Convincing John Malkovich to appear on stage in Wiesbaden was a coup for the Institute of Masters of Wine, as Malkovich made it clear he doesn’t normally go to wine events.
He was invited along to their 10th Symposium, held this year in Germany, because his property in Luberon in Provence produces wine: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Carménère and, soon, Sangiovese.
Over the course of an hour, Malkovich discussed his philosophy of wine and how it fits alongside his passion for fashion, film, theatre and music. He also amused the audience with his dry wit, while they tasted their way through his wines.
A theatre talent turns to wine
Malkovich is most widely known for his film work, with a string of well-known films to his credit, like Juno, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and ― of course ― Being John Malkovich. A theatre actor of note, he’s also a director and a restaurant investor. In 2002, he even launched a fashion company, Mrs Mudd.
“I’m a lifelong fabric collector and I’d always been interested in fashion,” he explained. “For me, it was more than just another form of self-expression, and this is the same with wine.”
He said that when he bought the Luberon property in 1993, it came with farmers who worked the soil. “When they retired, we really questioned what to do with the land, and my wife [director Nicoletta Peyran] suggested we make wine ― I think in the hope of cutting down on our wine bill, which sadly hasn’t occurred as yet.”
Malkovich said he was keen to keep the land productive, so he agreed. “We never really thought about commercialising it until we did our first vintage in 2011.” That first attempt produced too many thousands of bottles to drink, “even with the heroic efforts from myself and several English writer friends”, so the couple began to think about selling it to other people.
Today, the wines have small listings in key markets like the UK.
A slow-burn interest in wine
Malkovich is an unlikely vigneron, coming to wine “very late”, and from a family that never touched alcohol.
“I think the first time I ever had a beer was when I was 29 years old, doing a play in New York,” he said. “I had to chug beers and bounce them off my co-star’s head.” While he “acquitted myself nobly”, it didn’t turn him on to alcohol.
“I first started drinking Champagne and white wine well into my thirties. A little Cognac in my late thirties and I eventually settled on red wine.” First, he drank Cabernet Sauvignon, and then, after his children went to university in Oregon, he discovered Pinot Noir. “That’s how I started to become interested. But it was really in my forties.”
In 1993 he found himself in the kitchen of a woman from Cape Town in South Africa, who had a farm in Luberon. “I sat with her, and as soon as I saw it and talked to her, I knew that’s where I wanted to be and raise our children.”
The property, he said, lies in a valley “and it’s a beautiful place. I love it there. I love the way it sounds and smells. I’ve never had a bad day.” Malkovich also said there is some historical evidence that Pinot was once grown there.
He added that he’s aware that the wines are less elegant than is typical for French Pinot Noir, but “on our land, the greatest refinement I believe we can make is that it tastes of where it comes from.”
To say the wines ― made by Jean Natoli at a nearby cooperative and bottled under the name Les Quelles de la Coste ― are idiosyncratic is an understatement, from the Pinot Noir rosé to the Cabernet/Pinot blend. But Malkovich is unapologetic, saying they suit his taste, and there’s no point in doing anything if you don’t like the outcome.
The wines have, however, been criticised, with wine critic Jamie Goode saying that although the wines weren’t “as bad as you might expect”, they are “wildly overpriced”. Moderator Susie Barrie MW was more positive about them, adding that they were “refreshingly different” and “not afraid to have a few rough edges".
The creative philosophy
Malkovich’s overall creative philosophy is that everything is in the details. “What matters to me is the execution and the details, and winemaking is detailed. Fashion is detailed, theatre is detailed. Classical music collaborations are detailed. And so all of those things share that commonality .”
The detail that counts when it comes to wine is whether the wine tastes of the land or not. “Plant the grapes and harvest them and do all you can honestly to make it everything it can be,” he said. “And I don't really do shortcuts so if we don't like it, we don't bottle it.”
He doesn’t know what will come next for the property, but seems sanguine about it. Besides, there are other things on the horizon that need attention, including classical music collaborations and theatrical ventures.
After the final interview of the day, having had his moment in the wine spotlight, he seemed happy to be finished talking. He may or may not appear at wine events again. It doesn't matter; he certainly hasn't slowed down, and there will clearly be lots of other places to see him in the future.
Meininger's International was media partner of the event.