Revenge, as the saying goes, is “a dish best served cold.”
Or, in the case of Kim Birkedal Hartmann’s latest masterpiece, Revanche Cognac, perhaps at room temperature or spicing up your favorite cocktail.
As the best of entrepreneurs know all too well, nothing can keep a good man (or woman) down. Least of all duplicitous shenanigans from business partners with a hidden agenda… And what better way to sock it to those who’ve wronged you in the past than to rebound—not merely to levels already accomplished—but with aspirations that leave them trailing in your wake.
This is the fascinating backstory behind Hartman’s newest offering that’s poised to explode onto the worldwide Cognac stage.
In fact, the very name—Revanche—is a clever play on words. The simple translation of the word from French to English is “revenge”. But the real meaning digs far deeper. The slightly more complicated definition of the word is:
“To participate in an adventure for a second time, and this time to win”
Understanding this meaning only adds to the intrigue lurking behind the very core of what this emotionally charged brand means to its creator. And to truly comprehend the genius behind the Cognac, we need to delve into the world of the consummate Cognac professional who’s bringing it to life—Kim Birkedal Hartmann.
The man himself spoke at length in an exclusive interview with Max from Cognac Expert. And the following is an account of what he told us.
Kim Birkedal Hartmann: A yo-yo career of success
Norwegian born Kim hails from a long line of wine and Cognac traders. The love of eaux-de-vie has been a family trait since 1887, when his great-great-grandfather moved from Norway’s chilly climes to that of Cognac, France. After completing military service Kim embarked on the career that eventually brings us to the launch of Revanche Cognac. And what a roller coaster ride it’s been.
Worldwide study and travel during the 1980s provided firm foundations for an entrepreneurial career. In fact, from the outset, Kim was blessed with a strong desire to breathe life into new, innovative products. Back in 1985 he launched two sparkling wine brands, Chamdeville, and Paul Chamblain, and a year later purchased the Armagnac house of Baron de Sigognac.
Other significant achievements early in his career include the launch of the very first wine and spirit magazine, Vinposten, and penning the wine tasting book, Vinsmakerboken.
But without a doubt, some of the most famous of his efforts are the global successes in the form of his niche brands of Cognac.
Conjure Cognac: The one with Ludacris
It was back in 2009 when the big announcement of a Cognac created by the hip hop star, Ludacris, hit the market. It was a blended quality designed to be enjoyed by hipsters and rap fans, and it was an immediate success. But the celebrity certainly wasn’t the only driving force behind the brand. The global superstar was equally matched in his fervor for success by Kim Birkedal Hartmann.
Kim tells us that “By 2011 we’d built the brand to 1.8 million bottles. Quite some achievement in only two years”.
This certainly was no mean feat. Launching a brand in the US is a major project; One that takes finances, time, and a huge amount of energy. With Conjure Cognac Kim proved that he certainly had the two latter attributes. But his downfall was the partnership selection that fronted the finances. (And we’re talking about his financial backers, not Ludacris, just to make that clear).
That choice is definitely one of his regrets, and he openly told Cognac Expert that “They were only concerned about the money, not about the romance or success of the brand.”
The relationship ended badly, understandably leaving Kim with a bitter taste in his mouth. He resigned as CEO, and although he lost out both financially and emotionally, it was a lesson well learned, and proved to the world that he really was a force to be reckoned with.
As Kim said, “It was difficult to get over it. But I had to pull myself up and restart. And as I hadn’t yet focused on the Chinese market it was time to set my sights on that side of the world”.
Halfdan Extra Gammel Cognac: Shining in the Land of the Rising Sun
Cue the launch of a Cognac named after the founder of the family company way back in 1887, Birkedal Hartmann Halfdan Extra Gammel.
Taking full advantage of his Conjure “education,” Kim’s Halfden Extra Gammel Cognac was well received by the target market. As the name suggests, the blend is of an Extra quality, perfect for the status and gift-giving culture in China and the rest of Asia. In fact, the labels used on the bottles are based on the ones Kim’s great-great-grandfather used on the Cognacs first created by the company all those years ago.
Naturally buoyed by this success, Kim’s mind started wandering back to the US market. But the scars of Conjure were still etched deep, and when the opportunity came knocking in the form of a South African client, it was this path that led to his next adventure.
Honor Cognac: What’s in a name?
From the outset, Kim knew this wasn’t going to be his baby. He didn’t own the brand but, he tells us, “Helped them out by creating the brand”.
This “help” continued for the next four years, with Kim once again showing his prowess, not only at building a Cognac that hits that elusive sweet spot, but also his uncannily talented marketing abilities. Over that time Honor Cognac won multiple awards around the world, and by 2018 they were the second most-purchased brand in South Africa and snapping at the heels of the Cognac giant, Martell.
But then, once again, disaster struck for Kim. And this time it was delivered in one of the most brutal methods available in our technologically advanced society.
He was, quite simply, dumped by email.
