'Sopranos' Actress Finds Receptive Audience for Wines

Fairfield Citizen-News  - 09/12/07

It just may be that actress Lorraine Bracco is wild about Harry's.

Bracco, who is nominated for an Emmy award (the winners will be announced on Sunday) for her role as Dr. Jennifer Melfi in the HBO series "The Sopranos," visited Fairfield's wine and liquor mainstay at 2094 Post Road on Saturday to tout her signature line of wine.

In the 66 years since the store's founding, this is the first time Harry's has had a celebrity of Bracco's stature," said Saul Pollock, the son of the shop's founder. He said he was very excited about the actress' visit.

Bracco conducted a three-hour "bottle signing" for Bracco Wines, a line of eight distinct tastes, one white, a Pinot Grigio and seven reds: Montepulciano, Primitivo, Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva, Amarone Classico, Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino.

Harry's has been carrying Bracco Wines since the line's founding in 2005, said William Miller, director of fine wines for Harry's. He said the wines, especially Pinot Grigio, have been selling on their own merit. There is no photo of the actress on the label and her name is in small print on the back label where she offers a brief description of the wine.

Miller credits the popularity of the wines to taste and price point. He cited the popularity of the Pinot Grigio, which sells for $9.99. On her label, Bracco describes Pinot Grigio as "a full body and a firm structure that allows the wine to be enjoyed with all fish and poultry dishes yet can be also enjoyed as an aperitif."

"People really like it," Pollack said. "It's really hot now."

The red wines range in price from $9.99 for the Montepulciano to $59.99 for the Brunello di Montalcino. Bracco told one customer that Primitivo was her favorite of the line.

Harry's relationship with Bracco evolved from a 2006 invitation to the final episode of "The Sopranos." Geno Pisani, a wine consultant with Opici Wine Co. of Connecticut, the wholesale distributor for Bracco wines, invited Miller to the TV showing where he met Bracco's brother, Sal, who handles the business responsibilities for the wine line.

Bracco Wines had been selling so well at Harry's that talks began about the actress doing a "bottle signing" at the store. While Bracco has done a few bottle signings, Saturday's visit to Harry's was her first in Connecticut to promote her wines. Last year, Bracco conducted a whirlwind book tour to promote her memoir, "On the Couch," in which she chronicles her life as a model, wife, mother and actress, and her victory over depression. She has even survived personal bankruptcy.

Pisani explained that Bracco does not own a vineyard, but sources the wine through vineyards in Italy. He said the actress is expected to introduce her own olive oil in about six months. Pisani said the popularity of Bracco's wines is not because of her popularity as Dr. Melfi or her Academy Award-nominated performance as the mobster's wife in "Goodfellas." Instead, he said, "The quality still has to be in the bottle." The cachet of her name "just adds to it," he said.

Sal Bracco emphasized the wines' quality and his sister's expertise in selecting them. He explained that agents set up meetings for his sister with vineyard owners and wine makers and "she selects the wines according to taste, not price." She selects the wines she likes.

Sal Bracco said the public may not be aware that his sister lived in Europe for 10 years. at that time, Lorraine, straight out of high school, was a model living in Paris. He said his sister acquired a sophisticated palate when it came to food and good wines. He said she has been approached many times to lend her name to other items, such as perfume or hair products, but that's not what she's about. She's a Brooklyn native who grew up on Long Island and is a big sports fan. "She's a big Yankee fan," said Sal, who has another sister, Elizabeth, who played the role of Maria, Vito Spatafore's wife, on "The Sopranos."

The actress greeted her fans and wine buyers with the down-to-earth enthusiasm that often surprises people. She graciously posed for pictures and even held her youngest fan, 6-month-old Ava Costantino of Norwalk. Ava's parents, Nicole and Steve, had dropped by the store to buy wine, not knowing that Bracco would be there.

"We buy wine here all the time," said Steve, who had lived in Fairfield before moving to Norwalk.

Fairfielder Dennis Brown bought 13 bottles of wine to give to his wife for their 13th wedding anniversary.

"Thirteen years of bliss?" asked Dennis Monteleone, the store manager.

"Every day," Brown said.

"This has to cost less than 13 diamonds," added Bracco, as she signed all the bottles.

Andrea Coppola and Gennaro Fannaccone, owners of Café Goodfellas in New Haven, introduced themselves to Bracco. They said Bracco's daughter, Stella, had eaten at the café and was talking to them about the Bracco wine she had ordered. Coppola thought the young woman was a wine representative.

Not knowing who she was, Coppola said to Stella, '"How do you know so much about it?" Then, Stella, 22, told the café owners who her mother was. Stella's father is the actress' longtime partner, actor Harvey Keitel. Lorraine Bracco has another daughter, Margaux, by her first husband, Frenchman Daniel Guerand. She is divorced from actor Edward James Olmos.

After having her bottles of wine signed, resident Susan Rudolph, an auditor with Reader's Digest, said she first heard about Bracco when she saw her on the popular "Top Chef" TV show. Rudolph has never watched "The Sopranos."

"I'm a foodie I grew up in New York. I grew up with people like that," Rudolph said.

Sheryl Buzgo, an employee at Budding Gourmet, Harry's retail neighbor, had six bottles of wine signed, along with a "Sopranos" video she had brought with her.

"She's really sweet," said Buzgo of her impression of the actress. "Very personable. Much younger in person."

"I'm star struck," said Ann Marie Gilbert, who attended the event with her mother, Barbara. "I've watched 'The Sopranos' since day one."

Many of the people who met Bracco likely will be watching on Sunday to see if she finally wins the Emmy for "Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series." When asked how she feels about her chances of winning, Bracco said, "I don't."

Bracco describes her garnering a nomination as an "invitation to the prom." She previously was nominated three times for an Emmy and three times for a Golden Globe for her role as the psychiatrist, but has never won.

As for future projects, Bracco said there are lots of talks going on right now. This holiday season she will be seen in the ABC movie "Snow Globe."

Meanwhile, Harry's will continue to sponsor its weekly wine-tasting events and wine seminars and support local fund raisers.