Faire la Fête French bubbly

1/2 the sugar of prosecco, 1/3 the price of Champagne

Faire la Fête is the French bubbly taking the US market by storm. We are sitting down with co-founder of First Growth Brands, Charlotte Holl. First Growth Brands produces Faire la Fête in Limoux, France, where France’s first sparkling wine was invented. In the 5 years since First Growth Brands was established, Charlotte and her dad have turned Faire la Fête into the fastest growing traditional French sparkling in the country.

Venü: How did you start?

Charlotte Holl: I never expected to be in the wine business. I spent 8 years working in the fashion industry, and then for 3 years I was working as a recruiter in Manhattan. One day, my father called me and said “I’m thinking about getting involved in something totally different, I want you to have a look and maybe this is something we do together.”

He had been approached by a wine importer that was struggling to make profits. My father is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for turning companies around, getting great management teams together, and turning a big idea into a big success. Even though this was totally outside of his wheelhouse, there was something there. So we talked to the partners at the importer and learned that they had some incredible relationships with grape growing and winemaking families in Europe. One group in particular stood out – the families of Limoux, France. We tasted the sparkling wine being made in this region and were absolutely blown away by the taste and quality. But further surprises came. We learned that the families in Limoux, in the south of France, invented the process for making champagne in the early 1500’s. This region is a thousand kilometers away from the Champagne province in France, and they were the ones who created the process over a hundred years earlier! The head of the importing company named the product Faire la Fête – which means to party and celebrate good times with family and friends! We received a trademark for this phrase.

I grew up in a French household, and even I didn’t know that Champagne wasn’t invented there. This was an astounding revelation. The final surprise, and decisive moment for us, came when we learned the bubbly from this region, which tased better than most $60+ Champagnes on the shelf, could be produced and sold in the U.S. for around $20. And that is because vineyard land in Champagne is roughly $500,000 per acre vs $60,000 in Southern France. And labor is one-third the cost. But the quality is the same if not better.

Why is that when you go to the store, the only recognizable sparkling brands are sweet Proseccos like LaMarca, and expensive Champagnes like Veuve? What if you enjoy bubbles on a regular basis and the only option for your everyday enjoyment is something that doesn’t meet the quality standards you really have? Why aren’t there more high-quality French bubbles at an accessible price point?

Sparkling wine is the fastest growing segment of wine sales in America – in fact, sales have been growing in the double digits every year for the past 15 years with no signs of slowing down.

Long story short, we acquired the importer, liquidated all of the other wines in the portfolio, and focused solely on growing Faire la Fête Brut here in the U.S.

Charlotte Holl

Venü: What’s the Process?

CH: The Traditional Method, also called the Champagne Method, is a natural process used in the making of sparkling wine. During this process, a still wine (no bubbles) is fermented for a second time in the bottle. But this time around, the carbon dioxide that is produced during fermentation has nowhere to escape. It gets trapped in the bottle, and the yeast cells that eat the sugar are integrated in the wine for a minimum of 15 months – this is what creates the beautiful depth of flavor and fine prickly mousse you find in high quality Champagnes. The entire process takes about 2 years from start to finish. We finish it off with a low dosage, which defines our signature dry Brut style. Faire la Fête has less than ½ the sugar of most Prosecco’s.

By comparison, Prosecco and other less expensive bubblies are fermented and produced in large steel tanks, where the process takes about 4 weeks to complete. There is less (or zero) development of flavor, and the bubbles are harsher – kind of like soda.

Venü: Tell us about where it’s made.

CH: Limoux is an incredibly beautiful part of France. It’s officially situated in the Languedoc Roussillon winemaking region, the largest in France. Set in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains, Limoux is famed for its production of world class Chardonnay, and Chenin Blanc. There is also an indigenous grape grown in the region called Mauzac, but it isn’t as conducive to making high quality sparkling wine. Our blend consists of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Pinot Noir. The high altitude of the region means the vines benefit from warm sunny days and cool nights – the perfect climate for outstanding grape quality. The families in this region, the ones that supply us, have been growing grapes for over 500 years and for 12 uninterrupted generations. Our winemaker, Alex Cose works closely with these families who own the production facilities. He has been the head winemaker for Joseph Phelps, Peter Michael, and Mark West and is brilliant when it comes to scaling production without sacrificing quality.

