1 May 2020

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Picking Up Those Good Vibrations

Look at the website for Two Paddocks and you're immediately struck by a restrained confidence that exudes from every page. These are vintners, growers and producers who know what they are doing, and behind that knowledge are a selection of excellent wines that demand attention from the taster.

Since planting their first grapes in 1993, this Gibbston Valley operation refuses to rest on its illustrious laurels, and with a selection of Pinot Noir and Riesling that grab you by the taste buds why should it? To me, it is the sort of vineyard that typifies what New Zealand producers are all about, a blend of honest farmers trying to produce a respected crop meeting eager host ready to share and celebrate with those fortunate enough to drop by for a glass.

Before I continue I've got to mention the owner, Sam Neill. Yes, The SAM NEILL whose acting exploits have provided a constant cinematic wallpaper throughout my life, from his heroic turn as REILLY ACE Of SPIES to his authorative representation in JURASSIC PARK, by way of a menacing character in MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN and benevolent patriarch in BICENTENNIAL MAN. This is an actor who is so much more than the itinerant performer he describes himself as on the Two Paddocks website, but does this application to craft extend towards the vineyard he owns or is he simply a celebrity winemaker? If you're in any doubt after reading the Q & A I had with him recently then I'm going to refer you to the Two Paddocks website where you'll see just how serious he is.

WINEFULLNESS: 'What is the single most important element to winemaking at Two Paddocks and why?'

SAM NEILL: 'People. Of course grape varieties, clones, viticultural methods, climate and so on are critical. But in the end it's the people that work with me that are the most important element of all.'

WINEFULLNESS: 'Are you a little tired that the rest of the world is slow getting past the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir labels?'

SAM: 'Not really. At least it's now Sauvignon Blanc AND Pinot Noir. It used to be just Savvy. 90% of what we produce at Two Paddocks is Pinot Noir so I'm pretty relaxed about this. If I was growing Chardonnay I would be a little irritated I grant you.'

WINEFULLNESS: 'How is the latest harvest shaping up?'

SAM: 'We had a very cool spring, so we are perhaps ten days behind where we should be. That's fine, but it does leave us prone to the vagaries of the weather at vintage. Frost is our most dreaded foe.'

WINEFULLNESS: 'What is the biggest difficulty in being a celebrity owner?

SAM: 'Being called a celebrity vineyard owner. I am far from being a celebrity by any measure. But because people persist with that word, there is a tendency to take my wines a little less seriously than they deserve. You need good reviews from heavyweights to overcome that prejudice, and we do.'

WINEFULLNESS: 'What are you reading at the moment?'

SAM NEILL: 'The Body by Bill Bryson.'

WINEFULLNESS: 'Which varietal do you think will be the next big thing in New Zealand wine?'

SAM: 'Riesling. The great under-valued noble grape of the world. But I would say that wouldn't I, given that 10% of what we make is Riesling.

WINEFULLNESS: 'Apart from your own, what is a favourite wine you serve to friends?'

SAM: 'Penfolds Bin 389 'baby Grange'.'

WINEFULLNESS: 'When you were starting out as a poor actor, where your wine choices restricted by budget or lack of knowledge ?'

SAM: 'All of the above. At that point I was happy to drink wine out of a box, with a bladder inside - known in Australia as a 'goony bag'.'

WINEFULLNESS: 'Is there another actor that has introduced you to a wine that has taken your breath away, or are they scared to share tips with you because of your involvement with Two Paddocks?'

SAM: 'I was introduced to Red Burgundy in 1979 by none other than James Mason. In Laussane. That first glass changed my life.'

WINEFULLNESS: 'Do you think that New Zealand can grow its wine tourism given the distance it is from anywhere else?'

SAM NEILL: 'We don't do wine tourism at Two Paddocks. In addition, there's only so many tourists a country can take and we have quite enough thank you!'

WINEFULLNESS: 'When cooking, what is your signature dish or would we find you manning the barbeque at parties?'

SAM: 'I believe cooking is best done by other people. I seem to be alone in finding it deeply stressful, to no good end. Also, I know a number of really good cooks and they love their work - God bless them.'

WINEFULLNESS: 'Of the various varietals that have been planted at Two Paddocks, which is your favourite and why?'

SAM: 'Well obviously Pinot Noir. It is far and away my favourite varietal and between my four vineyards it shows delightfully different expressions. Elegance, poise, tension, brooding, lithesome, subtlety and flexibility (you can drink it with anything). Vivé Le Difference! 

WINEFULLNESS: 'I've read that one of your hopes for Two Paddocks is that it can support itself. How do you see that business evolving?'

SAM: 'It does support itself. We evolve organically (and I use that word advisedly as we are 100% certified organic) so it's difficult to see exactly where we are going. But it certainly feels like we are on the right path.'  

WINEFULLNESS: 'What makes your wines stand out from the competition?'

SAM NEILL: 'Modesty makes me reluctant to answer this. But privately, of course, I am insufferably lacking in humility about my wines.'

WINEFULLNESS: 'What one question do you wish I'd have asked you, and how would you answer it?'

SAM: 'Are you a fan of the Beach Boys from 1967-1971?  Answer = Oh my God. How did you know? That's amazing. I most certainly am! Thank you for the question.'

There doesn't seem to be a way to top that final question so I bow out gracefully. Of course Sam Neill is famous and of course he has a sense of humour, but his answers demonstrate a man of passion when it comes to the world of wine, and I would urge you all to grab a bottle 2018 Two Paddocks Riesling (if it's not sold out like the Pinot Noir) slip a CD of Smile or Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys and then try and tell me that Sam Neill runs Two Paddocks as a vanity project!

What says so much to me about Sam Neill and Two Paddocks is the way they refused the offer of free advertising and instead asked me to mention the following:

Their suppliers - Haynes, Hanson & Clark, Field & Fawcett & The Specialist Wine Cellar

Winefullness Magazine is more than happy to do this and also want to wish Two Paddocks & Sam all the best at this difficult time.

Tony Harries

Winefullness Magazine UK