Strike while the iron's hot -- it's a well-used expression, and onethat applies to a few celebrities who have started to look beyond thestage.
Two in particular have started their own unique spirit lines,and hope to capitalize on their fame by drawing in consumers to theirrespective brands.
Lorraine Bracco, known as Dr. Jennifer Melfi on the hit show "The Sopranos," started Bracco Wines in 2005; Vince Neil, front man for the seminal '80s band Motley Crue, founded tequila line Tres Rios in 2006.
But how far will name recognition take these food industry novices?
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to an English mother and Italian-Americanfather, Bracco was always around wine at large family get-togethers.Her exposure to fine wines continued in her teens and twenties whileliving in Europe as a model and actress for ten years.
For her own label, Bracco set out in 2005 to the vineyards allover Italy, where she personally handpicked eight outstanding wines."The more I learned, the more fascinated I became," says Bracco.
Her selections included Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2004($13), a fruity wine produced from grapes grown in the Italian Alps;Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2002 ($13), a deep-purple vintage produced inAbruzzo; and Primitivo 2003 ($28), which consists of handpicked grapesgrown in Puglia, then aged for one year in oak barrels and anadditional three months in the bottle.
Bracco also picked two Chianti wines: Chianti Classico 2003($27), which has its roots in the most prestigious area of Tuscany, andChianti Classico Reserva, ($39), an intense wine with a spicy aroma,hailing from the village of Panzano. (There are only 10,000 bottles ofthis wine available in the U.S.)
Also on her label is Barolo 2001 ($48), a red wine produced byblending grapes from three specially selected vineyards. It's then agedin the barrels for at least three years and then bottled for anadditional three to five years (7,500 bottles available).
Another careful selection is Amarone Classico ($47), an estatered wine produced from 50% Corvina, 30% Molinara and 20% Rondinella andRossinella grape varieties (10,000 bottle available).
At the recent South Beach Wine and Food Festival, Bracco hosted a private dinner at chef David Bouley's new restaurant Evolution, which featured several of her wines paired with foods prepared by Bouley -- a perfect opportunity to showcase her line.
Just reading the menuof the dishes paired with Bracco's wine from the event still makes mymouth water: fresh pompano grilled with Hawaiian hearts of palm in anAlaskan snow crab sauce paired with Bracco's crisp Pinot Grigio; andChatham lobster with her robust Montepulciano D'Abruzzo, which is theperfect accompaniment for poultry and game.
Organic Randall Farm veal was served with rich gorgonzolagnocchi and tomato-coriander sauce and paired with her elegant ChiantiClassico 2003; finally, braised beef cheeks were accompanied by a boldChianti Classico Reserva 2001.
Bracco also led a general seminar for festival-goers at the GrandTasting Village. Chef Michael D'Andrea of Macaluso's Restaurant seminarcooked dishes which included braciola -- a thinly sliced meat cutlet --which Bracco paired with her Amarone Classico 2001.
All her picks showed that Bracco has clearly studied much more than just acting.
Although she made it seem effortless at the festival, Braccoadmits that launching her own wine label has been difficult. "It's alot harder than I thought, [but] I have a good product that reallyhelps me; it's coming together," she says.
Being a celebrity also can help, but can have its drawbacks."A lot of people thought it was going to just be another celebritywine, but once they tasted ... everyone [was] very surprised," Braccoexplains.
And there may be plans to branch out even further within the next few years, into her own vineyard.
Bracco says that when she was in Italy, she was keeping her eyesopen for real estate. But "it would never be a huge vineyard. ... I amnot going to be buying several thousands of acres of land. I would buya house and couple of acres," she explains. Regardless, it's safe toassume that whatever wine she ends up producing will be a star.
Rock the Tequila
What better accompaniment to the rock 'n' roll lifestyle than tequila?
Motley Crue's Neil would certainly agree, especially since hefounded his artisan high-end tequila line Tres Rios. The name, whichmeans "three rivers," came to the rock star while he was in Mexico: "Icame to a crossroads of three lush rivers and imagined they wereflowing with the world's finest tequila," he recalls.
Correspondingly, there are three Tres Rios flavors: Resposado,tasting of sweet nectar layered with vanilla; Anejo, which has smokyovertones and rich caramel color; and Silver, the strongest and mostpure-flavored of the line. All are made in Mexico using natural agave,which is carefully processed and aged.
The tequila market may be less crowded than the world of wine, butTres Rios is still up against some larger, more established brands.
However, as Neil believes, Tres Rios has "no competition intaste, [and] we are price-lined with Patron, Don Julio and otherhigh-end tequilas," says Neal, but declined to name price, as itdepends on the location.
Neil was also at the South Beach Wine and FoodFestival promoting his unique spirits. He gave an interactive seminar,"Give Me Rita," with Francesco Lafranconi, founder and director of Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada, which covered plenty of tequila-soaked variations of the margarita.
And can he remain loyal to his first love of music? "I willalways be a musician, [but] tequila has always been my drink ofchoice," answers Neil.
Fame and alcohol: a combination for success? Only time will tell.