Actor Sam Neill is probably most famous for his starring role in the original Jurassic Park movie, but in the wine world, he’s known for his Central Otago estate Two Paddocks, which makes some of New Zealand’s top Pinot Noirs (you can find them here). It’s easy, if you’re a well-known celebrity, to find someone willing to slap your name onto a product—anything from wine to chicken fries, whatever those are. Neill, however, is a longtime wine lover and deeply involved in every aspect of Two Paddocks. I caught up with him recently at the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Oregon, where he was the keynote speaker. Here are some highlights of our conversation.
On planting his vineyards:
“I first planted the vineyard in 1993; it was a strange coming together of things. First, I’d somehow stumbled into an international career as an actor, so I could afford one or two things that were only mildly possible prior to that. And I’d built a house in the mid-'80s in Central Otago, which was where we used to go for holidays when I was a child. It was always my dream place in the world. Then I had the ’91 and ’92 Pinot Noirs from Rippon, and I thought, ‘How is it possible they’re growing Pinot Noir of such complexity? This is a really, really interesting thing—in the place that I love most in all the world, it’s possible to grow the wine I like most in the world!’”
How he fell in love with Burgundy:
“One of my mentors was [the actor] James Mason. He loved Burgundy, and the first time I went to stay with him, in Switzerland, he took me to dinner. We had this wonderful bottle of wine—I’m fairly sure it was a Gevrey Chambertin—and I asked him what it was, and he said, Burgundy. That got me started. I was living in London then, and on my road there was a little wine shop where the guys also turned out to be into Burgundy…I’d go in there and they’d say, 'Have you tried a Vosne-Romanée?' I would say, 'What the hell is that?' and they would say, 'Well, have a crack at this one.'”