Les Claypool Switches From Pork Soda to Wine

Bass guitar legend Les Claypool of Primus fame has a new title to add to his ever expanding list of life achievements: winemaker.

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Les Claypool raises a glass of his newest creation, Purple Pachyderm, a delicious 2007 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
Josh Keppel
Taking a page out of Francis Ford Coppola's book, world famous bass player Les Claypool has started Claypool Cellars, a boutique winery that makes "fancy booze for semi-fancy folks."
Josh Keppel
To celebrate the launch of the business and to give people a chance to try the new juice, Claypool threw a party at Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol, CA on Friday night, November 20, 2009.
Josh Keppel
Tasting wine wasn't the only reason to make it over to the Hopmonk Friday night, there was also a jam session planned for "Claypool and Friends" which ended up including Primus guitarist Larry LaLonde (left) and others.
Glasses of 2007 Purple Pachyderm were being poured all night for $8 a glass and it really was tasty. Bottles can be purchased for $42/each while they last from www.claypoolcellars.com.
The semi-fancy folks who were lucky enough to get a $20 ticket before they sold-out were treated to hors d'oeuvres of crispy polenta with caramelized onions and Point Reyes blue cheese.
Josh Keppel
In addition to the food and wine, party-goers were also able to cheers the man himself, who was gracious enough to chat and pose for pictures with any of the wide-eyed fans who approached him.
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When I asked Claypool why he started a wine business, he said, "We've been living in Sebastopol for 15 years and [when we got here] it was all apple orchards that disappeared and turned into Pinot Noir grapes. Seemed like the logical step."
Josh Keppel
Claypool, who partnered up with friends Jay Meyer and Slawek Michalak, said, "It started off as a couple of guys who got one-ton of grapes [for private consumption], then got four-tons and ended up as a commercial venture."
Josh Keppel
Les Claypool (left) with partner Slawek Michalak, sport matching purple coats for the big night. On the wine maker's website (www.claypoolcellars.com) Claypool says, "What started as an attempt to fill our own personal wine cache has turned into a 'boutique' wine venture which I'm sure will eventually cause friction between me and my two good friends/partners, as all businesses tend to do."
Josh Keppel
Those who bought a bottle of wine or a t-shirt got raffle tickets to win some pretty interesting and unique prizes.
Carlos DePavía
This is a real family business, with Chaney Claypool (center) and Monika Michalak (left) working the merch table in matching hats like their husband's matching coats.
How many times have you gone to a show and had an opportunity to "jam" with the band? Two lucky winners got to join Les and friends on the Kazoo and Whamola.
Josh Keppel
Chaney Claypool was sporting my favorite outfit of the night. It was like the Steam Punk Train crashed into the Purple Pachyderm Circus Wagon.
Laurie Nassif
I asked the ladies behind the merchandise table how I should refer to them in the caption that would accompany this photo and one of them quickly came up with, "The Purple Pachydettes." Sounds perfect!
Josh Keppel
240 cases of the 2007 Purple Pachyderm Pinot Noir were made and are close to selling out according to Claypool, "2008 should be ready In February or March [2010]."
The largest party attendee was Claypool's 1951 Ford panel truck.
Claypool was helped by sommelier friend Jai Wilson at Jardiniere who suggested "Purple Pachyderm" for the naming of the wine because of the Primus song "Southbound Pachyderm." The second wine Claypool Cellars produced was Pink Platypus, a 2008 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Rose, that has already sold out.
Josh Keppel
The cleverly fitting tag line for the Purple Pachyderm Pinot Noir is that "It's big, bold and well-balanced with a magnificent nose!" I'm guessing the same could be said for the Purple Pachy-Mobile. One lucky winner won a ride with Les in the raffle.
Josh Keppel
Craig Black sports a crazy balloon hat with a gray wine glass full of purple on top and two elephants at the front and back bottom. "My wife has a balloon company called Custom Balloon Creations," Black told me when I asked how in the world he got that outrageous thing. Early front runner for Claypool's NYE Super Steamer Hatter's Ball winner at the Fillmore in SF.
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Les Claypool can now add professional wine maker to his already overfilled resume that includes: Primus front man, solo artist, film and video director, novelist, music producer and label owner, actor, husband, father, and avid fisherman.
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Les Claypool said he wanted to get his wine "in a lot of really nice restaurants. I wanted restaurants I enjoy myself, like K&L Bistro, Willi's Wine Bar and Madrona Manor here [in Sonoma County] and Aqua, Epic Roadhouse, Perbacco, and Jardiniere, one of my favorite restaurants in the world, in San Francisco."
Josh Keppel
Partner Slawek Michalak, here with wife Monika, said "I think [the wine] came out really nice, not too strange, we're really proud. The juice speaks for itself. People love it!"
Josh Keppel
(Left to right) Amy Berger, Kenneth Thomas, and Danyka Kosturak came from San Francisco with the hopes of seeing Claypool collaborator and Sebastopol resident Tom Waits up on stage Friday night. Unfortunately, that wasn't in the cards, but they said they had a great time anyway.
