Two Paddocks Sam Neill
A recent article about Sam Neil’s Two Paddock winery in Central Otago played on Country Calendar in New Zealand. Here’s the film and accompanying interview:
Actor Sam Neill has immersed himself in a second career, growing grapes and making wine in Central Otago.
Between film commitments here and overseas, he spends most of his time at the winery and the four small vineyards that make up the Two Paddocks label.
Sam’s love for the area goes back to his Dunedin childhood when Central Otago was his familys favourite holiday place.
But his love for pinot noir came later, near the start of his acting career, when English actor James Mason and his wife took him to a restaurant in Switzerland.
The young Kiwi hadn’t much enjoyed the New Zealand red wines hed tasted and he was totally unprepared for the sensation of drinking good pinot noir.
“I asked James, What is this wine? I’ve never drunk anything like this. And he said, This is Burgundy don’t forget it. And I never forgot it.”
Years later, when he bought a piece of land in Central Otago, he visited his childhood friend Rolf Mills at Rippon Vineyard at Wanaka, who was experimenting with pinot noir grapes.
“I had a glass of his wine and it was so reminiscent of Burgundy, but it had something else and that something else was Central Otago”.
The pinot noir grape, used widely in Frances Burgundy region to produce an elegant soft-tasting wine, is notoriously difficult to grow well elsewhere. One of the few exceptions is New Zealand, and Central Otago, with its hot dry summers and cold winters, is increasingly seen as an ideal location.
Sam Neill planted his first grapes at Gibbston in 1993 and the quality of the wine it produced persuaded him to expand. He now has four small vineyards scattered through the three main Central Otago growing areas, from Gibbston to Earnscleugh.
While he provides the financial resources and has an overseeing role at the vineyards, he often travels to work on films for months at a time and relies heavily on his local team.
Vineyard manager Mike Wing has been involved for 10 years and Sam has an even longer association with winemaker Dean Shaw, with whom he owns the winery in Cromwell where Two Paddocks wines are made.
“Everything is about the wine and all we do is about excellence and perfection, he says. We don’t cut corners and we’re in it for the long haul. It’s all about looking after the soil, looking after the sites, looking after the vines, looking after each other.”
For Sam, looking after the sites means growing his vines organically. “I think it’s a bad idea for ones own land to smother it with things that kill other things”, he says.
He sees organics as the logical path for New Zealand, with its reputation for quality food and drink.
“There’s no point in competing with Chile or Argentina the labour is extremely cheap, he says. Compete at the top end. That’s the place to be. And the top end is organics.”
Although he’s still in big demand for his acting abilities, Sam believes his vineyards will have a longer-lasting impact.
“When I’m long shuffled off, my prediction is that my wine will live on. I think films become fossils pretty quickly, but I’m going to leave a wine legacy behind and that sort of gives me some quiet pride”.