Actor Sam Neill on Wine, Acting and What’s Important in Life

Sam Neill and wine director Dana Frank of Ava Gene's, at this year's International  Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon © Andrea Johnson Photography
By Ray Isle Posted August 27, 2015

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.

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.'”

On Central Otago Pinot Noir:
“We’ve been known as being a sort of fruit bomb area. But I’ve always been much more in favor of restraint. This is probably true of acting, too: I like restraint and subtlety. And Dean, our winemaker, who has been making our wine since 1999, worked quite a number of vintages in Burgundy, and his philosophy is absolutely along that line.”

What matters most to him about wine:
“There’s a Maori proverb, and I wish I could say it in Maori, but it translates as, ‘What is the important thing? It is people, people, people.’ So, with wine, people talk about terroir, and that’s important, and regionality, and that’s very important as well. But for me, the most important thing is people.”

What he drinks when he doesn’t drink Pinot Noir:
“Shiraz. It’s a very extreme contrast, but I like it. I’m actually a huge fan of Australian Shiraz. I buy John Duval’s wines, particularly, by the case. He’s my number one.”

On actors and wine:
“When I’m doing a film, the rest of the cast usually knows I make wine as well. They look thirsty as I walk past! But I love that. You know, people sometimes think actors are kind of silly and airheaded—well, some of them are—but I find actors, actually, just marvelous company. And what better to enjoy company with than a good bottle of wine?”

Related: An Insider's Guide to Oustmarting Burgundy Collectors
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Cooking with Red Wine

 

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