Grit and ambition fuel Brooklyn woman’s quest to make French champagne for Americans

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A Division of Zenger News

Marvina Robinson was far fromhome—5,951 miles, to be exact—but as she stood in a vineyard in France’s fabledChampagne region, a glass of bubbly in her hand, she could visualize the grandambition she hatched in New York.

She had traveled to Franceseven times in 18 months to visit wine makers, taste their magic, study thebusiness. The result was a rare American champagne brand owned exclusively by ablack woman. Stuyvesant Champagne, its name an homage to the Bedford-Stuyvesantcommunity in Brooklyn where she grew up launched in February to tasty reviews.

Robinson offers a GrandReserve, pale gold with sea-green highlights, a floral aroma, a spicy palatemixed with apples and gingerbread. And there’s a Brut Rosé, salmon-colored,smelling of raspberry and currants and tastes like fleshy cherry.

But those refineddescriptions offer no hint at the hurdles she cleared to make her champagnedream come to life. Stuyvesant Champagne is Robinson’s fourth business startup.And this one “was not an easy process,” she said. “Lots of challenges.”

It began with a financial commitment of $60,000—her money, not investor funding.

Robinson stretches that moneyto cover production costs, bottling, packaging and maintaining a privatelyowned, independent vineyard that stretches between the Ardre and Aisne valleys.

She had to travel repeatedlyto France, a costly proposition. “I live in New York. Champagne-makers are inFrance. I had to get there. Face-to-face interaction was important,” she toldZenger News.

Then came the languagebarrier. Robinson speaks no French and had to rely on her bilingual businessmanager or hire a translator when she visited countless independent vineyardsto choose a partner to grow her grapes.

A stickler for details, shereturned the first shipment of 500 bottles because the foil that wraps the corkwas not what she ordered.

“Every day is too much,” herfriend Tyeisha Delk told Zenger. “Imagine a black woman in a white maledominated business doing it her way and making it happen. She knows the risksinvolved, but we say, ‘Every day is a learning curve. Hit a bump in the road,embrace it.’”

“As an entrepreneur, she puts me in a good frame of mind,” Delk added. “She motivates me. She knows her stuff. And what she doesn’t know she learns. . . She gets her hands dirty. She works and she works with confidence.”

Delk, who owns the customjacket company KIC NYC, was not surprised by Robinson’s forge-ahead mindset.The pair communicated constantly while Robinson was in Europe.

“I didn’t go to France but I felt like I was there because we talked every day,” Delk said. “She’s determined. When she told me about creating her own champagne, I was like, ‘Really?’ Not like I doubted her, because I haven’t seen her have an idea that she didn’t pull off. But this one was big.” 

Robinson’s packaging blendsin with more famous champagnes on store shelves. Aficionado Monica Cooper ofWhite Plains, New York said the two bottles—the Grand Reserve priced at $56 andthe Brut Rosé at $68—look sophisticated yet understated.

“It’s divine,” Cooper said. “Both are elegant and hold their own against many of the popular champagne brands.”

Robinson said she takes dailywalks in Brooklyn and returns home to a cup of tea to stay level-headed. “Itcan be stressful. But after my morning ritual, I’m ready to go.”

A handful of Brooklyn storesstock Stuyvesant Champagne, and she has her eye on expanding and opening alounge in Brooklyn that she’ll call Coupette NYC. Direct orders from her websitehave driven most of her sales.

“It’s exciting to see it in its packaging,” she said. “But we have a long way to go.”

Curtis Bunn
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Curtis Bunn is a journalist, author, founder of the National Book Club Conference. He is a lover of God, family, golf, travel, good food and Whiskey.

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