A Tale of Grapes and Wrath: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and the Battle for their French Vineyard
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are in the midst of a bitter legal dispute over their French vineyard— Chateau Miraval. The fight just got uglier as Jolie’s latest court filing alleges shocking, abusive behavior by Pitt during a 2016 overnight flight from Miraval to L.A.
In the spring of 2021, Pitt agreed to buy Jolie’s half of Miraval for $54 million. But at the eleventh hour, Pitt suddenly backed out. Jolie sold her half a few months later to a subsidiary of Stoli (Vodka) for $67 million. Pitt now claims that he and Jolie had an unwritten agreement that either could “veto” the other’s sale of their share, and, therefore, Jolie’s sale to Stoli was unauthorized and should be unwound. Jolie denies any such veto right existed.
Allegations of Violence
The latest legal salvo is a cross-complaint by Jolie, filed earlier this month, in which she alleges Pitt became violent during a 2016 flight from Miraval to L.A.
Pitt reportedly poured beer and wine on Jolie and the children, berated Jolie and pushed and shook her, punched the walls, choked one of the kids and struck another in the face, and repeatedly swore and screamed at them—terrifying them all and driving the children to tears. Jolie filed for divorce five days later.
Jolie's Legal Arguments
Jolie’s cross-complaint asks the court: (i) to issue a declaratory judgment ruling that no veto right existed, and (ii) to deny Pitt’s bid to unwind her sale to Stoli.
Jolie’s lawyers claim Pitt only objected to her sale as retribution for her filing for divorce.
They also argue that Pitt waived any veto right he may have had by not exercising it when she first put her stake in the vineyard up for sale in 2019: “Whether or not such a veto right ever existed, Mr. Pitt waived it by failing to timely exercise it when Ms. Jolie originally put the property on the market," her lawyers said. "His delay in objecting to her sale was both late and tactical — an attempt to thwart her efforts to sell so that he could then buy the property himself at a reduced price."
Her lawyers also argue that to the extent any veto-right did exist, it should be void as unconscionable and against public policy because Pitt tried to “coerce” Jolie by conditioning his buy-out offer on her not disclosing what happened on the 2016 flight from Miraval.
If Pitt ultimately prevails, any attempt to unwind Jolie's sale will be complicated by the fact that the Luxembourg-based Stoli company which bought it is run by Swiss-domiciled Yuri Shefler—a reputed Russian oligarch. (See this Wall Street Journal article for an interesting read on how Russian oligarchs hide their wealth using shell companies based in the Isle of Man.)
Parties rarely anticipate an ugly break-up when they’re entering a relationship — be it business or personal. As for Miraval, Pitt and Jolie would have been better-served if they’d provided for rules for its ultimate disposition.
For example, the organizational documents could have provided for an explicit prohibition of a transfer by one side. In the event of an impasse or deadlock (i.e., only one side wants out) there are contractual mechanisms to overcome the impasse – a Dutch auction, mandatory mediation, or a forced sale of the entire enterprise, to name a few. (Jolie’s attorneys claim they tried to provide for an impasse when the couple bought Miraval in 2008, but acquiesced when Pitt objected.) Alternatively, it could have been provided that any sale of one side’s stake be conditioned on the purchaser not being a competitor to the business or the remaining stakeholder.
As the legal battle between Jolie and Pitt continues to heat up, stay tuned for more updates on this developing story.
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