“It’s true,” he says. “We were selling over 224,000 bottles a year in South Africa. I had a great relationship with the owners of the brand. And then, out of the blue, I got an email. It was September 2018 and consisted of just a couple of lines— something in the vein of not wanting to work with me anymore as they’d found someone cheaper. They didn’t even bother telling me over the phone”
Honor by name, perhaps. But, so it seems, not by nature…
Of course, this begs the question to be asked, “How was it possible that this happened not once, but a second time?”
Kim, to give him credit, was perfectly candid in his response.
“Well, it’s very complicated. When you go into such a partnership it’s much like a marriage. When it first starts you’re very much in love. You think it’s going to continue for the rest of your life. But, for many, that fairy tale ending isn’t the case. And business-wise it can be exactly the same.
I believe that one learns from one’s mistakes. And even at my age, I’m still learning every day. I’m now naturally very cautious about what I’m heading into. To set up projects such as Conjure or Honor takes a lot of finances. And if you want to succeed in a country like the USA where marketing is key, that’s really the only way to go.”
The Comforts of Home: Lighting fires in Norway
However, we should be under no illusion that Kim is anything but a successful entrepreneur. Even the likes of Richard Branson, Colonel Sanders, Oprah, and Steve Jobs have their tales of woe, and no-one can deny their incredible accomplishments.
In fact, during these turbulent years, the brand of Birkedal Hartmann was flourishing in his homeland of Norway with regular launches of micro-limited edition Cognacs.
“We create these on a regular basis. For instance, there might be a city jubilee, and we’ll create a unique Cognac for that. We’ve done more than 40 of these now, for various celebrations, cities, or regions. We also supply these City Cognacs to the country’s Royal Castle.
Brands such as Bache Gabrielsen and Larsen are the top sellers in Norway when it comes to volume. When a house wins a tender in the country they sell a lot, because their VS is what appears on the shelves. This isn’t the market I want to be in, which is why we’ve concentrated on the niche products, such as these very small run limited editions.”
In addition, Birkedal Hartmann was formerly the exclusive supplier of Cognac to the famous Scandinavian group, Choice Hotels. And although it’s a different country, they also supplied their VSOP to the House of Lords in London, the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
Revanche Cognac: Will this be a case of third time lucky?
But despite these wonderful success stories, Kim yearns to once again conquer the tricky US market.
Enter the aptly named brand of Revanche Cognac.
If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again… Although in Kim’s case, he really did succeed before. It was more a case of, dare we say it, naivety on his behalf with where he gave his trust.
But if anyone has the tenacity and know-how to erupt onto the US Cognac scene then it has to be Kim Birkedal Hartmann. He says that Revanche will be launched with ”The same DNA I used with Conjure,” and that “The market is still buoyant in the US, so it’s a good time to do it.”
In fact, he’s already done it again, with the rose wine called Notorious Pink. Mirroring the incredible growth that Conjure enjoyed, within a few years of launching the wine was available nationwide. It’s the most successful Rose in the whole of the USA, selling more than 800,000 bottles to date. There’s no denying it, Kim certainly knows how to market a product.
The name Revanche, says Kim, means “To start over again with something you’ve done before, but this time to win it.”
He tells us without a hint of animosity, “The previous two efforts weren’t failures, per se. But more of a disappointment. This time I hope for true success. After 10 years I feel my wounds are sufficiently healed to bring this to pass. And, naturally, I’ve taken much care and hand-selected my business partners, as well as invested my own money, time, energy, and a lot of faith into this new product.”
So, what can we expect from Revanche Cognac?
“This is a very specific, niche product. It’s going to appeal to the same market as that of Conjure—in other words, the hip hop crowd, the clubbers, the hipsters… It’s a carefully curated quality blend of three-year-old VS, VSOP, and XO, And, very importantly in this day and age, contains no additives or color.
The logo is a double R that’s applied to the bottle by hand. The label is uber-plain, saying only Revanche Cognac, and the bottle is stoppered with a glass cork. It’s really beautiful.
And in case you’re wondering about the glass cork?
We were the first to bring such a concept to market when we used this on the Rose wine, Notorious Pink. Quite simply it’s the cleanest and most hygienic way to close a bottle. And being as Cognac doesn’t age once it’s left the barrel, a cork isn’t really necessary.”
The first 40,000 were bottled on 12 July 2019. And—big news. We’re set to have a massive star who’s going to partner us and be a co-owner of the brand. I can’t tell you who quite yet, but as soon as we can release the news, we will.”
So there you have it. Revanche Cognac is poised and ready to take on that toughest of all audiences, the American public.
And we have to say, if Kim Birkedal Hartmann’s track record is anything to go by, Revanche Cognac is set to detonate onto the market in the US. With a New York importer already in place who’ll be offering it for sale in 15 US states, and plans for its availability in all 50 within a year, the brand is well and truly braced to be a serious contender to those such as D’Usse and the all-too-elusive Branson that’s yet to be launched.
Cognac Expert wishes Kim the very best of luck with Revanche. And we’re sure you’ll agree with us that this is a truly exciting project. We can’t wait to see how the story continues…