“Sipping rosé” has new meaning now that Donae Burston owns the brand La Fête du Rosé. Loosely translated as “Rosé Party,” Burston’s spirit creation, not to be confused with the traveling event of the same name, is an inclusive affair that acknowledges what we all know: Black people drink rosé. Like, a lot—and bougie black people drink even more than that. As both an enthusiast and now owner of La Fête du Rosé, Burston acknowledges that truth and welcomes us.
“For me, being a person of the culture and of the audience, it’s about being present where that consumer is. It’s about giving that consumer the same experiences that the other brands are giving to the general consumer,” Burston explains via phone in Atlanta.
“It’s about also making sure our visual messaging is speaking to that consumer because, traditionally, with most rosé brands, you don’t see us represented in any of the creative [messaging], social media, etc...[With us,] you’ll see representation,” he continues. “You’ll see us doing events that are speaking to the culture and are of the culture. Now, that’s not to say you’re not going to see us do things on the other side, because we’re not looking to be exclusive by any means, but we want to be inclusive by all means.”
Burston is based in Atlanta and Miami, two of the hottest multicultural cities in the country. If his name rings a slight bell, it may be from his stint with Jay-Z’s Champagne Armand de Brignac, better known as Ace of Spades, where he was sales and marketing director for the southeast, Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2017, the Miami Herald dubbed him “Jay-Z’s Champagne man.” Prior to that, Burston served as Moët Hennessy USA’s regional marketing director for Dom Pérignon and Moët & Chandon.
Despite his impressive resume and easy charm, the world of luxury spirits wasn’t Burston’s chosen industry fresh out of school; mainly because he didn’t know it existed. Armed with degrees from both Clark Atlanta University and Georgia Institute of Technology, the Baltimore native first landed in information technology. He ended up living the spirits life purely by chance.
“It’s funny because I was out of college and I was miserable and I had a friend that was actually running a campaign for a spirits brand,” he recalls. “He needed some help with a promotion one night. Basically, his manager called out sick and he was like, ‘Hey dude, do you want to go to the club, meet some girls and drink for free?’”
That was an easy sell, of course. Since Burston was also giving out the free drinks, he was instantly the man. Suddenly, he’d found a fit in the entertainment industry he didn’t see coming. “I always loved the entertainment industry,” he shares, “but I couldn’t sing; I couldn’t act. So the liquor industry to me was the perfect hybrid of business and entertainment, and especially at that time in Atlanta, a lot of labels were here, there was so much going on...[B]eing able to do a lot of these events and record release parties was just so dope to me.”
After a few years of promoting spirits on the ground level, in 2003, Burston landed a gig at an Atlanta-based agency and began working their Moët Hennessy account. From there, he kept accelerating, working with other agencies and brands, including Heineken, primarily targeting black drinkers. He even moved to New York City to further his career. By 2007, he’d landed on the brand side of Moët Hennessy, where he spent several years working with Hennessy, Belvedere and Veuve Clicquot. A promotion to regional marketing director for Dom Pérignon and Moët & Chandon sent him to Miami.
In those capacities, he witnessed black culture’s power firsthand. “Even back [in the early 2000s], it was ahead of its time; it was driving culture. One of the biggest things that I saw was when we were doing the Red Star Soul Tour at the time, which was a tour they were using to promote Heineken to African Americans. We were going after Kanye big time; this was when he had just dropped...he wasn’t the Kanye West that we know now. Myself, my agency, my team, we were like, ‘He’s dope; he’s up and coming; we want him’ because the tour was all about rising stars.
“And then, shortly thereafter, he dropped one song that just took him to another level and immediately the company switched and they no longer wanted him on the Red Star Soul Tour, which was primarily for African Americans, for black folks. They wanted him now to do their bigger Heineken Governor’s Island Concert series. At that moment, I realized that the culture itself was bubbling, and it really also dictates a lot of time to the mainstream.”
About three years ago, Burston got a taste of the entrepreneurial life as a consultant and loved it. A chance conversation with a winery owner in the South of France—Saint-Tropez specifically—at the highly exclusive amfAR Gala at the Cannes Film Festival led to Burston shooting his shot only days later to create a rosé multicultural millennial audiences would love.
Based on his instructions, several blends were created for him by the Domaine Bertaud Belieu winery, which dates back to the 15th century and counts rosé as 85 percent of its production. Burston found the one: a blush-colored spirit with a charming blend of dried fruits, bonbon and hazelnut flavors, and cherry notes that was not too sweet or tart, which he’s showcased in an understated but sophisticated bottle.
Creating La Fête du Rosé was a full circle moment for Burston, who, inspired by Diddy’s boasts, first came to Saint-Tropez to celebrate his 30th birthday. Since then, he’d come often, but that was just the beginning, he found. “There’s the saying that ‘If it was easy, everybody would be doing it,’ and I think the liquor industry is one that is very trying,” he says.
Money was obviously one main obstacle to making La Fête du Rosé a reality, with Burston putting up the tens of thousands of dollars needed to get La Fête to market. Shipping the product from Saint-Tropez to the States was another challenge, and navigating this country’s complex liquor laws remains yet another, especially since Burston isn’t allowed to sell directly to consumers. Instead, he is tasked with convincing local distributors to bet on him in each state. He admits that part has been particularly frustrating.
“I can go to some states and distributors will flat out tell me ‘no’ and tell me ‘They don’t think it’s going to work and tell me that my consumer doesn’t drink rosé or that they only like it sweet. It’s mind-blowing to me to have someone outside of the culture tell me what my culture would like or what they won’t do. So, I deal with that challenge on a daily basis...I have to get past those gatekeepers.”
But 15 years of spirits experience and great connections have served Burston well. Today, consumers can find La Fête du Rosé at some of the hottest spots on the East Coast, like the posh 1 Hotel South Beach and the nearby Delano hotel in Miami, the high-end black-owned private club the Gathering Spot in Atlanta, and 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. And while Burston is working overtime to grow that list, eligible consumers can also order it directly for roughly $24 a bottle before taxes and shipping via ReserveBar.
Believing he’s at the right place at the right time, Burston sees even bigger things ahead. “The industry still hasn’t really taken hold of and seen the evolution of us as a consumer,” he says.
Or as an owner.