I'm excited to introduce a new series on SH.com. I've been on both sides of the industry, first as a hostess turned server, and now on the PR side in the wine world. The fact is, there aren't many folks that look like me in these spaces and not many of them are being highlighted in Eaters, Bon Appetites and Food Networks of the world. Enter Gastronoir, a blog series, featuring minority movers and shakers in the food & wine industry. First up, Andre Hueston Mack.
We can all relate to being the outsider. Not belonging to a particular group, because of difference. Andre Mack has used his point of difference to make a difference in the wine. Clad in a red and black lumberjack, with the hat to match (not really, but he did rock a fitted) sits Andre Mack. I've stopped by to conduct an informational and for a personal tasting of a few of his Mouton Noir labels. A few weeks prior, my best friend Gloria sent me a Facebook message with a link to Andre's recent feature in Rolling Out. She passed it along, thinking I'd be interested in the article. She was right. There was this black guy, making wines who happened to live in my neck of the woods. I was more than interested in the words on the screen; I knew I had meet this guy. I sent out an email expressing my interest and in a few short minutes, my meeting with Andre was set.
"Wine to me is about a lifestyle," Mack comments. "Anybody can incorporate it into a lifestyle. It belongs next to your salt and your pepper--it's a condiment to life."
When you think of wine, there's an image in your head: a manicured lawn, an estate and the sun setting over hectares of vines. For Andre, he felt there was a way to hack that image, to reverse engineer it. "I wanted to show a different side of wine culture and that it doesn't have to look the way that you think that it should."
During his years as a sommelier at Per Se, Andre would meet with eight to nine folks a week who would present their wines to him in 30 minute increments. The stories were all the same: they spent time doing one thing, made a lot of money, then transitioned to wine. He had yet to hear his narrative and decided that it was time for a change. "This isn't as good as it gets for me," he stated.
It was hard to wrap my mind around this, at first. Here is this guy, who is working at one of the top restaurants in the world, is recognized when he walks into a restaurant and gets free shit when he dines out! That's an ideal way to live if you ask me.
"I really wanted to continue to learn about wine and the best way for me to do that was to hop on to production--make my own." Mouton Noir took flight in 2007 without assets, inheritance or investors, but with the hospitality experience Andre acquired during his time in the restaurant and the good graces of those with abundance of vines willing to back a brother's dream. Today, you can find his brands in some of the top on-premise and retail accounts across the nation.
The names of Mouton Noir's wines roll off the tongue, the labels catch the eye, and yes, the juice is good. Andre set out to create wines he enjoyed: wines that were lower in alcohol, higher in acidity--food-friendly style wines--and set at a reasonable price point. I'd say, he's achieved just that. Get you some.
While fulfilling his entrepreneurial dream through wine, Andre unexpectedly made an impact in this space with his love for design. This is found not just in his labels, but with his appropriately named "schwag" that includes wine pun t-shirts (he's a t-shirt guy) in addition to small thyme cooks, a culinary activity and coloring book that gives back to Charlie Trotter's Culinary Education Fund.
Closing our meeting, I asked the only question I'd prepared for meeting--plus, I'd been dying to know. What are your some of favorite NYC restaurants? Peep the list below.
- Aldo Sohm
- NoMad (the chicken for two was recommended)
- Soto Japanese
- Gray's Papaya