in here and bounce off what I have to offer. Anyone that didn’t do that obviously were not people that we ended up working with. I do want to say, well, what about a tincture of this or that, rather than saying, you’re a damn fool, you don’t know what you’re doing. Which is fair enough. I wanted that process to take place. That is how we got together. We worked with people who would work with me. Some of our wines were, I don’t want to touch it. Probably over 50-60% of our wines were battled out. A record company’s nightmare is an artist finishing an album, the baby’s ready, you hand it off, and then you get a call from the artist saying hold the press. Then they say we’ve already printed out 300,000 copies. Believe me, it’s happened with Fleetwood Mac. You say, no, no, no, we have to get it right. It hasn’t happened that often.
Fleetwood: Maybe a couple other nearly but not quite times. It’s no, no, no, I’ve changed my mind. I’m just trying to demonstrate in terms of how hands on I am in this venture. Those are the tools, really. I appreciate what Jonathan’s saying, it is a way of describing the bandleader says, “That’s it. That’s the song,” but having worked in my band, where you basically have four bandleaders, you listen and get used to listening and you draw down what’s going on and take it on board. People with that attitude are the people that we worked with. But the bottom line, this is truly, unlike Fleetwood Mac, a bandleader.
It is absolutely my solo excursion, if you like, where you go off and make a solo album, which I’ve done, and everybody else has done in the band. You know that’s their thing. This is definitely my thing, drawing down on some of my very similar experiences with music. It really is a great way to explain, for me, when I’ve spoken with people about how my sensibilities are. We do draw down on musical formulas because there is an uncanny amount of similarity: the patience to do it, the constant looking for the right song, and then presenting the baby, if you like, and somebody god forbid such as yourself says, I hate it. Like I don’t like the music. You hand off this creature, just like you do an album, when it’s gone, it has gone, and you know you have done everything to it you can dream of doing, including stopping it, a couple of times.
JL: One last quick question…If you could only drink one more bottle of wine, what would it be, and how come?
Fleetwood: The ’92 Cuvee with Cab Franc and Merlot…That’s the one.
Todd: It’s not available anywhere and if it is we want to buy it.
Fleetwood: All that’s left is in my cellar.
Why that bottle?
Fleetwood: Bottles. Many bottles. I love it. I truly love it. In truth, it was incredibly important and sort of indicative of what this is. It was my first, well you better put your nuts on the line and tell people around you say, “Well, what do you like?” That’s what we ended up with. That’s part of our equation. Now that we’re talking about it, it’s probably that, but I really, really love it. As much as some of the legacy in terms of where the taste of the private cellar goes. It has to be connected. People get confused and say you have to do this. We’re both going, if the same guy’s really taking this journey, there has to be some umbilical connection through all of the wines. There may be changes, but if you’re not part of the story, it’s not going to suddenly turn into a bottle of vinegar overnight. People now understand that, and I could never figure that out in terms of a blueprint. This was apparently a little confusing. It’s like someone saying to Fleetwood Mac, you have three lead singers, you’re never going to make it because who are you? The very thing that we were told, because Fleetwood Mac has always had three powerful members, even when we started back in ’67. We had three very different guitar players. We had Stevie, Lindsay, Christine. We had this threesome. For years, people said, we don’t know what to focus on. Of course later it became the very thing, once people began to understand the tastebuds of that music. They became familiar with it and said, we love that, because it goes here , and there’s a connection to that. And that what it ended up being.
Todd: It started when we were researching and wanted to buy a vineyard. Mick’s tastes are eclectic and very varied. How do we get a vineyard and have consistent good years?
Fleetwood: It was terrifying, and in truth, getting into that thing, none of this might have happened. I might be digging my first trench and waiting for a grape to grow. This was really not what this was about.