Q&A: Sam Neill

Kiwi actor/winery owner answers OWP

Sam Neill. ##Photo by Andrea Johnson

Sam Neill, the actor, writer, producer and director, was born in Omagh, Northern Ireland, in 1947, and moved to Christchurch, New Zealand, with his family in 1954. Neill first achieved recognition in the 1977 film “Sleeping Dogs.” He reached international stardom with his portrayal of Dr. Alan Grant in Jurassic Park in 1993, reprising the role in 2001’s Jurassic Park III. Neill’s foray into wine began in 1993, when he planted The First Paddock, 4.6 hectares of Pinot Noir in Gibbston Valley of the Central Otago region. Neill owns three additional organic vineyards in the Central Otago, including Red Bank Farm & Vineyard in Alexandra, where his brand, Two Paddocks — first vintage was 1997 — has located its headquarters, Private Paddock Club House and a working farm. 

Q: Why make wine?

SN: Why paint? Why make beautiful buildings? Why write novels?  Why fall in love? Because we can. Because we’re human.  Because we adore beauty. Because sometimes we can touch the sublime and, finally, because we’re all slightly crazy.

Q:  What is it about Pinot Noir that you love?

SN: That it’s so elusively difficult.  Because it’s fickle and subtle and as beautiful as a ballerina — in the right hands. It can also be clumsy, ill-gotten and absurd; particularly if you grow it in the wrong places. 

Q: What part of the winemaking process fascinates you most?

SN: Winemaking is the closest thing I know to alchemy. A great winemaker depends, of course, on a great vineyard, but nevertheless, with a little yeast and a few thousand years of knowledge can transform something seemingly banal — grape juice — into a work of art.

Q: What is your philosophy in the vineyard? In the winery?

SN: We go to great pains to produce organic wine, both in the vineyard and the winery. Of course, it drives you crazy and it is back-breakingly time- and energy-consuming. It is all about hands on, but it’s worth it. It makes for great wine, and I sleep better at night.

Q: What’s the last bottle of wine to rock your palate?

SN: We have finally started to make a little rosé under extreme pressure from our enthusiasts.  It’s not the greatest wine we produce, but it is so completely delicious that I have to be physically restrained from drinking it all day and all night.

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