11/10/2008 at 01:00 AM EST
When hip-hop artist Lil Jon brought out caffeinated energy drinks called Crunk!!! (for his frenetic crunk style of music), it seemed a natural crossover. Less likely was his recent plunge into the fine wine market. "Growing up, I was never a wine guy," says Jon, 36, who produced Usher's hit "Yeah!" "My tastes matured, I guess." So much so that in 2004 the Atlanta native hired Napa and Central Coast California growers to blend affordable wines under the Little Jonathan Winery (LJ) label. His Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon have arrived with, he says, a "classy, not ghetto" look. "His palate is very good for someone relatively new to this world," says LJ wine maker Alison Crowe. Not that he's becoming a wine snob. "I like a wine I can chill with," he says. "All my friends come over and ask for LJ now."