Sam Neill, actor and winemaker believes that wine planting in Central Otago is almost at capacity. At the Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration in Queenstown, Neill said that most of the best sports for the grape have already been snapped up. “I don’t think Central Otago is going to get much bigger in terms of vines in the ground as pinot noir is such a finicky thing and there are only a few more viable spots left in Central Otago for planting.”
“It was a little scary when I planted my first vineyard in 1993, as no one knew what was going to happen. It was a big gamble, but it paid off.” Neill believed in the region in terms of its wine growing capabilities and is happy to see that the work put into the land had put New Zealand pinot noir on the map. Neill owns four vineyards, his first vintage of Two Paddocks Pinot being released in 1997.
Surprisingly, Central Otago produces just 5 percent of the wine made in New Zealand—but the land is hot property. Earlier this month, Mt. Difficulty was sold to US-based Foley Family Wines for NZ$52 million. “We’re right on the periphery of winemaking here—Central Otago is the southernmost wine region in the world and more subject to the vagaries of weather. I’m mindful of the Old World, but the beauty of making pinot here is that we’re free of constraints and aren’t bound by the severe restrictions that the French are.”
“I don’t think climate change will affect Central Otago dramatically for a while, but other regions in NZ will be submerged one day, which is a terrifying thought.” In 2000, Neill said that he only managed 120 cases as opposed to the usual 800. This was due to adverse weather conditions. While sommeliers and the trade have started looking into Otago’s sub-regions, Neill believes that it’s too early to push this for consumers.