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Neill Appeal

As New Zealand's attaché in Hollywood, Sam Neill was obliged to launch his wine with the sort of casual chic that other winemakers avoid, so there was no surprise in a new Central Otago pinot noir being introduced to the media with an abundance of Veuve Clicquot Champagne. What was truly surprising was that Neill's wine was seriously good stuff.

There has recently been a fall of stardust on the wine industry, with a splurge of movie money and tasty architecture at Seresin Estate in Marlborough, and Dame Kiri's venture into a wine property in southern France, but Neill, as scion of the second half of Wilson Neill, probably has some wine already bred into him. The fact that his Central Otago home is in the process of discovering its winegrowing potential makes his venture into viticulture in the Gibbston Valley even more appropriate.

All of which is as irrelevant as tasting notes for Coca-Cola, because with only tiny quantities of "Two Paddocks" being made, total production will be sold on the basis of Sam Neill's star status, never mind the wine. Which immediately puts it into the wine fashion category occupied by labels such as that introductory Veuve Clicquot--except that Clicquot's fame is its own, and not that of its owner.

Fame such as Neill's is an asset that the rest of the local wine industry will be happy to acknowledge, especially as they reach out for recognition in the vast United States wine market. Neill is also a considerable addition to New Zealand wine's already brimming sex appeal, the quality that has produced a number of support roles for chardonnay in literature and television. Perhaps now it's time to break into the movies.

Thankfully for wine drinkers, Neill's involvement is not just for added glamour, as he is both interested and involved in the whole process, from growing to winemaking, and the result is wine that has added considerably to the quality status of Central Otago pinot noir. Already he as plans to expand, with another 2.5 hectares of pinot noir being planted near Alexandra, and the search is on to find a replacement for winemaker Mike Wolter, who died tragically during the 1997 vintage.

Neill also shows a feel for pinot noir, which is encouraging for the future. When launching his wine, he referred to the comment of an American friend who dismissed the name, "Two Paddocks", with the comment, "Sounds like a field of horse shit." As every pinot noir fan knows, he couldn't have said anything more positive.

TRY THIS -- Two Paddocks Pinot Noir 1997

A sweet red noseful, fruit fresh and just a touch scatological. The taste is all enthusiasm, bright-eyed, slender body studded with red fruit flavours and the more mellow, complex tones of horse shit, or is it cow shit. With the supple tension of good pinot noir, Otago's typical fruit zip and well-measured winemaking, this is already one of the best wines yet from the deep south. The only problems is that there is so little of it. Price: $28.50. Available: not a lot, so be quick.

© Copyright, New Zealand Listener. Posted with the permission of the publisher.

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