Speak•Easy

Tone of a Harlem based entrepreneur
Written by: Cavario H,
founder, co creator, co owner and editor at larger of Don Diva Magazine
currently senior editor of Hip Hop Weekly
author of Raised by Wolves

The name Branson has been ringing bells in hoods across the globe for the past 30 years. The last 15 of those illustrious years have landed him on some of the biggest and hottest hip-hop singles ever. The Notorious B.I.G. was also among the first to incorporate praise for Branson, the guru of good-dreams, with whom only an elite group of few could gain audience. You’ve rapped along with Ma$e when he was on Top of The World, “...With half of my advance in jars from Branson, to make it through my circumstances” -Ma$e. Hip-hop pioneer Brucie B. was the first to crystallize Branson in song during the infamous Harlem Rooftop days, on one of his legendary mixtapes. Redman was introduced to Branson by fallen Harlem ‘Prince’ Benny Rat and immediately upon returning to the studio, spat the very first of so, so many, Hip-Hop quotable's on wax honoring the mysterious and enigmatic Branson B. -”I’m rollin’ with a forty pack of niggas, get my weed from Branson cause his sack’s bigger…” -Redman Thus, the Harlem hustler, already a legend, now acquires global recognition via hip-hop. Branson has always been known for his quality and luxurious tastes. These days he’s taking it worldwide with the introduction of his own private label Champagne: Guy Charlemagne selected by Branson B. We caught up with the elusive Branson and got a rare look into what this innovator has been up to.

CH: How were you able to form a relationship with this company based in France?
Branson: I presented my vision for a private champagne label to the owner of a prominent wine shop in Manhattan, with whom I had a relationship with for over 20 years. He understood that I recognized quality champagne and referred me to several respected growers in France. I took a trip to the village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, France, negotiated with a representative from Guy Charlemagne and selected blends to my liking that I wanted to attach my name to.

CH: This has never been done before. What made a respected French champagne manufacturer agree to let a Harlem legend attach his name to their product?
Branson: It was a simplistic business proposition. These people are in the business of producing champagne, they have an excellent product and they want to sell it. They want to maintain the integrity of their product. I’ve been poppin’ bottles for 30 years. I’ve tasted some of the best. I’ve shared them with my friends and associates. I recognize the quality of Guy Charlemagne, I just wanted to share that globally. The company received a 90 rating in the November 2005 issue of Wine Spectator and received the same rating in the December 2005 issue of Food & Wine Magazine, further supporting my claim that Branson B.’s selection of Guy Charlemagne is a superior product. “Toast and coffee aromas and flavors hold court in this elegant, supple Champagne. It’s beautifully balanced with intensity and fine length. Its mouthwatering finish makes it prefect as an aperitif.” Wine Spectator, November 2005 “An all-Chardonnay wine from the famed village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. It’s wonderfully balanced, with excellent acidity and a long finish.” Food & Wine, December 2005 The aforementioned reviews refer to the Blanc de Blanc/Brut Reserve About the 100-point scale (an excerpt from Wine Spectator) Ratings reflect how highly our editors regard each wine relative to other wines in its category and are based on potential quality – how good the wine will be when at its peak. The score summarizes a wine’s overall quality; the tasting note describes the wine’s style and character. 95-100 Classic: a great wine 90-94* Outstanding: a wine of superior character and style 85-89 Very good: a wine with special qualities 80-84 Good: a solid, well-made wine 70-79 Average: a drinkable wine that may have flavor flaws 60-69 Below average: drinkable but not recommended 50-59 Poor: undrinkable, not recommended * Refers to the Blanc de Blanc/Brut Reserve

CH: With this new venture, I’m sure you’ve become an expert on champagne. Tell us something we may not know about champagne.
Branson: Something you may not know? Well, before doing a lot of research, I don’t think that I recognized that champagne is only champagne if it is grown and produced in the region of southern France called Champagne. If the product is made anywhere else, respectfully, it is sparkling wine but it is not champagne. Also, some people may not know that wine experts judge wine by its taste (referred to as the mouth or palate) as well as its smell (the nose).

CH: Define ‘cuvée’?
Branson: Cuvée is a custom blend of grapes, from which champagne is produced. In France’s champagne region, cuvée refers to a blended batch of wines. The term is derived from the French ‘cuve’ that denotes the “contents of a vat.”

CH: You have various bottles on the shelf. Tell me a little about them.
Branson: I have a Blanc de Blanc/Brut Reserve. This is a wine with a lot of brilliance, light nose of citrus/grapefruit, with a touch of acacia and water of roses. It is a match with oysters, lobster, and with dessert. Then there’s the Brut Rosé which many ladies prefer. It has a nice nose of red fruit, light cherry, and the taste is more blackberries and raspberries. It is recommended with lobster, shell fish, salmon, and dessert. The shelf price for both is around $37.00 to $47.00. The Vintage champagne, a rare cuvee, is truly a special selection. It is recommended with lobster, roasted chicken/white meat, and truffles. It will be around $65.00 - $75.00. The numbers are reasonable even though the product is very exclusive, especially for the quality you receive. See, it’s important to understand that Guy Charlemagne is a small house. In one of the articles in Food & Wine Magazine (December 2005) they make reference to a lot of the smaller champagne houses that produce exceptional quality. The great thing about Branson B.’s selection of Guy Charlemagne is that the quality is superb, the product is exceptional. Excerpt from Food & Wine (December 2005)

CH: Compare your product to some commonly named brands.
Branson: You know I wouldn’t even use a name brand to make a comparison. I would just say that you got a lot of products on the shelf with big tags attached to them, and they have names that most people are familiar with. I think most people buy champagne based on the name and based on what their wallets are looking like and to what degree they can extend themselves, dollar wise. Respectfully, if you’re drinking or tasting (champagne), and you get a feel for the grapes - then I imagine that you might find this product to be a better value over those widely known brands. I just believe that most people buy product based on name, but champagne is about quality. I’ve tasted $11 bottles of champagne that were excellent, that I thought were better than some bottles with a high ticket price.

