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Windy Wine

Actor Sam Neill seems to enjoy a mariner’s role and a vintner’s life

It took more than 150 years of settlement for New Zealanders to realise that their cool, maritime climate offered the perfect conditions for growing grapes. New Zealand reportedly grows the world’s most southerly grapes, with its vineyards lying between the 35th and 45th lines of latitude south – roughly the equivalent of the Mediterranean Sea in the northern hemisphere. Yet, New Zealand’s vineyards are often buffeted by intense winds from the Antarctic.

But the wine world must be pleased with the Kiwis’ discovery. However, there’s a lot more to New Zealand wine than the sauvignon blanc most of us know the country for. Actor Sam Neill is probably the most famous face of New Zealand wine. He established Two Paddocks vineyard in Otago, on New Zealand’s South Island in 1993.

On a recent tour through Asia, Neill stopped to talk about his winery work. “I actually hate really blustery winds, but they are very good for the wines. As we are further south than Queenstown, we get our fair share of these winds,” Neill says. Although in his element on the farm, Neill also enjoys the sea. While in Hong Kong, Neill spoke of his love for boating and comfortable cruisine. “My most favourite holiday ever was spent sailing around the coast of Greece and Turkey. The Turkish coast is amazing. I really enjoyed the people and food there. I am not really into heeling and gybing on a small boat, so we chartered a large, stable gulet, a traditional Turkish timber sail boat. The local knowledge of the crew made it a trip to remember.”

Neill’s filmmaking career has been indelibly marked with boating. In 1989, Nicole Kidman made her international film debut alongside Neill in the the classic suspense film, Dead Calm, the tale of a couple cruising at sea and stalked by an ominous vessel. The cruising yacht used by Neill and Kidman’s characters was Stormvogel, a classic 1961 racing ketch that competes in the Kings Cup to this day. She was recently refurbished in Singapore and has won the Panerai Classics regatta in Spain and France. Stormvogel celebrated her inauguration by winning the Fastnet Race skippered by Sir Francis Chichester.

Explains Neill, “Stormvogel was a classic timber boat. She was quite beautiful and I’ve often wondered where she is now. We used her to film above deck and around the companionway, but replicated the two hatches of the boat and the area down below in a studio set. The other boat that was stalking us was ‘in character’. It stank and was fairly unpleasant to be around.” Neill also starred in another movie about the sea, The Hunt for Red October in 1990, where he played a Russian naval officer and colleague to co-star Sean Connery. Neill’s memory of this set is vivid: “This was one of the weirdest sets I’ve been on. It wasn’t about being in the confined space of the submarine, it was just that the set was very male. I have never been on a movie set where there were no women. For some reason all the make-up artists and wardrobe people – everyone on the entire set – was male. Usually a crew is roughly half male, half female, and about the same ratios for the cast, but this was just bizarre.” Perhaps the producers feared the age old superstition of women being a bad portend for submariners. For Neill, life is about balance, whether it’s about having a work/life balance or a balance of sexes on his sets. And when it comes to his highly palatable wines, it’s clear he’s got the balance just right.

TWO PADDOCKS WINE IS AVAILABLE IN HONG KONG AT:
Crown Wine Cellars
Wooloomooloo Group
Kee Club
W Hong Kong
Divino
Red Bar
Aedes Bar in Wanchai

 

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