The tempest in a champagne flute kicked off when Frederic Rouzaud, managing director of Cristal parent Louis Roederer, told The Economist that he viewed his brand's ubiquity in hip-hop lyrics and videos -- such as Jay-Z's own line "let's sip the Cris and get pissy-pissy" -- with a combination of "curiosity and serenity."
"[Whether it hurts the brand] is a good question, but what can we do?" Mr. Rouzard told the magazine. "I'm sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business."
But the rapper, who once popped bottles of Cristal onstage, took that as a dis, saying, "I view his comments as racist and will no longer support any of his products."
High-profile hip-hop association
The split raises the question of whether losing its high-profile hip-hop association will hurt Cristal.
Alcohol-industry experts say the spat is unlikely to affect Cristal sales.
"You're talking about a small-production brand with a luxury audience that was selling everything it produced long before [rappers began embracing it]," said beverage-marketing consultant Arthur Shapiro.
But it may cost the brand its already-threatened standing as the hip-hop world's champagne of choice. According to San Francisco-based Agenda, which tracks brand mentions on the pop charts, Cristal slipped to eighth place from seventh in its 2005 "American Brandstand" survey, while rival vintage bubbly Dom Perignon rose to 12 from 17.
Dom's parent, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, also owns the No. 6 brand, Hennessy cognac.
"Hip-hop is very important to us," said Noel Hankin, Moet Hennessy's senior VP-multicultural initiatives.
Cognac producers, in particular, have found hip-hop to be fertile ground. Hennessy rival Courvoisier saw sales rise 30% in 2002 -- reportedly the brand's biggest sales boost since Napoleon named it the official supplier to the Imperial Court of France -- after Busta Rhymes released the single "Pass the Courvoisier."
Courvoisier has embraced its hip-hop following with a series of targeted sponsorships. A spokeswoman said the brand is "is very pleased that consumers of different cultural heritages ... select Courvoisier as their spirit of choice."
But the sales of distilled spirits such as Hennessy and Courvoisier -- which total about 5 million cases a year -- are far more volatile than those of a brand such as Cristal, which typically only produces a caseload in the mid- to upper-five figures and none at all during poor vintages.
'Not have an impact'
"[The Jay-Z flap] will not have any impact on our global sales because Cristal is largely sold out anyway," said Xavier Barlier, VP-marketing for Roederer's U.S. distributor, Maisons Marques & Domaines.
Still, Mr. Rouzard did release a statement clarifying Cristal's position on its place within the universe of bling: "The House of Louis Roederer could not have been in existence since 1776 without having the utmost regard for, and interest in, all forms of art and culture."
But of course.