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posted: 6/6/2014 5:30 AM

Brad Pitt: 'I'm a farmer now'

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  • Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are in the wine business now. But is he really a farmer like he claims?

      Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are in the wine business now. But is he really a farmer like he claims?
    Associated Press

By L.V. Anderson, Slate

NEW YORK -- When Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie released the first vintage of rose from their $60 million estate in Provence last year, major wine publications like Wine Spectator and Decanter gave it rave reviews. Wine Spectator later included it as the only rose on its list of the best 100 wines of the year, effectively crowning it the best rose in the world. Now, the magazine has devoted seven pages of its June issue to Pitt and "the inside story of Chateau Miraval," the property where Pitt, Jolie, and renowned French winemaker Marc Perrin produce the pink wine officially known as Jolie-Pitt & Perrin Cote de Provence Rose Miraval.

So Wine Spectator loves Brad Pitt. Fair enough. Sadly, the feeling does not appear to be mutual: Most of the Pitt quotes in the Wine Spectator profile have a canned, airless quality, as though they were typed into the body of an email by a diligent publicist. In in-person interviews, Pitt usually seems to have a modicum of self-awareness, but in this Wine Spectator profile (written by Robert Camuto), he comes across at times as tone-deaf and weirdly disdainful of his neighbors who make wine for a living.

First, Pitt implies that he revolutionized Provençal winemaking:

For better or worse, given my compulsive nature, if we are going to be in the wine business, let's make the best wine we can. ... The business model didn't make sense to me. So I asked the question, "Why can't we make a world-class wine in Provence?" Let's approach it like a film, and let's make something we can be proud of and all people can enjoy.

Then, he promises to continue to revolutionize Provençal winemaking by doing something no one's done before:

What really interests me now are the reds. ... It's generally believed that Provence is not capable of producing a fine red. ... I, with Marc and Pierre [Perrin], would like to create a wine which utilizes the best attributes of our terroir, and outside the restrictions of the AOC, like what the Italians have achieved with their super Tuscans. We envision a superb Provence red. A super Provence. Give us seven years.

Finally, Pitt suggests that Provençal winemaking has revolutionized his very identity:

I'm a farmer now. ... I love learning about the land and which field is most suitable for which grape, the drama of September and October: Are we picking today? Where are the sugar levels? How is the acidity? Is it going to rain?

Now, it's great that Brad Pitt has taken an interest and invested a portion of his massive fortune in winemaking. And it's great that he's actually involved in the winemaking process, spending lots of time at his estate, tasting each batch of vino, learning about viniculture. But those things don't make Pitt a farmer. Those things make Pitt a savvy businessman. Farmers don't get to jet off to movie premieres and schedule in film shoots during growing season; they're out in the fields every morning, no matter what, because the success of this year's crop is usually the difference between staying afloat and going bankrupt. (Furthermore, the Wine Spectator piece makes it clear that there are plenty of people at Miraval who actually do the dirty work: Perrin, and estate manager Gary Bradbury, and a briefly mentioned "team of workers" who are presumably responsible for the most menial tasks.)

To be fair to Pitt, his suggestion that he, Jolie and Perrin might be able to make an exceptional Provençal red is not so outlandish. I asked Michael Steinberger, Slate's erstwhile wine critic and the author of "The Wine Savant," what he thought of Pitt's swagger. "In wine, you are ultimately only as good as the land you own," he told me in an email. "A great winemaker can't make a great wine from a [poor] site; the best he or she can hope to achieve is to maximize the potential of that vineyard. ... So Pitt and Jolie can throw a lot of money at this project, but they are only going to succeed in making a first-rate red if the land is capable of yielding one."

And the land has potential: Currently, only 8 percent of the Jolie-Pitt estate is being used to grow grapes, which means there's a lot of undiscovered terroir at Miraval. Plus, as Perrin told Wine Spectator, "Miraval is its own valley, with exposures in all directions. ... There are few estates in the world that have their own valley. A winemaker could never own this, unless it was in their family for something like 20 generations." In other words, $60 million goes a long way in Provence.

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