CH: Aside from the obvious monetary reasons, why did a hustler of your stature decide to go this route?
Branson: [As] with anything I’ve done in life, the desire to present a quality product and expose it, first of all, to my people- those close to me. I never recognized myself as a brand, but I’ve been branded for 30 years. Over the years, I’ve sat with Biggie (peace be upon him), Redman, Ma$e, Black Rob, Nore, Diddy and many others. I ate with them, drank with them. Consulted and shared with them issues of life. They’ve talked about me in their songs. But lately some artists I’ve never even met are spittin’ verses in their songs using my name. Like BRANSON is a product. I’ve met people that were amazed that I was a real person. They’re making hits. I’m not trippin’, but to all those who claim to be down but ain‘t really down- holla at me. Cop a bottle. Cop a case. Be down with Branson B. for real. The fact is, my name is recognized globally and now people can associate that name with a quality champagne. Also, with the recent controversy over the comments made by Frederic Rouzaud, Managing-Director of the Roederer winery, which makes Cristal… (For those who haven’t heard: When Mr. Rouzaud was asked what he thought about Cristal’s association with “the bling lifestyle“, he said, “…I’m sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.” -Frederic Rouzaud, Managing-Director of Roederer From an article in The Economist, Summer 2006.) Branson: Shit, Mr. Rouzaud, I’d be glad to have their business too. (Branson laughs) …and Jay-Z’s call for a boycott of Cristal, I knew it was time to present an alternative option: Guy Charlemagne selected by Branson B. I sent a few bottles over to Jay-Z’s 40/40 club in New York City so the owners could taste it, with hopes of getting an account. The young lady I dropped the product off with said she could not make any decisions but she would make sure the owners received the product and someone would get back to me. I made a few follow-up phone calls to see if they were interested and to-date no one has called me back. I’m hoping this product is still in the establishment and at some point there will be a tasting and someone will make a decision to carry it. The last time I recall seeing Jay-Z, he commented to me that “Every time I see you, I think about my man (the Notorious B.I.G.)” Respectfully, our relationship was an indirect relationship, based on us both having a relationship with the late, great Christopher Wallace. Having listened to some of the comments Mr. Carter has made regarding the quality he’s accustomed to, I think we share some commonality. If I’m not mistaken, I think at one point his favorite drink was the same as mine, Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne Rosé which is around $175 a bottle, which I’ve been attracted to for many years, and people in my circle refer to as “The Food of the Gods” but on another note, I’m hoping Jay has the opportunity to taste Guy Charlemagne selected by Branson B., which is now considered the new “Food of the Gods.” Upon doing so, I hope he would like to get involved on a simplistic plane because he’s in the business of selling champagne. I think that if he introduces it in his establishments, his customers will appreciate it and in return, he will have an increase in sales, which is the bottom line. There’s no doubt in my mind that if the Notorious B.I.G. were still alive he would be a major supporter of Guy Charlemagne selected by Branson B. I recall him making a comment that he enjoyed it when he tasted it. At this point, it would be incredible to have Jay-Z stand up and support this product based on the controversy surrounding the other champagne company.

CH: How‘s business?
Branson: The product is available and it’s selling. We are working on wider distribution and we’re going back [to France] to get some more. These are smaller vineyards, their production is limited, so the product is exclusive. This is the first year [so] we need public support. It’s going to take a while to expose it- to let people know there is a champagne selected for us by Branson B.

CH: Where can people get Branson B Champagne?
Branson: Right now it’s available at: Garnet Wines & Liquors, 929 Lexington Avenue, between 68th – 69th Streets in New York City. They have the Blanc de Blanc/Brut Reserve and the Rosé. By the time this article hits the streets, the 2000 Vintage should be on shelves, and if not, it is available by special order. They’re selling fast so get it while it’s available. If you’re fortunate to acquire this rare cuvée, consider yourself apart of a remarkable experience. Ask for Guy Charlemagne (pronounced Gee Shar-la-main) selected by Branson B. It’s on the shelf with all the other brands that you may recognize.

CH: Your name has been immortalized by some of the biggest names in Hip-Hop, you’ve been a hustler, an entrepreneur, and now you have your own private label champagne. What’s next for Branson B?
Branson: My goal is to find another champagne co-op, possible even Guy Charlemagne and develop a proprietary blend to my liking and distribute it to the masses as my signature cuvée. My desire is to present quality products, exemplifying a consistency of quality in my brand. This first endeavor is just an “initiation,” and as far as champagne consumption is concerned, a high percentage (over 90%) of all champagne produced in France is consumed in France. What we recognize is that a large percentage of the what’s left is consumed in the hoods all across the country and it’s incredible that someone has made a choice with us in mind so different from the general structure of society, where we haven’t been considered at all. Nobody said what about them. Branson B. did. Club owners and retailers, contact Phillip at Fruit Of The Vines (212) 765-2970 / info@fovusa.com