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French-American Spirits Importer Gets Knighted

It was a heavenly night for Christine Cooney. On October 23, the cofounder and CEO of Heavenly Spirits Imports, which specializes in showcasing and selling French spirits in the United States, was made a knight of the Ordre du Mérite Agricole at a ceremony in Boston.
Vermouths from the Heavenly Spirits catalog. Courtesy of Heavenly Spirits

The French native received the green medal, nicknamed le poireau (“the leek”) due to its color and bestowed by the Minister of Agriculture in Paris since 1883 for outstanding contributions to agriculture, forestry, and gastronomy, from Mustafa Soykurt, consul general of France in Boston. The ceremony took place at the city’s French Library, where Christine Cooney and her husband and business partner Daniel were also hosting a full portfolio tasting event in celebration of their company’s 15th anniversary.

In her acceptance speech, which she delivered in French and English, Christine Cooney remembered how she first tasted spirits at “the very mature age of 7” with her paternal grandfather, Amédée Foubert, a farmer and wine merchant in the Charente-Maritime département of southwest France. “He gave me a taste of brandy that he had distilled from plums from his own orchard,” she said. “Unsurprisingly, I didn’t like it. Then he offered me something else, an amber liquid, ‘an Armagnac,’ he told me. And to my surprise, I liked it a lot!”

Christine Cooney has had a “true connection to spirits” ever since. After studying English and German translation at the University of Angers, she first worked as a trilingual assistant for a Cognac producer in La Rochelle. She later worked as a Cognac broker in California and as the U.S. director of an Italian wine consortium. She also worked with her husband to restore her family’s 120-acre farm in France after her grandfather and father passed away, and since 2008, as a leading importer of award-winning French spirits in the United States.

Heavenly Spirits cofounder and CEO Christine Cooney. Courtesy of Heavenly Spirits

“I believe that we would not be here today,” Christine Cooney said during the ceremony, “if it were not for the tremendous impact that my father’s father had on me.” In the Heavenly Spirits offices in Lakeville, Massachusetts, south of Boston, a large black-and-white photograph of her grandfather hangs on the wall near her desk. Nearby, a U.S. map shows the 38 states where the company is currently selling its carefully curated catalog of Armagnac, Calvados, Cognac, absinthe, gin, rum, vodka, whisky, vermouth, and various liqueurs and apéritifs.

“Sometimes, it can be difficult to carve out a little spot on the shelf for our spirits in a market that is already flooded by the bigger, industrial brands,” Christine Cooney told France-Amérique. “But we connect with American consumers who are truly interested in the authentic stories behind our brands. France started distilling 700 years ago and has an unsurpassed, global reputation for producing top-notch spirits. The ‘made in France’ label sells, and discerning consumers here know that.”

Case in point: Heavenly Spirits has been the number-one importer of Armagnac (in volume) in the United States for the past 14 years. And in 2017, for their promotion of French art de vivre and gastronomy, Christine and Daniel Cooney were both inducted into the Compagnie des Mousquetaires d’Armagnac on the referral of a few of their Armagnac producers. These distinctions, along with Christine Cooney’s new title of chevalière, will certainly help the company to spread the good word about high-quality French spirits in America. “Bringing my French culture and passion for all things related to food, wines, spirits, and gastronomy to the United States has been a life-defining experience,” she said. “I guess it’s what makes me a true French-American!”