Welcome to Sam’s place

Sam Neill - not just a star but also a producer of great wine
Sam Neill - not just a star but also a producer of great wine
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Sorry, Sam isn’t here today.” said Jacqui, the general manager of Two Paddocks in Central Otago, New Zealand, “he is filming in Vancouver.” To be frank, I really hadn’t expected the star of Jurassic Park, Sam Neill to hang around to meet me, but filming the new series of Alcatraz seemed a pretty good excuse.

Sam is the owner of Two Paddocks vineyard in New Zealand’s newest and most southerly wine region, Central Otago. He started out with just one paddock of vines in Gibbston while his friend, film director Roger Donaldson bought the next door paddock – hence the name Two Paddocks. Now the enterprise has grown and Sam’s vineyards spread across several hillsides in the Earnscleugh district of Alexandra, the most southerly part of this southern outpost of grape growing.

It was a Yorkshireman who got Sam interested in wine. Huddersfield-born James Mason, most famously known for his role in North by Northwest, was Sam’s mentor back in the seventies and, over dinner one day, Sam was stunned by the great flavours in the glass of wine that had been poured. “What is it?”, he asked James Mason – “it is really great Burgundy, and don’t forget it”, replied the great actor.

Several years, and films later, unable to afford a vineyard in Burgundy, Sam set about creating a vineyard in his homeland and, when he is not filming, he retreats to his farm in Central Otago. This used to be a government research station which accounts for the mixed crops of grapes, vegetables, lavender oil and saffron with cattle and sheep grazing the meadows. Not all these enterprises make money, especially the saffron, but together they make this a vibrant, lively farm.

The vineyards are mainly planted to Pinot Noir with just a few Riesling vines to provide a white wine. There is also a library block of oddball vines from the research station days. Although the farm is not totally organic, there is more than a nod in this direction. Composting, mulching and inter-row planting with nitrogen-fixing plants make this environmentally-friendly viticulture.

I tasted through the whole range and liked the style of these wines.

Picnic by Two Paddocks 2009 Pinot Noir is light, and full of sweet strawberry fruit with underlying complexity. Two Paddocks 2008 has more concentration with a harmonious balance of earthy notes, dark cherry fruit and soft silky tannins. There is a single vineyard wine, First Paddock made from a steep, rugged, low yielding vineyard but that rarely escapes from the farm.

Two Paddock wines are available by mail order from Haynes, Hanson and Clark (www.hhandc.co.uk) at around £16 for Picnic and £22 for Two Paddocks, but it would be good to see them available in Yorkshire.

Central Otago is the new place to grow grapes in New Zealand and the region is clearly thriving. Located in the southern part of South Island, surrounded by mountains and almost continental in climate, it is one of the most beautiful wine growing regions I have visited. With snow-capped mountains, tumbling waterfalls, turquoise lakes and deep ravines this is an area that attracts thousands of visitors for its scenery and huge range of outdoor sports and these tourists drink a lot of the local wine. This is definitely a cool-climate grape growing region, you can tell that from the chill in the air in the mornings. But the light is clear and temperatures rise during the day and plummet at night – even in summer. During my visit at the end of January, when it should be like the end of July in the northern hemisphere, there was a fresh fall of snow on the hillsides.

Although most properties produce a range of grape varieties, including Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris it is Pinot Noir which is really putting Central Otago on the map. The high UV sunshine coupled with cool nights and long slow ripening brings out fabulous aromatics as well as silky tannins.

In January I attended the Pinot Celebration in Central Otago, which brought dozens of Pinot producers from all parts of Australia and New Zealand and several from Pinot regions around the world. What struck me is how quickly and enthusiastically this region has moved from pioneering, small-scale experimentation to top-quality production. This is a region about to take on the world with vibrant, pure-fruited Pinots. Apart from Two Paddocks, the following producers also made a great impression.

Felton Road – Biodynamic production and fabulous wines from Leeds-born Nigel Greening. Try Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2009 for vibrant, cherry fruit. House of Townend £27.72 (01482 638888)

Rippon – Pure fruit elegance and silky tannins. Try Emma’s Block Pinot Noir 2009, Lea and Sandeman £33.96 (020 72440522)

Mount Edward – These wines consistently hit the spot for intensity and elegance. Halifax Wine Co has the 2009 Mount Edward Pinot Noir at £23.95.

Mount Difficulty – Right next door to Felton Road, these wines have chunky complexity and power. Try the 2009 Pinot from York Wines at £21.95 (01347 878716) or head to Majestic for the lighter style of Roaring Meg 2011 Pinot Noir from Mount Difficulty, currently at £16.99 on multibuy.

Quartz Reef – now totally biodynamic. Try the Pinot Noir 2010 from Majestic currently at £15.99.

Wild Earth – a lighter, fruit-driven style with forest floor notes as the wines age. Try Wild Earth Pinot Noir 2008 from Martinez Fine Wine at £21.25 (01943 600000).