Josh Keppel
Jacqueline and Wil Smith spent their first night away from their six-week old baby Anders to take in the party. Nice work kids!
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Dean Biersch of Gordon Biersch fame opened The Hopmonk Tavern about a year-and-a-half ago. He told me "It's all about beer and music in a funky 150-year-old tavern."
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Here's a look inside the main restaurant, where there are booths and a bar. Bands play in the building next door and to find a list of upcoming shows, check their site: http://www.hopmonk.com
Josh Keppel
The bar was packed with people eating and drinking who probably had no idea what was going on just out back, aside from the "Sold Out" sign on the marquee.
Josh Keppel
Impressive draft beer list.
Josh Keppel
From the restaurant ticket holders could walk down these steps to the tented outdoor area next to the adjacent building that the bands play in.
Josh Keppel
There were couches for lounging and sipping.
Josh Keppel
There was also a live video and audio feed of the show. This shot shows the two guys who won the raffle to "Jam with Les." Fletch, the guy on the right playing kazoo, bought a case of wine to get a 25% discount and ended up winning a barrel tasting as well as a chance to "jam with the master" with all of the extra raffle tickets he got. Nice work, Bush!
Josh Keppel
Ziggy the Wine Gal (right) MC'ed the event and is seen here picking raffle tickets with Gabby La La.
Josh Keppel
Ross, on the left, won a chance to plays Les' Whamola, a single string instrument played with a drumstick that has a lever that changes the sound of the notes, kind of like a giant whammy bar. I think this shot shows the ultimate in "Jamming with Les" where Claypool plays the lever while Ross is beating away on the string with the drumstick. To watch video of this, look here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41okyTmL8kE
Josh Keppel
There were many a cheers being had during the night.
Josh Keppel
Gabby La La started the night with some ukulele strumming.
She then picked up her sitar and played some songs of her own before joining Claypool for the main event.
Josh Keppel
Les Claypool has made this bass guitar so famous over the years you can now go to Carl Thompson's website and buy a "Les Claypool Style 4-String" that looks just like this one. Too bad his skills don't come with it.
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The players at the start of the show were (left to right) Les Claypool on bass, Gabby La La on sitar, Paulo Baldi on drums, and Sam Bass on cello.
Josh Keppel
I love this picture! Happy accident makes it look like Les' legs have turned in Gabby's. Cute socks Les...
After the first tune, Eenor (right) joined in as Les introduced "The world's first guitar-playing redwood tree." Eenor used to play with Les in The Flying Frog Brigade, and now he spends most of his stage time touring with his group The Yard Dogs Road Show out of SF and Oakland.
Josh Keppel
Claypool then said, "He's going to play for you Van Halen's Eruption..." which Eenor was not planning on doing.
Josh Keppel
One guy in the audience kept yelling out "I love you Les!" and in-between songs Claypool had a discussion about true love vs. phony love.
Josh Keppel
LOOP!STATION's Sam Bass plays his cello.
Josh Keppel
Les Claypool did a public service announcement about what a bad idea it is to drink alcohol and drive or operate heavy machinery. A similar sentiment can be found on the Claypool Cellars website: www.claypoolcellars.com
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At one point in the show Andy Graham showed up with a didgeridoo and rocked out for a bit.
Josh Keppel
Claypool's bass and Graham's didgeridoo go toe-to-toe.
Josh Keppel
Eenor rips it up to mass applause.
Josh Keppel
At one point in the night Les Claypool said, "This is not a show, this is a bunch of friends at the Purple Pachyderm launch party and we're going to make what I like to call 'a bunch of racket.'" One musician I missed was Wiley Woods of Stiff Dead Cats who played some mandolin.
Josh Keppel
Then, to my delight, Primus guitarist Larry LaLonde took the stage. I'm glad I didn't miss Ler!
Josh Keppel
Just like the good ol' days, Les on the stand-up electric and Ler on the guitar.
Josh Keppel
When LaLonde took the stage the group played the Primus classic, Toys Go Winding Down that sounded great, until the power cut out and the group had to finish sans instruments acappella.
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Claypool said, "As the Toys Go Winding Down, Sebastopol just shut us down. Ler used to do this in Primus. He'd run around shutting things off... so he could play Eruption."
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It was very cool to get to see these guys play in this small, intimate venue.
Montgomery County Police Reporter
Claypool fans were very excited for this rare opportunity to see a Lollapalooza headlining musician in a tiny little tavern in many of their back yards.
Josh Keppel
Les Claypool seemed to be enjoying himself too. Before the show he told me, "This [wine making thing] started off as being fun and we do things like this [event] to keep it fun."
Cheers to you Les and to Claypool Cellars for making a great Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, the 2007 Purple Pachyderm. Looking forward to tasting the 2008. Claypool's next show is set for New Year's Eve at the Fillmore in SF. I'm not sure if they'll have any Purple Pachyderm, but they will have a bunch of people wearing crazy hats.
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