Drake Really Is Champagne Papi

Drake Really Is Champagne Papi

by Dan Q. Dao

Drake has never revealed the exact origin of his infamous Instagram handle @champagnepapi, but these days, the nickname seems more appropriate than ever.

Earlier this year, Drake (offstage: Aubrey Graham) joined forces with longtime spirits guru Brent Hocking to launch Mod Sélection, a luxury Champagne label produced privately in France's Vallée de la Marne for over five generations. Now available on the wine market for the first time ever, the house's inaugural release comprises a Réserve Champagne and a Rosé Champagne sold at a pricey $300 and $400, respectively.

While Drizzy is by no means the first celebrity to shake things up in the wine and liquor industry — see Jay-Z's D'Usse Cognac, G-Eazy's Stillhouse Whiskey, and Ryan Reynolds' Aviation Gin — the actor-turned-rapper's latest venture does stand out for its focus on a super-premium product. It's a departure from his first foray in booze, an acclaimed but affordable bourbon called Virginia Black Whiskey, which was also produced in collaboration with Hocking. A longtime bubbly connoisseur, Drake says it took years to nail down the perfect Cuvée formula that would pay homage to the grand traditions of French winemaking.

"I've always wanted my own Champagne," he explains. "This is a product that has been years and years in the making, something that we take very, very seriously — 'authenticity' is probably the best word we continue to use."

To that end, Mod Sélection practices minimal intervention of grapes (mostly Pinot Meunier) throughout harvest, carefully choosing only those with optimal levels of sugar and acidity to move on to the pressing stage. All of the wines in the portfolio — the Réserve and Rosé are the first two of 10 releases — are aged up to 10 years on the lees, that post-fermentation yeast deposit that adds body and richness to a wine.

"This is a product that has been years and years in the making [...] 'Authenticity' is probably the best word we continue to use." — Drake

"Our house style is incredibly pure with bright, balanced acidity and elegant finessed effervescence," says Hocking, of the Réserve Cuvée.

The rosé, meanwhile, is crafted using the saignée method, referring to the less commonly practiced style of "bleeding" out partially-fermented red wine juice that has come into contact with the skin and seeds of the fruit. The grapes used here — a blend of Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir — first undergo a proprietary cold-soak maceration at harvest in order to preserve flavor and amp up freshness. It is one of a handful of sparkling wines in the market made using the saignée method, yielding its rosy color and bursts of red fruit.

"'Sélection' is really what distinguishes our house and production in every respect, from the location of our vineyards to the way we select our vines at harvest and first press juice for assemblage," Hocking says. "We track our grapes through their entire life-cycle. Not every Champagne house does this. Most producers just buy grapes in bulk from growers irrespective of quality. Everything is hand-selected with the utmost attention to detail from vineyard to glass."

Mod Sélection is, in many ways, a fittingly Drake-esque brand: an aspirational product that celebrates the wealth he raps about while also embodying a sense of timelessness. It's a balancing act reflected even in the non-traditional design of the bottle — a sleek, warm metallic exterior embellished with French floral accents — which is hand-designed by artisans in Champagne to ensure no two bottles are identical.

"We wanted to create something unique while at the same time representative of tradition, heritage, and excellence that is Champagne." — Drake

"We wanted to create something unique while at the same time representative of tradition, heritage, and excellence that is Champagne," explains Drake.

Hocking agrees, noting that Mod Sélection's Champagnes straddle the lines between traditional and modern, classic and bold, luxury and accessibility. "Champagne is a definitely a celebratory product but we feel Mod Sélection has a place in luxury fine-dining luxury as well as high-volume consumer driven establishments," he explains. "The product lives in both worlds, bringing a modern interpretation to the history and heritage that is Champagne."

Diving further into booze seems a natural move for Drake — and not just because of the Champagne Papi moniker. The Toronto rapper has expanded his reach far beyond the world of music, becoming a global fashion tastemaker and serving as Global Ambassador for the Toronto Raptors. Yet, he says Champagne was a project he'd always wanted to take on, something he finally decided to do after meeting Hocking.

"I remember early on, somebody was like, 'I know the equivalent to you in the wine business, a guy who relentlessly dedicates his entire existence to finding the most authentic, the most innovative, the best of everything.'" Drake says. "That was how Brent and I became not only partners but friends for years and years. Obviously, we have many things that we've always wanted to do, and this was always at the top."

"It's all about dedication and passion [...] You have to find things you fully stand behind and fully believe in, or it won't work." — Drake

But regardless of what project Drake tackles he says it's his deep attachment to his work that allows him to succeed across various industries — and that's something his fans can definitely raise a glass to.

"It's all about dedication and passion," he says. "I have a genuine bond, a genuine connection with both my work as an artist and my work on wine and spirits. You have to find things you fully stand behind and fully believe in, or it won't work."

For more information on Mod Sélection, visit modselectionchampagne.com.

Photo via Madison McGaw/BFA