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Winemakers Always Set for a Savage Blow

sam set
MARY-JO TOHILL/Fairfax NZ
A RISKY BUSINESS: Central Otago winemaker Sam Neill has first-hand experience of the delights but potential disasters of pinot growing in the region’s unforgiving climate and conditions.

Playing action heroes and growing grapes - there's a certain symmetry, actor and winemaker Sam Neill says.

"To be a hero you have to take a beating."

Or at least that's what fellow actor Sylvester Stallone told him recently while they were working on upcoming action thriller filmThe Tomb.

And Neill was not pulling any punches about the realities of winemaking in Central Otago. Host to a group of international and national sommeliers (wine waiters), guests of Central Otago Pinot Noir's annual E'Sensual winery tour, he admitted that the role he plays as prison doctor Emil Kaikev did not involve any stunts greater than putting on a stethoscope, unlike Stallone, whose character gets a pounding trying to escape a hi-tech prison of his own design.

However, Neill confessed to having taken a different kind of walloping from his adopted region's harsh, arid and unforgiving climate. He cited devastating frosts of 2005 and 2009 which all but wiped out his temperamental red pinot crop in that crucial two-day window before harvest at his vineyard Two Paddocks near Clyde.

"That is the most terrifying aspect ... we teeter on the edge of winery suicide here ... that mother nature may deal you a savage blow the likes you've never seen."

Which is why wineries had spent a fortune installing frost-fighting techniques such as windmills, hovering helicopters, specialist ground and air temperature gauges, which were reflected in the high quality - and price - of Central Otago wines, he said.

"It's very scary but completely worth it."

Neill said he had enjoyed telling his guests about the Clyde-Earnscleugh district's gold mining history and geology, which was an integral part of the pinot noir's unique schist and mineral taste.

During the weekend, the sommeliers from Sweden, Hong Kong, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand also visited wineries at Gibbston, Cromwell basin and Wanaka "to explore the depths of local wines and cuisine", E'Sensual's communications manager Jenny Hawker said.

"We trust when they next open a bottle of Central Otago wine in Stockholm, Sydney, or Kowloon, memories of E'Sensual Central will come flooding back and that they will leave with a personal, in-depth knowledge of where the wine is grown, its character and the passion of its winegrowers."

Link to the article online

© Copyright 2012, The Southland Times.

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