For Donae Burston, rosé is much more than a wine to drink at summer parties. It’s a means to open doors and build wealth for other Black people.
The 46-year-old Randallstown native made a splash in 2019 in the wine business by launching La Fête du Rosé, which Burston called the first entirely Black-owned rosé, out of St. Tropez, France.
Burston wants to expose more Black people to the wine industry while also creating Black wealth.
“There are nontraditional careers and paths to take,” Burston said. “This is a huge, multibillion-dollar industry, and ownership among Black people is minimal. We’re here to play with the big boys and spread the wealth.”
In May, Constellation Brands Inc., a leading alcohol beverage company, announced that it was acquiring a minority stake in Burston’s company. La Fête du Rosé was the first company to receive investment dollars as part of Constellation’s Focus on Minority Founders initiative, which plans to invest $100 million in Black, Latinx and other minority-owned businesses by 2030. Terms of the transaction have not been disclosed.
“Donae and the La Fête du Rosé team have created a truly unique and distinctive lifestyle brand, and we’re excited to collaborate with them and share insights to fuel our collective growth,” Jennifer Evans, vice president of Constellation Ventures, said in a statement.
On June 10, MGM National Harbor launched a pop-up bar featuring Burston’s La Fête du Rosé.
“MGM National Harbor is the number one or two performing [casino] property outside of Las Vegas,” in terms of revenue, Burston said. “It will be a catalyst for the brand throughout the state of Maryland.”
The brand can be found at wine and spirits stores and at big-box retailers such as Target, Trader Joe’s and Total Wine. Fête can also be found at Hyatt Hotels, Kimpton Hotels and Nobu Restaurants.
The turning point for Burston was the start of the pandemic when DJ D-Nice gave his brand a shoutout during his popular virtual dance party “Club Quarantine.” Burston recalled the surreal moment: “I fell out of my seat. I took a screenshot and sent it to people.”
The shoutout immediately accelerated the company’s upward trajectory.
“It was like a rocket ship. It went up from there,” he recalled. “Prior to that, we were primarily only sold in restaurants and bars. We immediately started a direct-to-consumer business. We sold over a half-million dollars from online alone.”
Burston estimates he will sell around 50,000 cases of rosé this year. Each bottle retails for $24.99.
Burston’s career did not start in wine. He earned a degree in mathematics from Clark Atlanta University in 1998 and a second degree in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech, before beginning his career in information technology.
Yet in 2003, Burston entered the alcohol industry on the promotional side. He said he wanted a new challenge and saw that the alcohol industry was ripe with opportunity.
He wound up at the luxury group LVMH, and during his decade with the company worked with brands such as Dom Pérignon, Veuve Clicquot, Moet & Chandon, Belvedere Vodka and Hennessy cognac. In 2011, while at LVMH, Burston created the first-ever luxury Champagne bar in a sports arena at what was then American Airlines Arena in Miami, he said.
In 2016, Burston became the regional director of the Southeast U.S., Caribbean and Latin America regions of Armand de Brignac Champagne.
Working with these brands taught him the importance of brand identity and luxury. But he had his eyes set on something bigger. He wanted to expand rosé to new markets.
He wanted his dry, still rosé to be desirable to a multicultural market.
The act of drinking rosé has become a nostalgic experience for Burston, who was first introduced to the wine when visiting St. Tropez for his 30th birthday.
“I thought everyone was drinking white zinfandel,” he recalled as a friend poured him a glass. And then he was hooked. “People would always have it casually at the cafe. Whenever I wanted to transport myself to France, I would have a glass of rosé.”
Donte Johnson, general manager at Hotel Revival Baltimore, which carries the rosé, has known Burston for the past year. The two met when the hotel hosted a Black History Month wine event.
“To hear somebody who had gotten to a certain level in their industry and who has moved correctly despite hitting a ceiling for the way they looked, struck me,” Johnson explained, referring to the lack of Black people in ownership positions within the wine and hospitality industries.
“He’s a good brother,” Johnson said about Burston. “I feel great seeing regionally that Le Fete is getting traction. I have reached out to other friends of mine in the industry.”
This article is part of our Newsmaker series that profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at email@example.com.