When he’s not busy starring in major motion pictures (Jurassic Park, The Piano, and most recently, Hunt for the Wilderpeople), actor Sam Neill pursues one of his other great passions–winemaking.
Twenty-four years ago, the Northern Irish-born New Zealand actor established Two Paddocks by planting just two hectares of grapes. Today his property, located on New Zealand’s South Island, includes 66 hectares and four small vineyards. Aside from a tiny volume of Riesling, it’s all pinot noir, all of which is grown organically. Notable as the only local winery with a footprint in all three of Central Otago’s great valleys, Neill figures part of his holdings makes up what may well be the southernmost vineyard in the world.
Central Otago is familiar ground for Neill. His family used to come up from Dunedin when he was a kid. He loved the big empty fields and always imagined living here one day—a dream he’s since fulfilled.
He traces his love for pinot noir back to a dinner with the English actor James Mason and his wife, where Neill was served a particularly good glass of wine. “I asked James, ‘What is this wine, I’ve never had anything like this.’ Mason responded, ‘This is burgundy and don’t forget it.’ And I never did. The grape was pinot noir.”
Neill and his team were pleased with the first vintage in 1997 and believe the wine has improved significantly over the years.
Being in the movie business, it only makes sense he’d play a role in a short film about his vineyard, which is posted on the Two Paddocks website. It captures the actor consulting with his winemaking team, weeding (in an attempt to bring native birds back and because “it’s better exercise than golf”) and writing the winery’s blog. The 1947 Chevrolet truck he uses to get around is a sight to behold. He jokes, “It probably came off the production line same day as I did.”
On the main vineyard, a former crop and food research station, they also grow lavender and distill it into essential oil for sale. In fact, Neill’s wife Noriko Watanabe, a Hollywood make-up artist he met on the set of Dead Calm (1989), is the CEO Lavender and Saffron Division. And then there are the cattle, sheep and pigs as well as an extensive garden with fruit trees including nectarines, apricots, peaches and apples.
Neill turns philosophical about his vineyards. He believes films “become fossils pretty quickly,” and that his lasting legacy will be the wine. And while he takes the business seriously, he also likes to have fun. He enjoys naming some of his cherished farm animals after Hollywood stars, and his tweets are a hoot.
“Sam’s management style makes coming to work enjoyable for everyone,” says general manager Jacqui Murphy. “It has to be fun.”
Air New Zealand offers non-stop service from Vancouver to Auckland with convenient connections from other Canadian gateways in partnership with Air Canada. For more on Sam Neill’s winery, visit twopaddocks.com.