Actor and winemaker Sam Neill says “timing is everything. Ask a comedian. Or a winemaker. Picking today could have an entirely different result from picking tomorrow. Waiting that split second longer is the difference between a joke that works, and one that falls on its face; or a wine that is either good or outrageously sublime”.
Known for his roles in movies such as The Piano, Jurassic Park and The Hunt for Red October, when he is not in front of the camera, Neill can be found enjoying life on one of his vineyards in New Zealand planting and tending vines, hanging with his staff and entertaining friends, and of course, drinking wine.
“I planted one little vineyard in 1993 and now, today, somehow, it’s four little vineyards. Called Two Paddocks, oddly enough,” says the 69-year-old. Not so odd though, as the name was derived from his friend and fellow filmmaker Roger Donaldson planting vines in neighbouring paddocks at the same time. Donaldson’s “proved to be a slow starter, which meant we had to go it on our own”, Neill says.
Located in Gibbston, Central Otago, Neill’s ambition was to produce a good pinot noir that his friends would enjoy but by 1999, Two Paddocks was producing world-class pinot, so they planted another two hectares to raise the land-use to five hectares. “We aim to produce the world’s greatest pinot noir,” Neill says. “We are getting close.”
Today, their wine business has vineyards in other parts, including Alex Paddocks and Red Bank Farm in the Earnscleugh Valley and the Two Paddocks brand is available in the United States, Japan, mainland China and Hong Kong.
With a movie and television career spanning two decades before he planted his first vines, Neill says getting into the wine industry was no surprise.
“I don’t think I ever made a real decision about this, it just grew on me. My family have been in the wine and sprits business for about 150 years.” Neill and Co was once the largest liquor retailer in New Zealand.
Working dual roles as an actor and winemaker, Neill says, has taught me patience and humility. “I’ve learnt how engaging and fascinating the film and wine businesses are, as well as how important people are in both. And as time goes on [I realise] how little I know”.
With every 24-hours different, some daily rituals stay constant. “I am never late. I drink wine with dinner religiously, every day. I don’t like eating too late, mainly because it means waiting too long for wine.”
Busy as ever, Neill has two movies coming out next year, Thor: Ragnarok with Chris Hemsworth and The Commuter with Liam Neeson and others that have just been announced, the idea of retiring is not on his radar.
“The older you get, the less time you have to lose. I am busier than ever. The idea of retiring and wasting time fills me with stark horror. I don’t like time to be seen digitally – it’s like a countdown to the end,” Neill says. “That’s why I like watches – they have circularity – time renews itself every 12 hours.”