Martell Icons of Inspiration - Vicky’s Reflection
The Martell Icons of Inspiration Competition appeared on my radar one morning as I scrolled idly through my social media feeds, waiting for my breakfast at a street cart outside my office in Manhattan. I noticed that the deadline was some far off date in the future, and that there would be some intermediary round in Los Angeles before any winners were selected. It seemed like a lot of effort, but the prospect of winning a free trip to France was intriguing enough to warrant marking my calendar. “I’ll get around to it,” I figured. If you know me, you’ll know that I’ll pretty much take any excuse to get on a plane and travel. So, I got around to it and managed to make the first cut.
Upon advancing to the final round, I had to consider if it was worth making the cross-country trip to Los Angeles. If I was going to spend the time and money on flights, hotel, and overall effort, I pretty much had to win the trip to France. The problem was, I wasn’t sure how I was going to. Going into the mixer I had no idea what to expect. I was somewhat familiar with APEX, having friends who attended APEX events before, and had a vague inkling of Martell’s involvement with the alcohol business. The event itself was a lovely production, in particular the cover band that played songs by my favorite band, Daft Punk, on electric violin. I had heard a lot of great things about Stephen Liu so was glad to finally meet him. It was also pretty fun to see what all the finalists were up to in their respective fields of entertainment and entrepreneurship, two industries that are traditionally underrepresented by Asian-Americans. Being in a ballroom full of people who likely had similar upbringings as I did (and who likely went against their immigrant parents’ wishes of pursuing a professional track in medicine or law or engineering) to recognize our collective achievements in these creative fields was a new and surreal experience for me.
At the mixer in Los Angeles, we were presented with a final assignment that would determine who went France. The assignment initially seemed a bit daunting, but after some quiet time to think (and with the added pressure resulting from procrastination), inspiration struck so I sat down to write the entire business plan in one sitting. Designing a community service project that would benefit the Asian-American community and detailing its implementation and foreseeable challenges was a pretty broad topic at hand, and the open-ended nature of the task made it both easy and that much more difficult to address. Having written hundreds of scientific reports and iterations of business plans, putting pen to paper was the least of my worries after determining my thesis. At the time of the deadline, I was wrapping up my own business of three years. Amidst negotiating a deal to sell my company which involved obscure legalese and going back and forth with lawyers, having this assignment to complete provided a much-needed leisurely writing outlet.
I woke up one morning, months later, to discover an email congratulating me on winning the trip to France. Elated, I started researching Martell and their vineyards in southern France and found little information on the internet. It was all quite mysterious up until I received a detailed itinerary of the activities that were planned; even then, it was not entirely clear what was expected of us on the trip. I had visited Paris previously in the winter for Fashion Week and left with little desire to return, but I had higher hopes for French summer, and for Cognac.
Arrival in France, from New York to Paris to the southern region we stayed as part of the MIOI program, went without a hitch. The weather was perfect, and really everything that Martell arranged on our behalf was beautifully coordinated. From the historic invite-only family chateau where we stayed, to the cooperage and vineyard visits, to the in-depth explanation of the commercial distillation process, there was constant information flow throughout the trip.
Our main guide, Christophe, a former chef, made us feel right at home and I honestly felt like a princess living a fairytale for three days. An exquisite castle in the countryside, Michelin-grade meals (paired with quality Martell cognac of course), and a grand piano all at my disposal – what could be better? I recently made a personal resolution to become better educated on wines and spirits, so this 3-day crash course of the history and production of cognac, the cultural and modern-day implications for both the liquor and the brand and more was quite timely and much appreciated.
Despite all of these wonderful provisions, my favorite part of the trip still was meeting and sharing the experience with my mentor Stephen, fellow MIOI winner Ryan, and the Martell representatives Vicky and Christophe. Pursuing entrepreneurship (or in Ryan’s case, entertainment) can sometimes be an isolating journey, even more so when your upbringing is not particularly conducive to the path you have chosen. There is something to be said about sharing a nice, new experience with kindred spirits, and even better when it is over a delicious French meal paired perfectly with the best cognac offered by Martell.