Bubbling Up from Brooklyn: Marvina Robinson, CEO, B. Stuyvesant Champagne
An ambitious go-getter, Marvina Robinson worked on Wall Street for twenty years before turning her passion for champagne into a business. Originally she planned to open a Champagne-themed bar, but COVID caused Marvina to quickly pivot, shifting the focus of the brand into a retail operation, selling Champagne in stores and via e-commerce. We chat with Marvina on what inspired her to build the B. Stuyvesant Champagne brand around her beloved Brooklyn neighborhood, long associated with Black culture, but not Champagne….until now!
You grew up in Bedford-Stuyvesant aka Bed-Stuy, a neighborhood of NYC which has been a center of African-American culture since the early 20th century. Why was it important to have your Champagne brand associated with Bed-Stuy?
I wanted the brand to reflect myself, I grew up on Hancock St and Stuyvesant – there are so many memories over the years and the neighborhood shaped me into the woman I am today.
Do you still live in Bed-Stuy? It was named one of the coolest neighborhoods in the world by Time Out in 2020, maybe you’re part of the reason?
I still live in “The Stuy”…. I love my neighborhood!!
Tell us, how did you go from studying biology, getting a graduate degree in statistics, and working for two decades on Wall Street to working in the champagne industry?
Honestly, I do not know, it was not part of my plan! In college, I thought I wanted to be a doctor, when I graduated I began doing temp work in finance to earn money while I was figuring out my next step. This opened my eyes to the finance world! I was always great with computers and math. I then decided finance was my industry, so I researched and spoke to a lot of senior people on Wall Street to find out what credentials I would need to be successful. This led me to apply and get a master’s degree in Statistics at Columbia University. I then worked in commodities analysis, trading, pricing, and risk management at various corporations. I’d also launched two businesses on the side (a spin studio and a café) before landing on Champagne, first with the intent to open a Champagne bar. My love of Champagne started when I was first working, as a way of celebrating with friends at the end of the workweek. Over the years, I developed a passion for Champagne and learned by spending time in France, reading, getting certifications, and being very hands-on.
That is quite a transition, where did you get the courage and how did you get the funding to start your own Champagne brand?
My personality is if I want something I go after it. I will always bet and invest in myself. B. Stuyvesant Champagne is funded 100% by me – no loans, no investors, no venture capitalist money. It was and is very hard, I invest everything in the business to keep it growing and expanding. I’ve sacrificed my personal wants and desires to focus on the success of B. Stuyvesant Champagne.
What challenges did you face as a Black woman trying to import champagne from France? Did you consider working with American wineries instead?
Breaking into any new industry is not easy, but the Champagne industry presented a few extra challenges. I do not speak French, had no direct connections, I just had to figure it out! Many vineyards were not interested in working with me but that did not deter me. I’m resilient. Where there’s a will there is a way! I knew it had to be Champagne, which can only come from the Champagne region of France, I did not consider working with any vineyards outside of the Champagne region. I constantly kept going to France and doing my own research, until I found the partners I needed.
How did the pandemic impact your business? The Champagne Bureau, USA reported in March that sales were down nearly 19% year over year in 2020, mainly due to people not being allowed to gather for big social celebrations, was that true for your business?
The pandemic affected my business as I was not able to get my shipments, France was completely shut down. My inventory was depleted, shipments were not coming and orders were pouring in. I was forced to refund orders, not a good thing! Some customers were patient, some were not.
The good news is the Champagne Bureau, USA is predicting that this year will be a banner one as parties resume and people think of champagne as an affordable luxury. Are you seeing an uptick?
I have not seen the uptick yet, but this is the beginning of the holiday season and I can’t wait!!!
Tell us about your Champagnes and suggest types of food to enjoy them with?
The brand offers seven cuvees–blended batches of Champagne–Grand Reserve, Rosé, Heritage, Demi-Sec, Rosé Prestige (only 600 bottles produced for the year), and Blanc de Blanc. Each blend is different as they all have different grape components (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay) as well as dosage and storage which contributes to the taste. Our Blanc de Blanc pairs well with fried chicken (amazing!), Grand Reserve pairs well with sautéed chicken breast, lemon butter sauce with capers, Rosé pairs well with creamy risotto and Rosé Prestige pairs well with salmon
Do you have a favorite Champagne from your collection?
I would say the Grand Reserve and Blanc de Blancs are my favorites, everybody’s palate is different but I just love these two. I am a big fan of Blanc de Blancs.
What advice would you give to other female entrepreneurs aspiring to start their own business in the beverage industry?
My advice would be to do your research but be very hands-on in all aspects of your business. You can learn a lot from reading but nothing beats direct experience. Also, never take “no” for an answer! Keep going.
What would you like to see change for female entrepreneurs in the beverage industry?
As in all industries in which female entrepreneurs are under-represented, I would like to see more readily available opportunities. I’ve noticed establishments say “fill out the vendor form, identify the business as woman-owned” and it just sits in a database. We need more actionable opportunities, we shouldn’t have to jump through hoops.
Which champagne from your brand do you recommend for the holiday season?
Blanc de Blancs or Rosé is what I have highlighted for the holiday season, both are so festive.
What is your favorite Champagne cocktail for the holidays?
I’ve created the “Brooklyn Banger” with B. Stuyvesant Grand Reserve Champagne, Malfy Gin Rosa, and Pomegranate Seeds, you NEED to give this a try!
½ ounce of Malfy Gin Rosa
1 teaspoon of pomegranate seeds
Orange peel to garnish
Fill glass with B. Stuyvesant Grand Reserve, enjoy!
Do hotels stock your champagne? How can hoteliers get in touch with you about adding B. Stuyvesant Champagne to their menus?
What is next for you and B. Stuyvesant Champagne?
Supplying champagne for airlines and the hospitality industry. We will be rolling out 187ml (mini champagne bottle/single-serve) in Spring 2022. In 2022, I want to focus on expanding distribution throughout the United States.