By Brandi Phillips
Mouton Noir means “black sheep.” André Hueston Mack is an African American owner and winemaker of Mouton Noir Wines. After being successful in a corporate career with Citicorp Investment Services, he decided to leave his desk job and follow his dreams as a winemaker.
Mack was once awarded the best young Sommelier [restaurant wine steward] in America by the highly prestigious food and wine society Chaine des Rotisseurs. On April 25 at UROC on Plymouth Ave. in North Minneapolis, Mack told his story of winemaking excellence.
When first starting out in the wine business, one of his goals was to learn everything about wine he could, learn all the rules, master the rules and then break the rules. For these reasons, he took a specific path to get to where he is at today.
Mack said, “I worked for the best and learned from the best.” He confirmed that he spent a lot of time (four-to-five hours per day) volunteering at a wine vineyard in Napa Valley before going to work his eight-hour shift at a prestigious restaurant. This was a big advantage for him because he could get in front of anybody and present.
“I wrote everything down: different vineyards, north to south, south to north, smallest to largest, largest to smallest, and committed that to memory and just worked hard. Other winemakers were owners of software companies and other industry leaders who just wanted to make the wine but knew nothing about it.” He knew a lot.
Mack began making his own brand of wine in 2007. In the beginning, he was very hands-on with all processes. Mack is still an integral part of the production of Mouton Noir, even when he is travelling. He spends at least one hour every day talking to his employees in Oregon, making sure that his processes and procedures are being followed to a T.
Now he travels a lot giving speeches to people across the country about his story and his business. In the near future, Mack is planning on having a phone app that will allow him to watch his harvests, keeping a close eye on temperatures and all other aspects required to produce a great wine.
Asked what makes a great wine, Mack replied, “You are an expert with your own taste buds. You don’t need anyone to tell you if you like Coke or Pepsi. Your taste buds will decide that.
“In the wine world, people throw around a lot of lingo, but as a sommelier, I am just a tour guide, I know the wine, and I share the information with you. It is up to you to decide, your preference is based on the knowledge that is presented to you and your personal experience with wine.”
Another lesson from Mack on taste: “The closer to the equator a harvest is, the warmer it is. The warmer it is, the riper the fruit gets. The riper it is, the more sugar is in the grapes. More sugar in the grapes translates to more alcohol.
“Alcohol is perceived as weight on your pallet, so the higher the alcohol, the denser and richer [taste] you will get. These more dense wines will be a lot riper and have more residual sugar.”
OPP, Horseshoes and Handgrenades, and Love Drunk (the only alcoholic beverage to contain the word drunk) are three of his top-selling wines. If you are from a particular generation, you can relate to these names and what they mean to pop culture.
Even today in modern society, Mack has had to fight stereotypes. He said while working at one of the best restaurants in the country, restaurant patrons asked to see the wine sommelier. He showed up to answer questions, asking the patrons, “Do you have any questions about the wines?”
They answered by telling him they were waiting for the wine sommelier. They didn’t expect Mack.
When trying to sell his wine to liquor stores and other distributors, he has gotten even more stereotypes presented to him. There’s the “Sanford Effect” named after TV’s Fred Sanford”: Because he is an African American wine maker, Mack sometimes gets asked, “Does it taste like Ripple?”
Mack uses these situations as times of empowerment for him — he knows things that many expect him not to know. He sees the positive challenge of just showing up to events when others think he should not be there.
Though he has experienced stereotyping, he keeps on believing, wanting to prove others wrong. He views setbacks, challenges, and trials as a part of life and chooses not to give them much energy.
According to Mack, wine is a lifestyle, not just a moment. And he fully embraces all of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that Mouton Noir presents as a “black sheep” wine.
Brandi D. Phillips welcomes reader responses to [email protected].