You could say wine runs in Sam Neill's veins.

The actor and winemaker started off 20-odd years ago with a 2ha plot and never thought it would be anything more than a hobby.

But ambition crept up on him and winemaking is now firmly part of his life. Speaking from his vineyard in Bannockburn, Mr Neill said it was part of his family legacy.

His great-grandfather Percy Neill emigrated from Belfast to Dunedin in the 1860s. He was a wine and spirits merchant.


"Our connection to wine and Otago has been almost unbroken in all that time."

His father, Dermot Neill, can also take credit. "My father and I used to drive past here the same time every year on our way camping. It was he who said, 'Someone should be growing wine around here. This is perfect wine country.'"

Mr Neill planted his first grapes in 1993 in Gibbston and now owns vineyards in Alexandra and Clyde.

His Bannockburn vineyard, The Fusilier, is named for his father, who served in the Royal Irish Fusiliers.

A paddock beside the vineyard is the setting for his latest project - a pop-up cellar door that runs until January 17. Think straw bales, wine barrels, picnic tables and an imported Airstream caravan.

"I love nothing more than working in my vineyard. It is the opposite of working as an actor.

"Both are a huge part of my life and I wouldn't be without either."