Northern Irish-born actor Sam Neill is a New Zealander at heart. Since moving there with his parents as a youngster (his father was stationed in Northern Ireland when Sam was born), he has pursued a highly successful international film acting career. He lives on New Zealand’s South Island in Queenstown and owns a winery called Two Paddocks, made up of a vineyard at Gibbston and two near Alexandra, all in the Central Otago region. He has a brisk attitude towards the concept of celebrity. ‘ I am not, nor have I ever been, a “celebrity”,’ he says. ‘ I planted my first vines 25 years ago, not because I was bored, or I had too much money, or because I thought it might look good in a colour magazine, but because I had a long and abiding interest in wine. And because my family had been in the wine trade for at least 150 years.’
Neill gets as involved as he can in the winemaking process, despite the demands of his other job. ‘As an actor,’ he says pointedly (ie, not as a celebrity), ‘when I am at home, l like nothing better than to be out in the vineyards getting my hands dirty.’
As to how seriously he is seen as a winemaker, it infuriates him that actors can be dismissed as ‘lightweight’ people. ‘ It has taken 20 vintages now, at least 14 of which were terrific, for critics and so on to start really looking at our wines seriously. It has been something of a surprise for some of them that we do produce world-class Pinot Noirs.’
Neill gets considerable personal pleasure from making good wine, but points out that if he were making indifferent wine, then he ‘would be doing something else pretty quickly’.
Sam Neill: ‘not a celebrity’