Former Detroit Pistons “Bad Boy” Isiah Thomas has gone from pouring champagne on teammates to selling it.
Thomas’ award-winning Cheurlin Champagne recently launched an online presence with the New York-based e-commerce company Thirstie. He says the partnership was vital because it reaches beyond the brick-and-mortar retail shops.
“Having the opportunity to work with Thirstie and being able to be a bit more intimate with your customer base and supplying them with their needs has been great for us,” he says.
Thirstie CEO Devaraj Southworth adds, “We’re honored to be joining Isiah and the Cheurlin family on their mission to bringing this fine champagne to the U.S. online market. Thirstie’s cutting-edge technology, coupled with our innovative data solutions, helps ensure Cheurlin is available for shipping and delivery to 200 million Americans.”
Cheurlin Champagne’s 100% owner and importer, Thomas brought it to the United States in 2016. Bottles range in price from $25 to $299.99.
“When you look at the spirit space right now, there’s a new wine that comes out every month. There’s a new vodka or tequila,” he says. “I always wanted the best of the best—and champagne is the best of the best.
“With the Cheurlin family, we can’t own the land, so we own all the rights to the grapes. We’re able to give you the first press of the grape every single time. We’re the largest value producer of first-press grape champagne in the United States and in the Americas.”
Thomas adds that the champagne is low in sugar because it’s made with the first press grape.
“We’re bringing you the lowest sugar champagne at a very affordable price point,” he says. “That’s what drove me to this space.”
Entering the champagne business presented a learning curve to Thomas, who calls himself a “forever learner.”
“Part of the learning curve was just understanding the process of making champagne,” he contends. “All champagnes are made with three grapes. We only use pinot noir grape, the pinot blanc and chardonnay.
“Being able to understand the difference of the grapes, what they are used for, and then most importantly, the difference between first press, second press and third press was tough”
Other champagne companies are so large that they can’t offer a first press with every single bottle, he adds. Cheurlin can guarantee that.
Thomas’ company is the largest minority-owned champagne in the world—and it didn’t come without struggles.
“We bumped our head a lot in this distribution game because it was a new product and the new kid on the block. I’m also the only person of color who’s truly in this space as an owner-importer. I was told no a hundred times for every one yes.
“Earning the acceptability and the credibility from the distributors who are used to dealing with a very known product (was challenging). They’re used to only dealing with a very known product, so they were reluctant to bring on another champagne.”
Through Cherlin Champagne, Thomas hopes to educate the public about first, second and third press champagne. The higher-quality champagnes do not produce hangovers as easily, he says for example. Cheurlin Champagne only has 1 gram of sugar per glass.
“When you drink it, you shouldn’t get a searing headache,” Thomas says. “Most champagnes you’re drinking now in the market are so heavily loaded with sugar. The headaches come from the sugar and the high sulfates.
“When you get a headache from drinking, that is your body telling you that what you put in your mouth is not good for you. What I like to do is continue to educate the public about the first, second and third presses of champagne.”