‘Godfather’ actor signs bottles at The Winery
CHESTER — Standing behind a table with black vodka bottles and cases of liquor waiting to be sold, actor Gianni Russo ate olives and waited for people to enter The Winery in Chester so he could pour them a drink of Don Corleone Organic Italian Vodka on Friday, July 8.
The reason Russo, who grew up in New York City, was on the Eastern Shore playing bartender at the local liquor shop was because of the Godfather-inspired vodka brand he is the ambassador of given he played Carlo Rizzi in the original film. The vodka is being released by Paramount Pictures and has expanded into 21 states within its first five months of production.
“I read the book in 1969 and that’s how long my involvement has been,” Russo said. “I love being a part of such an iconic brand and to be one of the ambassadors of it. It’s such a privilege.”
As people entered the store looking for their wine and spirits, the score from “The Godfather” movie played in the background. Some customers recognized the man from the movies and others just passed by as if he were any old salesman. Russo would ask anyone within listening distance if they wanted to try a taste of the quadruple distilled, organic Italian vodka that was released on Feb. 4 at Sherry-Lehmann Wine and Spirits in New York City. Russo asked those who declined if they had seen the movie “The Godfather.”
“I’m Carlo Rizzi,” he would tell them, almost instantly grabbing their attention and attracting them to his station.
Russo poured small shots for people to try as well as signed purchased bottles of the liquor. The bottle, which is all black with a gold cap on the top, has the iconic “Godfather” picture of Don Corleone, played by Marlon Brando. The bottles, which were in stock at the store before Russo announced his visit, are sold for $35 each.
“I bought [Don Corleone Vodka] in and I got a call from my rep ... and he called me one morning and said how would you like Carlo” to come to the store, The Winery General Manager Steven Salkin said. “I was like, you gotta be kidding. I’m a huge Godfather fan. I know the movie by heart .... This is just so cool.”
The drink is produced and bottled by Distillerie Francoli in Ghemme, Italy, and uses water sourced from the Italian Alps. Russo said the final step before the product goes into the vats is it is poured over frozen granite, which has minerals to help soften the grain vodka, Russo said.
“I drank vodka with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin on Skype in November and we did a blind tasting — he drinks Beluga Black, which is probably the most expensive vodka in the world — and he swore he was drinking that cause we did a blind tasting, and he drank Don Corleone.”
Though “The Godfather” film is Russo’s most recognizable role, he said he has been in more than 40 movies. He died in 16 of those, including “The Godfather,” he said.
“I’m just a street guy from New York,” Russo said. “I’ve been blessed all my life. This film changed my life.”
Follow Mike Davis on Twitter: @mike_kibaytimes.
From left: John Barbo, Pasquale DiDonato, Gianni Russo and Vince Pereira throw back some Don Corleone Vodka at The Winery on Friday, July 8. Russo was on the Eastern Shore promoting the vodka.