WORLDZ Helps Curate Hennessy VSOP’s 200th Anniversary Event
It’s doesn’t happen often, but through a mysterious process of ordainment involving cultural clout, impeccable marketing, and laudable quality, brands sometimes transcend their respective markets and become a massive cultural force. When considering liquors, it’s possible that only Hennessy has made that iconic leap.
Last month, Roman Tsunder, WORLDZ co-founder, was invited to curate a special event at the Hennessy headquarters in Cognac, France at the legendary Château de Bagnolet. An ensemble of field-leading professionals, from former astronauts to renowned businesspeople, descended on the Maison to discuss the topic of Mastery – what it means, how it’s achieved, and how to continue pushing the envelope once you’ve reached the highest levels of your field.
For three days, the hand-picked group toured the Hennessy vineyards, shared unforgettable meals, engaged in brainstorming sessions, and camped out in incredibly futuristic pods (we’ll leave the description to Roman). We caught up with him after his return stateside – check out the interview below.
I would love to begin by getting an idea of your personal history with Hennessy. What was your involvement with the brand and family prior to the event, and what is your current connection to the company?
I’m Russian, so growing up we always drank Hennessy. Ever since I was old enough to drink (and maybe a little younger), I was drinking it. The Global CMO of Hennessy, Thomas [Moradpour], has been a member of our community for nine years, so we’ve gotten to know him and his team pretty well.
The event was on an extremely historic site – from an events hosting perspective, how meaningful was this?
The event was hosted at Château de Bagnolet, the family home of Hennessy; the château has been in the family for nine generations. The place looks majestic, there are lakes and rivers, and it almost feels like an Amazon safari on the property.
Whenever you put on a really great event three things are important: Who’s there, the content (what’s going on), and the space (what the venue is). Walking into a new space is always special, even if it’s in your own city, but now you’re in another country, in France, in a city called Cognac. I’ve been to France before, but I wasn’t just at a distillery, I was at their castle, so it felt like an honor.
I understand that WORLDZ had a big hand in curating the guest list?
There were 20 masters of their craft, and we helped curate six of them. A third of the masters came from the WORLDZ community.
You say in your presentation that the guest list consisted of a collection of industry leaders – was there someone among the attendees who you especially admire, or who you got to know on a new level?
I became friends with Terry Virts, the former NASA astronaut. He went on a mission with the Russian cosmonauts, and he approached me and started speaking Russian. We bonded over that. Now he will be joining us at WORLDZ this year, so I’m really excited about that.
The event was centered around the “future of mastery.” Can you tell me what mastery means to you?
Mastery in anything really means three simple things: A healthy obsession for your craft, putting in the hours and spending more time working on your craft than anybody else (for example, the current Hennessy master blender is the ninth generation, and he has a huge passion and healthy obsession – just to get out of the apprenticeship he had to work for 10 years), and focus – you can’t be distracted too much with things like partying or social media.
Tell me about your accommodations – did they surpass your expectations?
It looked like we were living on Mars. We walked up, and there were 20 bubble pods. One pod is basically your living room, and from the top of it, you can see the stars and the river and the forest. On the other hand, you walk through the pod, and you have to unzip it; otherwise it would deflate – it’s supported by air which keeps it inflated – so if you open the front door the whole thing deflates. Then there’s a bathroom at the other end where there’s a touchscreen to get the water flowing. It was literally like being in a five-star resort.
Your itinerary included things like vineyard tours and formal dinners. Was there one activity that especially stood out to you?
On the second day, they took us to one of their biggest vineyards. It takes Hennessy 17,000 acres of grapes to make a year’s worth of cognac, which is 2 ½ times the size of Napa Valley. So they took us out to one of their vineyards and actually built a wooden structure for us to talk about what mastery means to each of us, then we walked around the vineyards to get an explanation from the master blender about how you barrel the grapes, ferment them, distill them. When we came back to the wooden area where we were having a conversation, it turned into a meal area where they cooked lunch. It was like a five-star lunch. Everyone was drinking wine, and everyone was talking about mastery, and we were overlooking these historic vineyards, and it was just a special moment in time.
As the facilitator of the event, can you tell me about your involvement in the programming?
WORLDZ played a big part in this event. I helped co-host it and worked with the Hennessy team. The number one ethos within our community is radical inclusion, so what we did was help them with icebreakers that make people become friends within hours instead of days. So there were some activities that I helped run.
Can you tell us a little about the airstream video booth and what you recorded there?
A decked out airstream followed us. Basically, it was like an MTV confessional where everyone talked about what mastery meant to them. They put you in a room and asked you seven questions, mostly about creativity, culture, and taste.
Kaki King performed, what was that like?
I didn’t know her before, but when she started performing it moved everybody, and it reminded me of one of my favorite movies August Rush, which has got this guitar instrumental performance piece. We were standing next to each other jumping between vineyards, and I said “With all due respect that sounds like this piece from the movie August Rush,” and she said she performed in it! So that was really cool.
Did you have any major takeaways from the event?
My biggest takeaway had to do with the fact that they brought in people from entirely different countries and continents.
So the way Hennessy gets made is by blending different eau de vies, which means water for life. It’s kind of like a blend of wine, and to get a perfect cognac, it’s about blending different wines together. That was an excellent metaphor for creativity and creating what’s never been done before, creating innovation for the world of tomorrow: Blending different people together to create something that’s much greater than any one self. So my biggest takeaway was about the diversity that’s necessary, the different worlds that people come from, the different ethnicities and religions and colors and points of view that people come from, to create something that’s really beautiful that no one could have imagined on their own.
To learn more from Masters who participated in this event like Terry Virts, Tammy Ma, Steven Attenborough, Billie Whitehouse, Nancy Spector and more, join them at WORLDZ, this October 17th + 18th in Los Angeles.