Andre Mack wants to bring hip hop culture to winemaking06/07/2019
Hip-hop and wine are the perfect pairing for Andre Hueston Mack.
Mack is one of only a few black sommeliers and winemakers, and he’s seeking to revolutionize the wine industry with his background in music, skate culture and modern design.
“I’m a kid who grew up listening to hip hop, punk rock and skateboarded and fell in love with wine,” he told USA TODAY.
Mack, 46, grew up during the height of grunge and hip-hop in the 1980s and early 1990s. He quit what he said his mom called, “a real career” in finance to kick off a career in the restaurant industry.
Winemaker Andre Mack (Photo: Briena Sash, Special to USA TODAY)
He was passionate about connecting with people and sharing the experience of food and wine, which led him to the famous French Laundry in the Napa Valley wine region of California.
He founded Mouton Noir, now Maison Noir, in 2007, starting it from scratch with no money and no investors.
His wine is now sold across the U.S. and in 11 other countries, with Mack splitting his time between 13 leased vineyards in the Willamette Valley in Oregon and his home in Brooklyn, New York.
Many of Mack’s labels are influenced by popular culture and simple, modern design. His labels are playful with names like, “Love Drunk” and “O.P.P. (Other People’s Pinot Gris).”
“Wine drinkers come in all different shapes and sizes, and we can all celebrate it in our own different ways,” Mack said.
He aims to change the way people think about wine and says, he “wants people to realize that wine is a fun thing and that you don’t have to wear an ascot to enjoy wine.”
“Hip-hop, skate culture and punk rock run fluid through our brand,” he added, “from our labels and T-shirt line to our mentality on how we approach wine.”
Black winemakers in short supply
Only a handful of wineries in the world are black-owned, according to wine expert Marcia Jones. Her organization, Urban Connoisseurs, is helping change that by supporting black-owned wineries, vineyards and winemakers.
Jones explained what sets African American winemakers apart is not the wine itself, but the historical relationships they’ve had to land where grapes are grown. “What distinguishes African American winemakers is that we didn’t have skin in the game early on,” noting that property was not handed down to them like their white counterparts.
Phil Long is also considered one of the great vintners in the African American winemaking community. Long owns Longevity Wines, based in Livermore Valley, California. He is the vice president of the Association of African American Vintners, a small nonprofit group that aims to support and promote African American winemakers.
“There just isn’t enough education and exposure to winemaking for people of color,” Long says. His goal is to change that by creating opportunities for people of color through scholarships.
A role model for winemakers of color
Cultural influences have inspired Mack to pave the way for other minority wine entrepreneurs. He says that he first became intrigued by the 1990s sitcom, “Frazier,” and began to admire the way the characters reveled in and loved wine. They made him feel like he was missing out.
“Wine can be pretty pretentious from the outside looking in,” But he wants to change that. “By making wine fun, you make it accessible to everybody.”
Mack also says he wants to be judged on the merit of his work and not the color of his skin.
“When you don’t see anybody that looks like you doing something that you want to do, then you don’t think it’s for you,” Mack said, noting he now gets fan mail from up-and-coming entrepreneurs seeking his mentorship.
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