Sam Pillsbury Spills on the Reason He Landed in Arizona, and Launches a Wine Column for Chow Bella

Categories: Wine

Courtesy of Sam Pillsbury
A lot of filmmakers do wine...Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), the actor I shared an office with in the '70s, makes Pinot Noir and Riesling. NZ director Roger Donaldson (No Way Out), a fellow filmmaker from Auckland who now lives in Santa Monica, has a vineyard in NZ.

Coppola, of course.

Is it because we crave to be revered, for sort of like gods we make something for people out of nothing, that brings joy, and we love the adulation? Maybe, but, man, that stuff had better be really good, because they'll kick the shit outta ya if it isn't.

Is it because we crave stepping into the unknown, doing something horrendously expensive, incredibly risky, that takes forever?

I really thought the two occupations would be stunningly different. Movies are abstract and ephemeral; growing grapes and making wine would be organic, earthy, substantial. I would have land, I would have vines growing out of the soil. These are things you could touch. It would be so permanent, so grounding.

They are almost exactly the same. Risky, costly, taking forever, the critics love your crappy stuff and trash your darlings. The weather messes up your schedule. And the vines will die, the wine will go actually lasts longer. Hah.

I started making films in NZ when there was almost no film industry. People thought we were crazy. Then we got on this wave and started surfing it. Hi, Peter Jackson! Exhilarating! The same thing happened here with wine. It's so much fun.

I started making films because I love film, and I started making wine because I love wine. It's that simple. And with film, you have studios and networks that mess with your work. I own this company. I do whatever I want.

I started by buying some land in the mid '80s on the magical Waiheke Island in NZ, home of some of the best boutique wines in NZ (see Stonyridge Vineyards). This little island with its own microclimate off the east coast of Auckland had two vineyards on it in then. I sold the land a few years later when I moved to Los Angeles because of the movies.

It took a while but spending more time in Arizona due to you-know-what, I started thinking wine again. Having lived with the phenomenon of growing quality wine grapes in unusual places, I was open-minded about that, and in 1999 while camping up in the Verde Valley, I noticed the setting sun hitting a limestone cliff across the valley.

Having spent time in the South of France (Cannes Film Festival with my movies) I thought 'Ahah, Provençe!'

A walk down the creek bubbling out of Montezuma Well at dawn the next day and behold: wild grape vines climbing up all the trees. Of course...high altitude, cooler! What's even better, more UV, cooler High Desert nights. Excellent wine!

A bit of research and drinking some AZ wines of the time (Dos Cabezas, Callaghan) proved the point. I drove SE down to Cochise County, bought some land next to the then 40 acre Dos Cabezas vineyard, went into business with Al Buhl, the owner, and now have 100 acres of my own, and grow and make my own wine from local grapes only, while around us are some 500 acres of vineyards.

We grow mostly Rhone varieties. I discovered Chateauneuf de Pape on one of my Cannes visits and it transported me. It was the first "feminine" red I had ever was warm, gentle, fragrant, voluptuous. Sexy. I swore I'd make that wine one day, and now we do. Our Roan Red is a Cote de Rhøne; our own Estate Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, a GSM.

And our 2011 Diva, a Arizona Chateauneuf; a blend of our own Estate Petite Sirah, Mourvedre and Syrah. We call it a PMS.

We make our wines in Willcox and Camp Verde, have a Tasting Room up north in Old Town Cottonwood, and we open our Tasting Room at the vineyard just south of Willcox this May.

All because of sex.

Well, isn't it why we're all here?

Sam Pillsbury has made dozens of documentaries, TV series and feature films in New Zealand and Hollywood as writer, director and producer, and now grows grapes and makes 100 percent Arizona wines in Arizona. He lives in Phoenix. You can get more information about his wines and tasting room at

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