Omagh born Hollywood actor, Sam Neill, has not only dipped his toe into the wine business but has dived head first into a very successful sideline.
Sam Neill, DCNZM, OBE, is a New Zealand actor, writer, director and producer whose acting credits include The Hunt for Red October, The Piano, Event Horizon, The Dish, two Jurassic Park films, Perfect Strangers, The Tudors, Alcatraz and Harry over a 40-year career.
He recently finished Australian supernatural thriller Backtrack with Adrien Brody and one of his projects this year is filming the second series of the BBC's historic crime drama Peaky Blinders, in which he plays a psychotic police inspector. Neill established Two Paddocks in Gibbston in 1993 and the first vintage was in 1997. The 3ha Alex Paddocks, above the Clutha River near Alexandra, was acquired in 1998. The 53ha farm Redbank in the Earnscleugh Valley was acquired in 2000 and became the main vineyard and business headquarters.
The actor has recently just extended his empire with the purchase of Desert Heart vineyard, which gives him a presence in what has become the engine room of one of the world's most exciting pinot noir regions. And makes him the only producer with a footprint in all three sub-regions - Gibbston Valley, and the Cromwell and Alexandra basins.
Not only will the acquisition provide a consistency of supply but will lift Two Paddocks' production by 7000 cases a year - about a third - which should help satisfy a growing international demand that reflects not only the quality of the wine, but Neill's undoubted and very public passion for the variety.
Sam prefers to call it a grand obsession, which began in the late 1970s when dining with actor James Mason and his wife and they ordered a bottle of burgundy. That was it. He was hooked.
But Sam, 66, also has a family connection with the industry that goes back 150 years, when his grandfather Sidney founded Neill and Co, wine and spirits merchants in Dunedin. This became Wilson Neill and was run by his father Dermott, a former major in the Royal Irish Fusiliers, for whom the newly-acquired vineyard will eventually be named.
While his son Sam chose a different path it was this - acting - that allowed him eventually to indulge himself. In 1993 he bought and planted two hectares in pinot noir at Gibbston and his mate, film director Roger Donaldson, did the same next door. Hence the Two Paddocks tag which became reality when Roger lost interest.
Such was the success of the pinot that Sam intended to share with friends that he then became what he calls "outrageously ambitious" and planted more. The first was Alex Paddocks, above the Earnsclough Valley, the other (now the main vineyard) on Redbank, a farm that is now at the heart of the operation and also in the Alexandra area.
With the acquisition of the entirely pinot vineyard from Denny Downie and Jane Gill, who have run the place since 1999, this means he will be able to add at least another single vineyard pinot to his stable, taking the pinots produced to five
It also means that all the pinot, including that under the Picnic label, will now be estategrown and from next year part of a completely organic operation.
Meantime, Denny and Jane will at least continue to retail their wines, which include an outstanding chardonnay (Renaissance 2012) and a gold medal rose.