Matt Damon: 'My first good wine was a 1970 Bordeaux'
With his starched jeans, his bobble-free V-neck jumper and his hair trimmed nicely around his ears, Matt has a kind of undergraduate, top-of-the-class student feel about him! We met everyone’s ideal son-in-law at the Ritz Carlton in Cancun. The star is not only a wine lover but also an ecologist extremely concerned about soil contamination from shale gas extraction…
Before joining the ranks of Hollywood’s mega stars, I believe you had a number of odd jobs, including trainee wine merchant in a Boston store…
I was a ball boy for the Boston Celtics basketball team, I served petrol at the weekend and was a break-dancer on Harvard Square. As I was a fairly talented popper, passers-by would leave me good tips. I also distributed leaflets in the street and I worked at a wine merchant’s. My job was to make sure there was not too much dust on the bottles on display. I would go around with the feather duster while the boss was sneaking a drink behind the till! I certainly was not the guy handing out advice to customers on great wines! The extent of my knowledge at the time was recognising the type of wine depending on the shape of the bottle.
Do you remember the first time you tasted a good wine?
My first good wine was a 1970 Bordeaux. I remember it very well. My friend Ben Affleck and I drank it nearly in one go after we managed to sell our ‘Goodwill Hunting’ script! We started with Bordeaux and finished with Champagne! When we won an Oscar, then we really went to town! We went to a very select Los Angeles restaurant and asked the sommelier to bring us his finest bottles!
Is it true that you spent your first pay cheque on an entire cellar full of great wines?
Every time we left our room, Ben and I would have to step over inebriated tramps. The poor devils lying on the steps would constantly ask me for money when I could only just about afford to buy a $1.29 chicken for dinner! And that didn’t include drinks! When you have been in that kind of situation, staying humble becomes second nature. Saying that, I do know upstart actors and actresses who get a kick out of making a fuss in restaurants because ‘there are too many bubbles’ in the mineral water or not enough olives in their salad! Ben bought himself an all singing-all dancing Jeep Cherokee with his first pay cheque. It would go off like a fire engine’s siren every time he got in it because the alarm was faulty! Personally I ‘invested’ in a professional table tennis table for 900 dollars and admittedly I did buy a few cases of French wines too. I don’t know what happened to the table tennis table but I do know what happened to the bottles of wine. I drank them all! (laughs)
Apparently you are very environmentally-aware…
Yes! I am horrified by these cities, these huge conurbations into which our forests, countryside and vineyards are being subsumed every year. I hope we won’t end up making wine like fizzy drinks in factories with loads of chemicals! We need to rethink the way we consume and produce things. The prospect of a global population of 8.5 billion by 2035 can only make matters worse. The least fortunate amongst us – particularly the third-world countries – will eventually want to westernise their consumption habits. As soon as their standard of living improves slightly, the wheels of production will seize up. By 2045 the planet will be home to 10 billion people or more. That’s very worrying because there are already millions of people who cannot satisfy their basic needs, neither in terms of food or access to water. Prosperity is all well and good but it has to be distributed evenly, without jeopardising the environment. Then there are the moral issues: do we want to live in a world devoid of wild animals and marine life, all because the most dangerous species of all - homo sapiens – has claimed all the available space and resources?
You are reportedly very concerned about shale gas production too. Could you briefly tell us what it entails?
Shale gas is a natural gas located underground at depths of between 1,600 and 3,000 metres. It is sandwiched between highly impermeable, compact rocks. The experts say that the reserves are substantial and could meet our gas requirements for the next 150 years. Shale gas is found all over the world and many countries view it as a silver bullet, the answer to all our energy problems. I know that in France this drilling technique for extracting oils and shale gas is banned but at home it is allowed and there’s the rub.
Because to extract the gas you need lots of space which you then pump outrageous amounts of water into. The water that returns to the surface is polluted. It is full of hydrocarbons, salts and a whole load of other muck. Theoretically, the gas wells should be properly sealed as they are for oil extraction. But as you can well imagine, cost-cutting issues make it very tempting not to take this kind of precaution. So the water table is often contaminated. I demonstrated this recently in ‘Promised Land’. We wanted to point the finger at unscrupulous companies that take advantage of people’s naivety to rake in huge profits…
Have you been in touch with the farmers and wine growers that were misled and those who are deceiving them?
Yes! John Krasinksi (an actor and co-scriptwriter) and I did a lot of research into hydraulic fracturing. We spoke to the farmers who had been wrongfully treated and we saw how drilling rights are obtained. Often people come from the cities dressed as farmers and driving pick-ups or wearing caps sporting the make of a tractor to hoodwink the crowds. In ‘Promised Land’, we condemned these practices and criticised in no uncertain terms the way some of our leaders are turning a blind eye.