‘We Don’t Fear Manual Labor,’ Says Actor and Winemaker John Malkovich

John Malkovich actor interview wine
Actor John Malkovich in his vineyards/Photo by Ian Hanning for REA/Redux

The actor brings unconventional sensibilities to his French wine label, Les Quelles de la Coste, which blends Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon in the southern Rhône.

What bottle of wine were you drinking when you decided to plant a vineyard?

I would like to think that when we decided to plant the vines—we didn’t buy a vineyard, we had a farm in France for over a quarter of a century—I must have been on some hallucinogen. I’ve never taken one, so maybe it was a just a bottle of Bandol Domaine Tempier, whatever the vintage, because it seems they aren’t in the habit of making a bad one. It was, in fact, my wife Nicole’s idea to plant vines. The farmers who had cultivated and planted our land had retired, and it seemed a pity to let the land lie fallow for more than a couple of years… Our first harvest was 2011.

Why did you decide to blend two such unlikely grapes as Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon?

Well, our oenologue [Jean Natoli] suggested it. I always thought it was a risky or, let’s say, volatile, mix. But I am delighted by the results. It only needs a year or so to calm down or make peace with itself. The Pinot provides the Cabernet with roundness, refinement, but also punch, strangely enough.

How often are you among the vines or lending a hand in the winery?

Well, sadly, I would prefer to be here much more. But as foreigners, we are limited to six months a year in France, and I work 11 and a half months of the year. Or, with travel, let’s call it 12 months a year. We haven’t had a vacation since October 2015, and Nicole, my wife, who is the director of the company, has even less free time than me.

When you do a business in France, there is no way to adequately relay their love of paperwork. It’s off the charts. At any rate, two nights ago, we took our nightly walk around the property, and spent the last hour of our walk pulling weeds before the harvest. We don’t fear manual labor, in our mid- to late-60s, or ever. Never ask people to do what you wouldn’t do. It’s untoward.

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How do you feel about the wine business and the 100-point scale?

I don’t know much about the wine business, as business is not an expertise of mine. But I assume there is a decent, or even highly pronounced level of corruption, as in most things. Such is life. We won’t buy reviews or insult people’s intelligence. We will strive to make a consistently good product, and a product we will try to improve every year, if humanly possible.

You’ve been able to work with some true wine experts in the industry (Jean Natoli and Ralf Hogger). What is the best piece of advice they’ve given to you?

Well, both Ralf and Jean are, of course, massive influences on our wines. Both are sharp and funny people. With a wealth and breadth of knowledge about wine, how it’s made, what to do and what to not do. I have none of that knowledge, I only know how to drink and what I like and don’t like. Actually, not so much what I like and don’t like, but more what I prefer to drink or not drink. One element completely lacking in wine criticism is the effect, as opposed to, or regardless of, the taste. Taste in one strong element. I would argue that effect is a stronger one, in my humble, or not sufficiently humble, opinion. Ours, one can drink a bottle or two or three, no problem.

You’ve entered into the U.K. and into Canada. What is next?

I don’t know our next move, but suffice it to say that Canada is a critical market for us, and we need to make it work. I have spent an enormous amount of time there over the years and have met many a likeminded soul there. We will do our best, needless to say. We have made great progress in England, France, the U.S., Sweden, etc. But we must keep moving, and Canada is a critical element of our movement.

When you’re not drinking your own wines, what you are drinking?

I don’t drink much anymore, outside of our wines. But when I do, it would normally be a super Tuscan, if in Europe. Or a Cabernet or Pinot, if in the States. I will also give a whirl to some New World stuff. Depending…though I am mostly a fan of the big American Cabernets from California and Pinots from Oregon.

I am also a huge sucker for South Africa. It’s beautiful, it kills me, it’s a mess, etc. It’s great.

Where have you traveled that has inspired you?

Sorry, but the good ol’ U.S.A. However, South Africa and Australia are within a heartbeat, and New Zealand as well.

What’s in store for the future of LQLC?

I have no shortage of ideas. We shall see. We planted Carmenère three years ago and we’ll see what comes next.

Published on April 1, 2020
Topics: Culture Issue