Celebrity wines are fairly common, even Megadeth bonehead Dave Mustaine has one (along with Tool’s Maynard James Keenan, Primus’s Les Claypool and, of course, Sting), but for founding DEVO member Gerald Casale to start his own wine estate and brand, 50 by 50, is a downright subversive act.
Jerry grew up in Akron, Ohio at a time when being around good wine was still confined to families with money. Self-taught working-class sommeliers and oenophiles were not populous groups. He told wn.com:
Listen, I grew up blue-collar in Ohio. I ate what people ate there, which was basically macaroni and cheese, pizzas, overcooked brown rump roast, bologna sandwiches … any cheese was Velveeta and any wine was Night Train.
Moving to California with the band in the ‘70s, he became interested in wine and over the years educated himself in the finer details of his hobby here and abroad, visiting vineyards while on tour. A life-changing epiphany-like wine boner occurred in France when a tour promoter gave him a glass of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. “Discovering wine is one of the most special experiences you can have, like seeing a great film or falling in love,” he said in an interview with Wine Searcher. “When you taste a great wine, and you haven’t grown up privileged to be around wine, that makes you understand why people talk about wine. It’s unforgettable.”
Jerry told Wine Spectator:
When we signed with Warner Bros. Records and moved to California [in the late 1970s], a world opened up to me. We hit California not only when there was an explosion in the music scene, but there was a revolution in cuisine. All the restaurateurs were now famous and had cookbooks out and were new and young and were stretching food consciousness… I met them all, and they were DEVO fans! I got to eat and drink in their restaurants and ask a lot of questions. I started from zero and learned and learned and learned. Touring completed the picture. In Europe, I was able to visit vineyards. It was a revelation.
Eventually Jerry was well versed in wine lore to be qualified to work for the Wine House in Los Angeles, teaching classes about wine appreciation for three years in the ‘90s when DEVO was not active. (Interestingly, the Davis Enology & Viticulture Organization program at UC Davis’s acronym is DEVO). He is down to earth, completely lacking in snobbery, and talks about wine like a normal person, not like a pretentious ass. He described his wine classes as being unintimidating:
I taught beginning and intermediate courses. But I guess I had the same basic advice for them that Famous Amos (Cookies) did: ‘Start from where you are’. Quit worrying about it. Let’s demystify things. Wine is 50 percent farming and 50 percent artistry. But the farming is really the foundation. It’s as easy as ‘I like oranges, I like bananas, but I don’t like pineapples.’ You don’t like zinfandel? Fine, don’t worry about it, no matter who shoves a zinfandel at you and says ‘this will blow your mind and it’s $300 a bottle.’ You can find decent wines at every price point.
In 1985 he was set to buy land in California on which to start a vineyard but this plan was scrapped when Warner Brothers dropped DEVO. Four years ago he was still talking about starting his own vineyard with a partner, going so far as to have soil tests done in Napa, and now with the help of winemaker Kenn Vigoda, he has started a 23-acre estate, with a tasting room based on the “50 by 50 house,” the legendary, never-built, 60-year-old blueprint of a glass house designed by architect Mies Van Der Rohe (one of whose apprentices was the grandfather of musician and producer Vess Ruhtenberg). The DEVO merchandising potential for the 50 by 50 estate is endless, aside from pun-heavy wine names. DEVO energy dome hat wineglass charms?
Jerry on Burgundy:
When you get a great bottle of Burgundy, it blows away a great bottle of anything else. You can drink your way through mediocre Burgundies in the pursuit of the ultimate one, so it’s a holy grail quest. What I love about Burgundy is that the wine is so friendly when you get a good one, and it doesn’t leave you beat up. It’s so personal with the food—anything from grilled salmon to lamb chops to duck. You can even have it with some pizza.
Jerry on Pinot Noir:
It’s like a high-strung woman. When it’s right it’s so right. When you get a good one, they just turn you around; you’re addicted.
Jerry on wine and class structure:
Luckily, there’s a certain amount of middle class egalitarian ethic left in the wine world. The rest of the world has gone back toward medieval times when 10 people owned everything and everyone else was serfs.
“Wine Booty” with Gerald Casale, taped in front of a live audience of wine aficionados in Napa Valley back in May: