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Top NZ honour for actor turned Pinot Noir activist

New Zealand Winer Grower Cover Feb/Mar 2007 Nigel John Dermot Neill better known as Sam, may have been made a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (DCNZM) for his services to acting, but surprising as it may seem to the rest of the country, down here in Central Otago he’s almost as well known for his passion for Pinot Noir.

Since he planted his first two hectares of vines at Gibbston in 1993, Sam Neill and his company Two Paddocks have been fully involved in the region’s development and escalating reputation.

Colleagues in the wine industry who respect his intense love for this region and his ability to articulate his sensitivity to terroir and its influence on his wine, will have taken pleasure in his appearance in the New Year Honours list.

They would not have been surprised at his typically selfdepreciating response in a local paper: “I’m tickled pink but I’m no trail blazer. I became an actor only because I showed no conspicuous talent in any other area.” A reference to his “rather big gong” on the Two Paddocks web site observed: “The proprietor’s head got quite big for an hour or two but he has returned to his normal sheepish appearance.”

Promoter of Central Otago
The international movie actor who is famously shy and maintains a low profi le when at home in the hills near Queenstown with his wife Noriko, has been generous with the time he has given to promoting the region. It can be pretty handy having someone as widely recognisable as Sam Neill pouring wine at the next table at a Central Otago tasting in Melbourne or London.

One suspects though, he is never more content than when he is trudging through the thyme and schist along the Last Chance water race overlooking one of his vineyards at Earnscleugh near Alexandra. Away from the bright lights of the movie world he fits easily into this landscape in his old jeans and a battered hat.

“The Last Chance” vineyard named after a miners’ watercourse dating back to the 1860s, was the second to be developed by Neill in 1998 and its fruit is now produced as a single vineyard label. In 2000, the company acquired Redbank, a 25ha former horticultural research property also at Earnscleugh. The spectacularly dry and rocky site is the location for the Two Paddocks tasting room.

2nd paddock home of “Sleeping Dogs”
The original vineyard at Gibbston was one of two paddocks acquired about the same time by Sam and his fi lm-making colleague and friend, New Zealand director Roger Donaldson. The “second paddock” is still the home block for Donaldson’s “Sleeping Dogs” label, named after the New Zealand classic, the first movie the two men made together.Sam Neill is a partner in the Central Otago Wine Company, the Cromwell contract winemaking facility where winemaker Dean Shaw now makes a range of Two Paddocks wines. The C.O. Wine Co. was founded by Sam’s friend and gifted winemaker Mike Wolter who died in a tragic winery accident in 1997.“I wanted to produce a good Pinot Noir that would, at the very least, be enjoyed by my family and friends,” Sam Neill once said. “Frankly, my friends will pretty much drink anything so this didn’t seem too hard.” Now, he says, the wine has improved so much since the early days, it’s almost too good to be wasted on friends.

© Copyright 2007, New Zealand Wine Grower. Posted with the permission of the publisher.

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