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Wine: Acting up about wine

Actor and vigneron Sam Neill is on record as saying that these days he's more interested in rave reviews for his wine than his big-screen exploits.

Truth is, Central Otago's highest profile poster boy seems to be managing both. Certainly now, after almost 20 years, his Two Paddocks label is putting out wines of consistent considerable merit with a lovely new "Picnic" riesling giving his well-established Two Paddocks pinot noir a decent nudge.

Neill is self-deprecating and low-key about his wines but nevertheless capable of good-natured humour and a fair dose of irony.

"It all started as a hobby but now is an all-consuming labour of love. With each vintage we understand ourselves better, our vineyard better and what we're on about."

With a glass of riesling in hand, Neill addresses an industry luncheon with consummate ease, even though you get the feeling that pushing his own wine doesn't come naturally.

"I suppose I'm the acceptable face of Two Paddocks. People are usually saying their wine is the best in the world, well in our case, it's true."

His general manager, Mark Field, described by Neill as "the unacceptable face of Two Paddocks since he grew a beard", has his own views.

"One of the joys of working for an actor is they're very good at following directions - sometimes."

You get the feeling this whole project has a strong sense of fun and family. With legendary winemaker Dean Shaw on board, it couldn't be anything else.

Says Neill, "We left Dean behind, he'd get over-excited if we brought him to Auckland, but we do love him, especially his 'hands-off' approach to winemaking."

This is Shaw's 11th vintage and arguably his best. All the wines including the second tier Picnic label are beautifully crafted and have that expression of freshness and sophistication that is peculiar to Central Otago's finest wines.

Neill describes the Picnic label as "tending rustic but very agreeable".

He notes that they are now close to full production - 10,000 cases a year - and that's where they want to stay.

The vineyards are heading towards being certified organic. Says Neill, "Our intention with Two Paddocks is to make a pinot more burgundian in style. Grand Cru Gevrey Chambertin meets Mt Aspiring." It's on the cards.

RECOMMENDED

2009 Picnic Riesling, $22
Yet more proof that Central Otago delivers some of NZ's best rieslings. A magnificent drop. Off-dry to medium but finishes dry. Remarkably balanced and fresh, with soft acidity.

2008 Two Paddocks Pinot Noir, $55
A pinot whose time has come. Vine age has kicked in and we have that earthy, dried herb, black fruit and spice mix. It is brooding, mellow and mysterious - like the owner.

© New Zealand Herald

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