Friday, 08 April 2022 16:25

Green Wine Future with Sam Neill

Written by  Staff Reporters
Sam Neill at the Last Chance Vineyard in Earnsleugh Sam Neill at the Last Chance Vineyard in Earnsleugh

Environmental sustainability is a subject close to Sam Neill’s heart.

His organic, holistically managed Central Otago vineyards are steadily being planted in bird-beloved natives, while Sam is a member of the Sustainability Council of New Zealand, a trustee of the New Zealand Nature Fund and a patron for Waitaki First. The globally renowned actor and proud proprietor of Two Paddocks - described as a “very, very small company, utterly obsessed with Pinot Noir” – is one of the speakers lined up for the upcoming Green Wine Future 2022.

How long since you were last in Central Otago, and when will you be there next?

“I literally haven’t been home for a year. But it is with great relief and excitement I think I can confidently say I will be home in about three weeks. In time for vintage. I have felt very bereft in my absence.

Why is making great Pinot in this place such a passion?

Look I've said this before, you can really like many places but you can only love one place - and that place for me is Central Otago. Coupled with that, there is the extreme good fortune that the place I love best is one of the best places in the world to grow the wine I love best.

You have said sustainability needs to be a priority for New Zealand. What are the most pressing sustainability issues when it comes to wine?

My view is that we should be doing everything we can to produce wines with the smallest carbon footprint possible and in a way that benefits rather than harms the environment. This may sound preachy, but to me (I was in Australia for both the fires and the floods) it’s just common sense. Climate change is the greater threat to us as a species than anything we have known before. With the possible exception of Mr Putin.

What has Two Paddocks done to reduce its environmental impact?

For one thing, we put a lot of energy and time into planting native trees. I have a giddy affection for native birds, and I plant for them as much as for anything. In the last year or so we have planted about 2,500 trees and shrubs, the vast majority of which are natives. Growing wine surrounded by the chimes of tūi, bellbirds and grey warblers: that to me is bliss.

On a more mundane level, we have a comprehensive composting programme which includes all winery waste. And we are extremely mindful of soil health; no super phosphate, no herbicides, no insecticides, etc.

When did sustainability become so important to you?

Good question, and I think this goes back pretty much to the Vietnam days. When I left university I worked for an agricultural contractor for a short while. We were aware of the horrors of Agent Orange in Vietnam and imagine how I felt when I realised we were spraying the same thing, effectively, over gorse in the deep south. There is nothing new about environmentalism, but I think that was the signal moment for me.

Green wash or authentic stories - can consumers tell the difference?

I hope so. I hate to say, we have in New Zealand been inclined to bullshit about a number of things for a while now. The whole ‘Green Clean New Zealand’ slogan is demonstrably fallacious and at one point I think as many as 60% of New Zealand rivers were undrinkable but also unswimmable. For a kid that grew up swimming and drinking in gin-clear Otago rivers, this is profoundly depressing. I really wish we were clean and green. But we have to do a lot to get there. Wine producers have to be part of that story.

You travel the world making movies, and right now you're in Los Angeles, preparing for the launch of Jurassic World Dominion later this year. You've been in Italy recently shooting Assassins Club and before that The Portable Door. How do you balance that life with being a Pinot-growing citizen of Central Otago, accompanied by a ukelele and pet pig?

I try to balance things as best I can between my two lives, but Covid has upset many plans and often over the last two years. Fingers crossed we will get back to something like normality. In terms of balance, life on the farm is about as different as life on a sound stage as you can imagine, and I like that balance to be roughly 50/50.

What will your winegrowing legacy be?

Well, I’ll be dead so I guess I won’t be caring too much. But at this stage, I’d like to think that Two Paddocks will be a sought after, highly valued wine producer still, in 100 years’ time.”

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