A rapper with his own cognac? Ludacris

BORDEAUX, Suzanne Mustacich - Hip Hop icon Chris "Ludacris" Bridges has launched a new cognac, banking on his success on the record charts to shoot his latest project to the top of an extremely competitive business.
With the inevitable paparazzi and chauffeur-driven Bentley, the star created a buzz at the normally staid Vinexpo, the wine and spirits trade show in Bordeaux this week.

A rapper with his own cognac? Ludacris
Even Melvin Dick, head honcho at Southern Wine and Spirits and ranked by Decanter as the fourth most important man in the wine business, could be seen patiently waiting in line with his family for a photo op and autograph.
The three-time Grammy award winner has sold 20 million albums and given two memorable performances in Oscar-winning films.
His fan base spreads across America, Asia, Europe and Africa. Exactly the market Kim Hartmann, owner of Birkedal Hartmann cognac, hopes to capture with Conjure, custom blend for the hip, urban market.
Bridges is not new to entrepreneurial ventures.
The Atlanta-based philanthropist, who supports arts and educational programmes for children as well as back-to-school operations that provide new book-bags and haircuts, also owns a successful local restaurant, Straits.
Sensitive to the number of celebrities who slap their name on everything from spatulas to umbrellas, both Hartmann and Bridges were adamant that this was not a product endorsement.
"It’s not just me attaching my name to it," said the soft-spoken Bridges. "Whenever I involve myself in a business, I submerge myself in it."
Bridges visited for the first time last January and spent a week working with Birkedal Hartmann’s master blender, Philippe Braastad Tiffon.
"I wanted to learn as much as possible," said Bridges. "It was great. It gave me a new appreciation for cognac." Tiffon and Bridges used more than 40 different brandies to create a product that reflects the taste and personality of Bridges -- and hopefully that of their target market.
Tiffon, an internationally renowned cellar master who is also in charge of Birkedal Hartmann’s cognac that graces the chambers of the English parliament, likened the experience to the artistry of a master perfumer creating a custom scent.
He noted that tastes had changed, cognac drinkers had changed and producers needed to adapt.
Since the early 1990s, cognac has become the drink of choice in the world of hip hop entertainment. It’s become cool to drink cognac, often served as a cocktail. Bridges' favorite drink? "Cognac and Coke," replied the entertainer with a grin.
According to a study produced for Vinexpo, the demand for cognac will expand by 9.5 percent over the next three years, dominated by the export market. Birkedal Hartmann currently ships 400,000 bottles of cognac a year, mainly to Hartmann’s native Norway, Sweden, Poland, and England.
The Conjure project signals Hartmann’s daring attempt to take a relatively small, high-end cognac house global. He’s prepared to ship as much Conjure cognac as the hipsters are prepared to buy at 34.99 dollars per bottle.
"My wish is to reach one million cases," said Hartmann.
The first order ships to Norway next week. It will reach the shelves of America in September.
Bridges is clearly ready to do his bit. As the photographers snapped shots of the star, he politely asked a photographer to snap him on his phone. In seconds, he ‘tweeted’ the photo to 150,000 people who follow him on Twitter.
The key to his success? "Hard work pays off," said the rap star as he turned to politely sign another autograph.

Wednesday, June 24th 2009
Suzanne Mustacich

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