His face is unmistakable: the sideways smile, the gleaming eyes, urbanity personified.
He was a palaeontologist in Jurassic Park, a cuckolded husband in The Piano and is currently a gruff detective in Peaky Blinders. But in ‘real life’ New Zealand born and bred actor Sam Neill plays a very different role – as a passionate Pinot maker.
Established in 1993, Two Paddocks started out as one paddock – just five acres of Pinot Noir at Sam’s property in Gibbston, Central Otago. His mate Roger Donaldson, an Australian-born New Zealand-based film director, planted vines on the land next door, giving the label its name.
Two Paddocks has now been supplemented by two other small but spectacular vineyards in the Alexandra district and, more recently, a 130-acre farm called Redbank, where Sam and his team planted Burgundian pinot clones 777, 667 and 115 – the old world backbone to his premium Two Paddocks Pinot Noir.
Pinosity asked Sam Neill about his understandable obsession with Pinot, what it was that first attracted him and why he’s stuck with the great grape all these years…
When did you lose your Pinot virginity?
Ah well, it brings a misty tear to the eye – all those years ago. It was mid 1980, and I had stumbled into a modest wine merchant on Edgeware Road and bought some good stuff by guess…or by God.
Someone was coming to dinner. Possibly Nigel Havers or Chris Cazenove – posh anyway. What to buy? One was a bottle of Gevry-Chambertin. The name rang a bell, and it was great.
It took me a while to work out that the grape was something called Pinot – indeed I thought at that stage that Cote-d’Or sounded like the sort of place you might meet Brigitte Bardot on a beach, and that grapes came in two types: red or white. And possibly rosé coloured ones as well.
How did your love affair with Pinot develop?
After that, I started to haunt that little shop – and allow those chaps to steer me into a world of Burgundy. Yes Burgundy! I’d had a memorable dinner with my friend and mentor James Mason a few months before, who had sprung a bottle of Burgundy on me, and Gevry it must have been. Here it was again and it was brilliant. Burgundy was still pretty affordable then, and what is more, I was being paid what seemed like a fortune to someone who had spent most of the 70s as a lowly underpaid New Zealand civil servant. I couldn’t believe my luck, and nor could those cunning wine floggers. I was hooked. And now I began to work out where Burgundy was and what they grew there, and how they made that wonderful wine. I do something similar now – half a world away.
If Pinot was a person, who would it be, and why?
Pinot could never be just one person – but a multiplicity of clever, seductive, complex, elusive, generous, unforgettable, demanding, pleasurable, complex, challenging sybarites. I have known one or two like that myself.
If you could compare a glass of Pinot to one of your films, which film would it be, and why?
Are we talking glass half full? Or pretty near empty? And whose Pinot is in it? This is the hardest question ever. What do you think I am – some sort of brainbox?
What’s the most memorable food and wine experience you’ve ever had?
Well, just before my father became ill – an illness from which he would eventually die – we met up accidentally in Paris. I was working. He was on the way to Portugal for his annual jaunt with his equestrian dressage maestro. He was in high spirits. We decided to find the best restaurant we could find – his concierge got us into Lucas Carton – still classic French cuisine.
We ate like kings. The best food/wine match was a 2000 year old Roman recipe – duck cooked with thyme honey paired with Banyuls, a sweetish fortified wine from the Languedoc. Sublime. Woke at 3am however with the world’s worst case of heartburn – so bad I thought it might be fatal. There was no answer from my father’s room and I thought I might have killed him the same way. Finally, he appeared at 10am. “Never better” he said having walked all the way from the Left Bank to Montmartre and back. Made of sterner stuff obviously. But then, he’d fought through a fair bit of WWII.
What’s the most rare/expensive Pinot you’ve ever tasted?
The few bottles of DRC I have had the good fortune to drink over the years, I guess. Mind you, I was talking to our friends at Rippon Vineyards down the road last week. Lois said: “Someone told me today $99 was a lot of money for a bottle of wine. I told her: “Compare that bottle with a Burgundy, and say that again.”
Who do you admire most in the worlds of wine and film?
Mmm. So many, you’re talking thousands! What is this, some kind of tortuous inquisition? Hmm. After Aubert de Villaine [DRC] shall we keep this short by saying those other crazed fools/geniuses who make both wine AND film. So, off the top of my head – Francis Ford Coppola, Gerard Depardieu, Kyle McLachlan. It’s a short list.
What wines and/or regions are you the most excited about right now?
Obviously Central Otago, New Zealand – our turf. We are coming into early maturity now, and I have to say, the present and the future look really splendid for Pinot here.
But look, parochialism aside, I love many Pinots from Willamette Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Wairarapa, Canberra, and beyond.
If you could choose any food or wine in the world to have as your last meal, what would it be?
Oh my God, have my answers been that bad? The gallows? Governor, if I may, might I have a bottle of my own wine if you would be so kind? To remind me of all the good times, the folly, the small setbacks, those brief moments of glory… the Life’s Work if you like.
Two Paddocks The Last Chance Single Vineyard 2012. Appropriate eh? As for food, a good roast beef and Yorkshire pud, with plenty of horseradish on the side. Thanks. I have made my peace now Vicar.
If you were opening the best bottle of Pinot in your cellar, which three historical figures would you invite to share it with you?
Shakespeare. Cleopatra. Marilyn Monroe… a double date.
To get your hands on a Two Paddock’s Pinot, made with love by Sam Neill, go to https://www.twopaddocks.com