It's one of the great ironies of American pop culture: If you're famous, you can do anything you want, and be celebrated for it. Everyone will say you're beautiful, babe, just beautiful.
But if you try to branch out from what made you a star, you're toast.
If a musician preaches about politics, he'll be booed. If an athlete stars in a movie, he'll be ridiculed.
And if an actress launches her own wine label? Let's just say critics will swirl their goblets with skepticism.
"It's hard to bring in a new wine and people don't know it," said Lorraine Bracco, Oscar-nominated star of The Sopranos and GoodFellas, who launched her own label, Bracco Wines, in 2006. "I think once people know the real story, they realize I'm not just slapping the label on. I have a lot of control over it, and I don't put out anything that I don't love."
Bracco is in town for this weekend's Tampa Bay Wine & Food Festival, which continues Friday and Saturday at the Don CeSar in St. Pete Beach. She'll spread the word about her label and serve as a celebrity judge at tonight's "Titanium Chef Competition."
She recently chatted with tbt* about the delicate craft of celebrity winemaking. Here are exceprts.
How did this venture come about?
Living in France for 10 years, I learned a lot about eating and drinking. Some friends had said to me, "You know, that would be a really cool thing for you, Lorraine." I thought, This is something I can do well, instead of selling more hair products or makeup or perfume. It took a year and some change to get it going.
How much of your role is production, and how much is just putting a face and voice to the wine?
Well, let's put it this way. I own the company, I go to Italy, I taste the wines, I decide what wines we're buying. So I'm pretty involved.
Have you faced the perception that it's just a celebrity vanity project, that it's not a legitimate thing?
I think people might have had that perception until they tasted the wines, and then I think I won them over. Everybody's been pleasantly surprised. I have a good product, so that's all I really care about. If I could keep it the way it is, and just little by little keep growing it, I'll be very happy.
Give me three Bracco Wines that people need to know — one for beginners, one for persons of moderate wine knowledge, and one for serious oenophiles.
On the inexpensive side, the pinot grigio. Single vineyard, very crispy, $12, $13 a bottle. One that's not very well known to the American public, but I love anyway — it is, my opinion, probably the best wine we have — is the old vine Primitivo. It's out of the Pugia area near Bari, and it's kind of the original red zinfandel grape. It's a gorgeous, gorgeous wine. And then for connoisseurs, people who really like wine, the Amarone. And that is what we call the bomb. (laughs)
Who besides yourself was the most knowledgeable wine person in the Sopranos cast?
That would be David Chase, the creator.
Did you all just sit back and talk wine during down time on the set?
I don't know if we talked wine, but we definitely drank it. (laughs) David teases me because he feels I'm a real snob when it comes to wine, and he makes me laugh. He'll drink anything that's put in front of him. (laughs)
Did you have wine at the wrap party?
Yes. We all had my wine, which was really the first time we introduced it, which was very exciting. HBO made a big thing for me; it was beautiful.
That's got to be a proud moment for you as a winemaker.
Oh, I loved it. Listen, I had dinner with Mayor Bloomberg the other night, and he served Dick Parsons' Brunello di Montalcino and my Pinot Grigio. So we're getting there, little by little.