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Sam Neill: Don’t call me a celebrity winemaker

Actor Sam Neill, who runs Two Paddocks in Central Otago, has hit out against being dubbed a “celebrity winemaker”, admitting he dislikes the tag.

Sam Neill, photographed at Quo Vadis in Soho by Alex Layton
Sam Neill, photographed at Quo Vadis in Soho by Alex Layton

Speaking to the drinks business in the November issue of the magazine, Neill voiced his frustration in being associated with the likes of Sting and Brangelina in terms of his winemaking endeavours.

“I don’t like the celebrity winemaker tag because people groan if they hear a wine has been made by a celebrity and presume it must not be any good.

“I’ve been making wine for 20 years and don’t want to be lumped into that category,” he told db.

With his range having recently been taken on in Britain by Negociants UK, Neill believes his two single vineyard Pinot Noirs, of which less than 100 cases of each are made two to three times a decade, merit their £50 price tags.

Neill at his estate in Central Otago
Neill at his Two Paddocks estate in Central Otago

“I think my two single vineyard wines are extremely reasonable for the quality you get from them. I’m confident that they merit their price tags.

“Burgundy produces some wonderful Pinots but many of them are vastly overpriced, while I think New Zealand Pinots on the whole are vastly underpriced,” he said.

While looking to Burgundy as a quality template, Neill’s ultimate goal is to make wines that bear the stamp of their Central Otago postcode rather than making juicy, fruit forward Pinots that fit the mould of what consumers believe New World Pinot Noir to be.

“I’ve neither felt the pressure nor the desire to make that kind of Pinot. I don’t like that style and have always gone against the grain,” he said.

In terms of whether Central Otago is the best spot in the country for Pinot Noir, Neill was loath to be drawn in.

Two Paddocks Pinot Noir
Two Paddocks Pinot Noir

“I’d make enemies if I said Central Otago was the best region in New Zealand for Pinot Noir, but we do make some fantastic examples. Saying that, Canterbury and Martinborough have been producing fabulous Pinots of late,” Neill conceded.

Despite being such a significant grape for New Zealand, Neill admitted to db that he’s never liked Sauvignon Blanc.

“Sauvignon Blanc was the Trojan horse that took New Zealand wine to the world, but I’m not interested in making it as I’ve never really liked it.

“When it comes to whites, I’m much more interested in Riesling,” he revealed.

Having bottled under screwcap since 1997, Neill is adamant that he would never switch back to cork as it is too high risk.

“I’d never ever go back. I don’t believe that a cork assists in any way in the ageing of a wine. If it allows air in then it’s failing in its job as a seal.

“Too many corks get infected; it’s too much of a risk. Our wines are ageing well under screwcap.

“Forget all that romance bollocks about the sound of pulling a cork; my heart sinks when I have to reach for my corkscrew – give me the crack of a screwcap any day,” he said.

The full interview with Sam Neill appears in the November issue of the drinks business, out now.

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