Marvina Robinson is literally living that “Champagne life” by infusing her love for the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood she grew up in with her affection for the bubbly.
Robinson stands as one of the few Black women to own a Champagne brand, Stuyvesant Champagne, a venture that was not easy but has resulted in refreshing returns in her venture and investment.
The Champagne connoisseur said when she was younger she and her neighborhood friends would go in together and buy bottles of Champagne from a local store. And that appreciation for the French sparkling wine continued to mature over time.
“My friends and I used to share bottles of Moët White Star during our college days, and as I grew older I experimented with different spirits, but Champagne, aka bubbles, was and is my first love,” Robinson told Atlanta Black Star. “Regardless if my day is good or bad, when I hear the sound of a bottle popping, a smile automatically appears on my face. The first sip is like heaven.”
Robinson initially had her sights set on opening a Champagne bar, but a visit to France helped her set new intentions.
Robinson visited France at least 18 times to explore the intricacies of what it takes to cultivate a Champagne brand that would speak to her heart. Through language barriers, and learning the ropes and visiting dozens of vineyards, she settled on a privately owned and independent vineyard, resulting in a champagne brand crafted uniquely by a Black woman that was named after the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood that made her.
The journey, Robinson admits, was far from easy, especially since the Champagne market is dominated by white males. She invested $60,000 of her own money to get her business off the ground and along the way had a few setbacks when it came to bottling and packaging and setting costs.
There are currently two cuvées Stuyvesant Champagne has available: The Grand Reserve, priced at $56, is described as fruity and floral and has a spicy palate that picks up the flavors of apple and gingerbread in its flavor profile. And there is the berry-licious Brut Rosé, priced at $68, with notes of raspberry and redcurrant.
Atlanta Black Star caught up with Robinson and asked her about the ins and outs of starting a niche brand, and she offered advice to budding business owners. Robinson responded via email, and her replies are lightly edited for clarity.
How hard was it to start your own business, especially in a space that is so niche and unique, especially for Black people?
This is not my first time in an industry in which Black people are not a norm. I take it with a grain of salt and focus on my personal goals. I am thick-skinned, so I try not to deviate from my goals. Was the process easy, absolutely not. The constant travels (which I love), language barrier (Google Translator was/is a life saver. I’m about to start French lessons with a private tutor), finding a vineyard that was willing to work with me and bring my idea to life. Is it perfect, absolutely not, no!! But in any business/industry constant reassessing is required. I always think, “How could this be better?” I sleep with my laptop under my arms so when ideas pop in my head I quickly jump up to research or jot down my notes.
You partnered with Happy Cork, a wine and spirits store, to sell your Champagne. Can you tell me about how that partnership came about and why was it important to use to use them?
I would not call it a partnership, but Happy Cork took an interest in my brand at very early stages. Sunshine (the owner of Happy Cork) always checked in with me, provided me with advice and took me seriously when others did not. Prior to me launching the brand, I visited Happy Cork a lot. I gravitated to supporting a woman black-owned business. I will say, it is not about Happy Cork being woman- and black-owned but the establishment provides exceptional customer service. In any industry I shop at or support if the customer service is below par, I do not return. Stuyvesant Champagne will be rolling out to different merchants the first week in March. The brand will be carried at Bed-Vyne Wine & Spirits (385 Tompkins Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11216) and Liquid Assets (504 Nostrand Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11216) and more to come.
What tips do you have for Black business owners wanting to take the leap and start their own brand?
Take your time, do your research and when you feel almost comfortable per Nike “Just Do It” (one of my favorite hashtags). I left a very financially comfortable industry for the unknown and I am beginning to realize following my dreams and passions is a priceless feeling.
What sets your Champagne apart from those other labels, quality-wise? Why would a Champagne drinker choose your brand?
Everybody has a unique palate, if you are a Champagne drinker one does not stick to only one brand and will explore others options. From there each individual can make the decisions if they like it or not. I am a Champagne drinker and I explore other brands all the time. Regarding my brand, I love the initial sip, very floral, not too acidic (Grand Reserve). For the Rosé, nice and crisp, not overly dry.
What’s next for you business-wise and for your Champagne brand?
For the Champagne … I realized I did not mention, Stuyvesant came to life when I desired wanting a house brand for my upcoming Champagne bar Coupette NYC (Coupette is the original champagne glass). I want to make my bar distinguishable and having a private label Champagne was key in my personal opinion. I also want to educate and introduce different Champagne brands to consumers. I sometimes think consumers go with brands that they know not exploring brands they are unfamiliar with, everybody’s palate is unique. I would love to take a non-Champagne drinker/lover and help them explore multiple Champagnes to find one that they actually like. Back to your direct question, Coupette NYC will be opening end of this year 2020.
Stuyvesant Champagne is also hosting a Champagne tasting at Bed-Vyne on March 21, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. On the same day we will have an after party/celebration and debuting some Champagne-based cocktails at Bed-Vyne Cocktail kicking off at 9 p.m. (305 Halsey Street, Brooklyn, New York 11216).