When Donae Burston began conversations with Constellation Brands in summer 2020, he saw the United States' largest maker and marketer of alcoholic beverages as the key to expanding his French rosé brand, La Fête du Rosé. Today, Constellation has announced it has purchased a minority stake in La Fête, marking the first move in its Focus on Minority Founders initiative to support Black-owned businesses over the next decade. The sale price and ownership percentage were not disclosed.
"I want to be the No. 1 luxury rosé wine brand in the world, full stop," Burston told Wine Spectator. "I think for me what was more important was the growth and to ensure that I had the resources needed to grow the brand with someone that could bring the tools I needed."
Since launching the Focus on Minority Founders program, the Constellation Ventures (CV) team has received many applications for partnership, and Burston is a prime example of what the investment team looks for.
"When I first had the opportunity to speak with Donae, you could hear the passion he had for the brand," Jennifer Evans, vice president of CV, said. "I speak to a lot of founders who have a vision, and that's wonderful, but what Donae had in addition to the vision was a real plan to execute."
Evans launched the Focus on Female Founders initiative in 2018 (a $100 million commitment to women business owners) and says it inspired her to push for diversity in the alcohol industry. She adds that in less than two years, her team was able to transform the CV portfolio from less than 20 percent female-led to now over 50 percent. "It shows that if you put your mind to it, in a short period of time you can actually make pretty meaningful change. So I'm really confident we'll be able to do the same with our Focus on Minority Founders program."
While Constellation will help connect Burston with commercial support, marketing and sales teams, distributors and retailers, along with expertise in consumer insights, trends and three-tier economics, the company is hoping to learn more about new markets from him.
"The Minority Founders and Female Founders funds allow us to unlock previously unrecognized, underrepresented ideas that we think will give us a competitive advantage," said Mallika Monteiro, executive vice president and chief growth, strategy and digital officer. "It's also the right thing to do, but we believe it will unlock accelerated growth for us."
Betting on rosé wasn't a coincidence either. Monteiro and Evans say Constellation has been eyeing rosé closely.
"We have a gap in our portfolio when it comes to big rosé brands," Monteiro said. "One of the things that spoke to me when we were talking to Donae was his vision to change how Americans view it. He's looking to reach consumers that the wine industry hasn't historically talked to, consumers who don't feel they see themselves and their lives in the brands they see in the industry."
Burston says that La Fête has seen tremendous growth over the past year. The company, which was founded in 2019, has grown from being in five markets, mainly in the southeast, to 31 across the country. Based in Miami, he partly credits the rapid growth in Florida to the pandemic. As one of the few states that were relatively open in the past year, he says many wine lovers flocking south to visit top hotels and restaurants were seeing La Fête at the table, reinforcing the brand. With Constellation's help, Burston plans to expand west to focus on Texas and California. Current annual production is 15,000 cases.
As the first business owner to join the Focus on Minority Founders initiative, Burston says it's an honor to represent the future of a diverse wine industry, and feels a sense of duty to create opportunities for the next minority business owners.
"For me, that's one of the reasons I created La Fête, beyond the fact that I had a love affair with rosé," he said. "I'm going to do everything I can to ensure that I'm successful for [Constellation] so they continue to do this."
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