D.he old entrance to Château Margüi looked like a gate into the past until recently: amphorae overgrown with moss on the right and left on old natural stone walls. A bumpy mogul slope lined with mighty chestnut trees led past a lavender field to the winery, which is enchanted in the hills of Provence Verte lies, of green Provence. It couldn’t be more idyllic. Time seemed to stand still at Château Margüi.
But that was before George Lucas came. Since the Hollywood director bought the late 18th century winery four years ago and invested many millions of euros, a black painted, remote-controlled metal gate has been locking the domain. The old stone walls have been replaced by new ones. The driveway should obviously look good. Because Château Margüi is now part of Skywalker Vineyards, the Hollywood director’s wine empire, named after the hero of the same name in his “Star Wars” saga.
Lucas doesn’t just make wine, he has transformed the castle into a luxury hotel for the “Happy Few”. Instead of an old water basin, there is now a fancy pool, the country house has been completely restored and air-conditioned. There will also be a helicopter landing pad for the rich American clientele. Everything looks like Hollywood imagines Provence to be: southern, but clean.
Saint-Tropez is too vulgar
For a few years now, it has not been the Côte d’Azur that attracts the stars. Saint-Tropez seems only something for Russians and the nouveau riche. The real stars prefer lands in the hinterland, in the remote hills of the southern French department of Var, where you can buy so many hectares that you are protected from prying eyes. After Ridley Scott, John Malkovich, George Lucas, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, the next Hollywood star has now arrived in Provence: George Clooney, 60, has been the happy owner of Domaine Le Canadel not far from the small town of Brignoles since this summer.
George and Amal Clooney are said to have bought the property from the 18th century for just under seven to eight, possibly even ten million euros, almost blindly, after viewing it via video conference. You can still get a virtual tour of the luxury real estate agent online: a pale pink plastered house, 900 square meters of living space that looks more like Tuscany than Provence, surrounded by tall cypresses and ancient plane trees. The whole is located on 170 hectares of land, consisting mainly of olive groves, forest and a few hectares of vines. There is a swimming pool, a tennis court, a place for the pétanque games, a goldfish pool and a private lake. In addition to his country estate in Kent, a villa in Los Angelos, the holiday homes in Mexico and on Lake Como, Le Canadel is the fifth property that the Hollywood star is buying.
“The Clooneys are now living like God in France,” was the headline of a German tabloid. At this point, however, George and Amal Clooney had only stayed a few hours in their new house, just enough time to inspect the purchase, have lunch with Mayor Didier Brémond and take a photo evidence with him. Then they left again. Brémond, a cozy man with a broad, southern French accent who posted the photo on social media, has had the international press on his heels since then, but that doesn’t bother him. After all, the illustrious new residents are “advertising for Brignoles and advertising for our region”.
Allegedly, Amal was primarily interested in the region’s vegetation and organic culture. The neighboring Correns is considered to be the first organic village in France. George, on the other hand, wanted to know what Brignoles had to offer. Not much, one could answer, except for an offshoot of Alain Ducasse’s starred restaurant empire. Otherwise, the city of 18,000 with its many immigrants is more of a poor house in the Var department. The way from Brignoles to the new Clooneys estate is not very glamorous. It passes a wild garbage dump under the motorway, and a nearby campsite is not exactly VIP suspect. A simple iron chain is still hanging at the entrance to the domain, but the surveillance cameras are already installed.
For George Clooney, Le Canadel has one advantage above all: It is only a stone’s throw away from Miraval, the winery of his friend Brad Pitt. A kind of Bermuda triangle of stars has emerged in Provence Verte: Pitt, Lucas and Clooney can theoretically visit each other by bike, as their properties are so close to one another. The “Brangolinas”, as the Hollywood dream couple was still called back then, Miraval bought in 2008 for 40 million euros. In the same year the twins Vivienne and Knox were born in Nice. But two years after the wedding in the in-house chapel, the marriage fell apart. The fact that they have not yet sold the winery despite the separation may be due to the fact that Miraval brings in a lot of money even as an unused holiday home. Jolie shot a commercial in Miraval for a French perfume of which she is the muse.
But above all, they earn money with their rosé. The clever marketing of the Hollywood stars has contributed to the fact that the export of rosé wines from the Côtes de Provence to the USA and Great Britain has more than doubled within five years. For a long time only consumed by wine connoisseurs with a sniff, the Provencal rosé is now one of the lifestyle wines par excellence, as the Americans call it. The singer Bon Jovi is now also involved.
With the blessing of the stars
Of course, the hard work is done by others. Pitt, for example, left the oenology to the French Perrin family, which is actually at home in the Rhone Valley near Châteauneuf du Pape, but is expanding its empire in all directions. The Perrins also know that the profit margins for rosé are particularly large because there are only a few weeks to months between harvesting the grapes and bottling the wine. There is no need for expensive storage.
The “Miraval” label is now stuck on three million bottles of rosé wine, much more than the 40 hectares of Pitt and Jolie vines can produce. The rest is bought from the neighboring winegrowers and bottled with the blessing of the stars. The region’s winemakers benefited from the hype for a short time. Many now find that competition is never loyal. A career starter who wants to become self-employed after completing their training can no longer afford anything in the Var. A hectare in the locations of the Côtes de Provence now costs more than 100,000 euros.
The Clooney’s organic grapes are still being delivered to the Correns wine cooperative, where they are mixed and pressed. But how long? In 2013 George Clooney founded their own tequila brand with Rande Gerber, husband of supermodel Cindy Crawford and already a neighbor of the Clooney family in Mexico. Four years later, Casamigos was sold for a billion dollars. “Jackpot” was the headline of the “New York Times”. Touché, the French would say.