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Rosé has been marketed mainly to White women. This Black entrepreneur wants to change that.

With an infusion of capital, Donae Burston aims to expand rosé appeal across race, geography and socioeconomic status

Donae Burston aims to widen the appeal of rosé lifestyle to a diverse audience with his wine La Fête du Rosé. He now has help from a major investment by Constellation Brands. (Ron Hill)

Donae Burston doesn’t consider demographics when marketing his wine, La Fête du Rosé. Instead, he focuses on what he calls “psychographics,” the aspirational nature of a young and diverse consumer base interested in travel, cuisine and the fête — the party — of life. These consumers stretch across traditional demographic lines of race, geography and socioeconomic status. They include people who are Black, Latinx and Asian, not just the White people typically courted by the wine industry.

Burston received backing this month when Constellation Brands, a behemoth in the beverage alcohol industry, became a minority partner in La Fête du Rosé, infusing the company with capital and expertise to scale up production and expand its market nationwide. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. It was the first venture capital investment in Constellation’s Focus on Minority Founders, a program announced last summer during the Black Lives Matter movement, aimed at investing $100 million over 10 years in wine, beer and spirits businesses founded by minorities. Constellation launched a similar Focus on Female Founders initiative in 2018 during the #MeToo movement.

Over the past year, as the nation engaged in soul-searching over systemic racism and barriers to diversity in various social and economic sectors, the wine industry has also tried to come to grips with its overwhelming Whiteness.

Several diversity initiatives focus on helping people of color enter the industry through scholarships to study enology and viticulture. In April, Napa Valley Vintners, a nonprofit association of wineries and grape growers, partnered with UNCF to offer minority students scholarships to four California universities with wine programs.

In its news release announcing the investment, Constellation called Burston’s brand “disruptive” in its focus on multicultural consumers.

Burston is not exactly a newbie flame-thrower setting the wine industry ablaze. He has real chops, with 16 years’ experience representing luxury champagne brands such as Dom Perignon and Veuve Clicquot for LVMH, the French luxury conglomerate, as well as Armand de Brignac, the ultra-luxe champagne brand owned by the rapper Jay-Z. (In February, LVMH bought a half interest in Armand de Brignac.) His travels in France took him to Provence, where he fell in love with rosé and its casual party vibe.

“Back in the U.S., rosé was marketed only to women, and primarily White women, the ladies-who-lunch crowd,” Burston told me in a Zoom chat from his home in Miami. “There were all sorts of stereotypes I didn’t like.” (This was before Brosé, that brief period when wine marketers discovered real men do drink pink.)

“As a Black male, I enjoyed drinking rosé, but I didn’t talk about it, at least not at home in the U.S.,” he said. “In Europe, there’s no stigma.”

In 2019, Burston partnered with Domaine Bertaud Belieu, the oldest winery on the Saint-Tropez peninsula along the Côte d’Azur, to create La Fête du Rosé. He sold 1,000 cases of the 2018 vintage in Miami as a test run, then expanded to 3,700 cases in 2020 and 15,000 cases for this year, in 31 markets around the country.

That growth caught Constellation’s attention. “We can deploy capital to really support diverse founders and help them build their brands so they sit on the national stage,” says Jennifer Evans, head of Constellation Ventures, the venture capital investment wing of Constellation Brands. She cited data showing that only 2 percent of venture capital investment in the United States goes to female-owned businesses, and a mere 1 percent to Black-owned companies.

And Constellation sees potential in expanding a quality rosé brand to a diverse audience. “It’s a rosé party, and everybody’s invited,” Evans told me. “We liked the brand’s inclusivity, and there is room to grow.”

Burston hopes to grow his company from four employees now (including him) to 10 by the end of the year and to expand to a national market. This summer, he will introduce a white wine, La Fête du Blanc, made from vermentino and semillon. And with “sparkling in my heart,” as he put it, he hopes to draw on his experience with champagne to add a bubbly in the next few years.

Burston devotes some of his profits to mentoring minorities interested in entering the wine industry, but he sets his sights higher.

“For me it’s always been the C-Suite levels and the senior positions — that’s where real change is driven,” he told me. “It's one thing to have a Black sales rep, but they don’t make the decisions for the company. So when you see this biased marketing, it’s because you don’t see Black people in the boardroom. We need to change that dynamic as well.”

Burston hopes to be changing that dynamic one bottle of pink wine at a time. With Constellation’s help, his rosé party is about to get a lot louder.

A sad note: Jim Clendenen, a pioneer in Santa Barbara County’s wine community with his Au Bon Climat winery, died May 15 at age 68. Known for his shoulder-length wavy hair, Hawaiian shirts and generosity of spirit, Clendenen modeled restraint and balance in his pinot noir and chardonnay even as others chased heft and power. He will be sorely missed at future gatherings of pinot lovers everywhere.

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