How Did Marvina Robinson Build Her Stuyvesant Champagne Business

Marvina Robinson fell in love with champagne as a “broke college student,” when she and her friends would scrape together enough money to buy a bottle or two, for no particular reason, except to enjoy.

From then, she had a goal: to create her own label, along with a place to sample it.

In February 2020, after more than two decades spent working on Wall Street, Ms. Robinson, now 45, debuted B. Stuyvesant Champagne, named after the Brooklyn neighborhood where she grew up.

On June 30, she opened a 2,000-square-foot tasting space and headquarters at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where she has begun to host regular “sip and chats” featuring her bubbly, and hopes to soon host other events, including intimate weddings.

Ms. Robinson built her business from the ground up. Not only did she do all the footwork herself, she also came up with all the funding. “I don’t have any investors, no venture capital money, this is all me,” she said. Her product is produced in Epernay, France, part of the country’s Champagne region, and imported to the United States. The brand now offers several varieties of Champagne, including reserve, grand reserve and rosé.

As one of the few Black women to own a Champagne label, she has been met with incredulity from some peers. “When I go to shows, I get the, ‘Is this really Champagne?’” she said, adding, “I’ve just learned to block it out.”

The entrepreneur, as she tells it, has had little time for entertaining skeptics. While completing her headquarters this year, Ms. Robinson debuted a line of glassware, the Anivram Dining Collection. She is partnering with the chocolatier Roni-Sue’s Chocolates, in Lower Manhattan, to make truffles infused with various B. Stuyvesant Champagnes. And she has plans to introduce a branded vending machine stocked with her product.

“This hasn’t been an easy route for me,” she said. “But if you build it, they will come. You just have to be consistent with your business practices and your goals, and it’ll pan out at some point in time.”

I didn’t have anybody to turn to when I was working on this. I’m a woman. I’m Black. To be honest, I didn’t trust a lot of people because I was turned away by so many. I got so many negative comments like, “This is not your field. This is not your arena. This is not what you’re good at.” I just said, “OK, I just have to figure this out on my own.” And that’s really what I did.

I was dismissed from three or four vineyards. I was OK with that; I looked at it as, this is not the right one for me. Then I met one vineyard owner and I actually liked her because she would answer all of my questions. She was open-minded to the things that I wanted to do and that’s what I liked about her.

There are people that judge you just based on what you look like. So, you have to prove yourself. I will always be tested because I’m not the norm. Even when retailers reach out, the first thing they say is, “Why should we buy B. Stuyvesant?” I say, “You have the option to purchase what you like.” I don’t lead my brand with “I’m a woman” or “I’m Black.” I lead with the quality of the product.

I designed it myself: The walls are navy blue because that’s the color of the label for our grand reserve, our signature cuvée, which was the first cuvée that I moved forward with. We laid new floors. We are at the Navy Yard, in an old building. This place was very interesting looking: gray walls, not pretty. We put time and money into the space.

When people come to an event, we want it to be an experience. No two events are the same. I guide everybody through the tastings. I talk about my adventures in France, I even suggest other champagnes. There are so many beautiful champagnes out there.

If you drink out of the wrong glass, you don’t get the full experience. If you drink out of a coupe, you lose your bubbles. The bubbles actually have aroma and actually enhance the taste. You need to use a tulip glass or a standard white wine glass because it opens up but it’s not too wide. It allows the champagne to breathe, but it’s not too open where your cuvée will get warm fast or go flat fast.

I go through this all the time. Even building this new space, I was nervous. I was scared because it’s so expensive to build out a beautiful space. Sometimes when business is slow, I get a little nervous, “Oh my gosh, it’s slowing down.” Every business has a cycle.

I go through those emotions. But then I look at people celebrating with the champagne, and I get excited. We had three weddings request our champagne just these past two weeks.

People ask us to make boxes for their guests or for the bridesmaids and the groomsmen. Last year, we had a New Year’s Eve wedding where they did a toast of the Champagne and they wanted some of the larger bottles. At another wedding, each guest is receiving a bottle of Champagne in a wooden box with a custom stamp.

People think champagne is celebratory. You’re popping this bottle, you see the bubbles, the fizz, you’re doing a cheer. So, it goes hand in hand.

Though for me, it could be opened anytime. It’s a go-to drink.

We’re toasting to B. Stuyvesant fully expanding throughout the entire United States and the world. We’re just enjoying that. It took us years to get to this point. And we’re sipping out of Anivram Dining Collection glasses. In 10 years, we’re also going to be toasting to the N.B.A. choosing B. Stuyvesant for celebrating the championship game win. That’s what we’re going to be toasting to.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

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Cliff Morton


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