Venü: Almost 5 years on, how are things going?

CH: It’s been an incredible journey. I knew absolutely nothing about the wine industry when we started First Growth Brands. A previous partner who stayed on from the original importer, taught me a lot. I put Faire la Fête in my wine bag everyday and went door to door in Southern California asking restaurants and stores to take a chance on Faire la Fête. I have never been faced with so many rejections in my sales career. I was humbled by how difficult this industry is to break into. I then quickly learned about the laws and regulations of alcohol distribution in our country, which proved to be a formidable obstacle in getting Faire la Fête placed in stores and restaurants. There is a three-tier system in the U.S., which was erected post-prohibition to prevent monopolies in the alcohol trade. That means we need to work in lock step with a distributor that holds the rights to sell our product, because as a supplier of alcohol, we are not permitted to sell it directly to a customer. We first must sell to a distributor, and then the distributor sells it to our customers. Not having control of your own sales is a unique business challenge – but I’m proud to say we have secured a long-term national distribution contract with the country’s largest wine & spirits wholesaler: Southern Glazer’s. They have been a tremendous partner and continue to support us on our path to becoming the number one French sparkling wine brand in the U.S.

Right now, we can claim to be the fastest growing traditional French sparkling in the country. But from a small base, we still have a long way to go. Three years ago, two global alcohol industry veterans joined our Board of Directors. Andy Gibson, the former CMO of Bacardi and a number of other hugely successful alcohol brands, joined as a major shareholder and leads our marketing strategy. Ron Anderson, the former global head of sales and commercial operations for Diageo, the largest spirits company in the world, is highly involved in our sales process and strategy. He is also a major shareholder. Lastly, John and Luke McKelvey, founders of Emmy-Award winning Mirimar creative agency, came on board as major shareholders in 2021. Mirimar won the Cannes Lions Independent Ad Agency of the year in 2022.

More recently, about two years ago, we hired some incredible women to join our execution team and are now female-led. Erin Karga, Head of Sales for First Growth Brands, has spent more than 20 years in the spirits and beer industry having previously worked for Guinness and Diageo, and then Pernod Ricard. She is responsible for securing our largest national retailer to date – Kroger – among many other national & regional grocery store chains. Jackie Sylvester, Head of Marketing for First Growth Brands, joined us after a 12-year career at Terlato Wines, she managed marketing campaigns and execution for some of the most recognizable wine brands in the U.S. Finally, Samantha Altomare, who has been with the company since inception, manages all of the logistics, inventory, warehousing, and operational functions of the business.

With this team in place, we have grown from 719 locations in 2019 to over 5000 stores and restaurants nationwide, and tripled sales since then. Our top grocer, Kroger, has placed us at eye level in over 630 stores which is the most coveted shelf space for any brand. Eye-level placements generate exponentially higher volume, and we also have the added benefit of being placed directly next to our competitors where our vibrant green label really stands out.

Venü: Where can we buy Faire la Fête?

CH: The best place to look for the closest store or restaurant is on our website, where we have a zip code locator. We are currently available for sales in 33 states, and our largest retail customers include: Kroger, Ralphs, Fry’s, Albertsons, Vons, Pavilions, Meijer’s, and Safeway. And if you’re a Yankees fan, you can find us in the Legend’s Suites all season long!

If you are in the New York area, you can enjoy a glass of Faire la Fête at the Bryant Park Grille. Visiting California? See our friends at the Montage Resort in Laguna Beach. And for our customers in Florida, we are available by the glass at Prime 112.

Venü: What’s next for Faire la Fête?

CH: We have big plans for Faire la Fête. My job is to secure investment and capital so we can continue to market our brand to our target consumer. We have already raised $12 Million in capital to date and will need to raise another $10-15 Million to achieve our goal of 500,000 cases sold by 2028. We have reached a point in our business where we have many places for our consumer to purchase Faire la Fête, and the last step is to generate brand awareness and educate our consumer on the benefits of Faire la Fête compared to similarly priced Proseccos and expensive Champagnes. Once we do that successfully, there’s no stopping us from becoming the number one French sparkling brand in America. Santé! ☐

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