New Zealand's Great Performer

Far from Hollywood, actor Sam Neill plays a different part: vintner of star grape Pinot Noir

Peter Hunt for TIME

Sam Neill, with his wife, Noriko Watanabe Neill, and daughter, Elena, tends the land at Two Paddocks, their Central Otago family-run winery.

Call it a sideways moment. New Zealand vintners Sam Neill and Adam Peren are surveying a rugged hillside vineyard and discussing why Pinot Noir is the most sensuous and elusive of wines. "If Pinot were a woman, she'd be Audrey Tautou in Amélie," says Neill. "Kristin Scott Thomas," offers Peren. "No, Kristin's a dry Riesling," Neill insists.

One guesses Neill might know, given that he co-starred with Scott Thomas in 1998's The Horse Whisperer (although he did not appear in the Oscar-nominated 2004 Sideways, which established Pinot Noir as the grail of grapes to a global audience). Neill, who has more...

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