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Andre Mack: Making Wine Outside the Box

by  Maria C. Hunt on May 31, 2012
Andre Mack: Making Wine Outside the Box

If you look closely at the label of "Love Drunk Rosé" there's a little inscription that says, "When reality is better than ur dreams."

It might be a description of this frisky little Oregon wine by Mouton Noir that has the juicy flavor and intoxicating color to induce a giddy sort of pleasure akin to falling in love. Or it might be how winemaker and owner André Mack thinks about his life. 

During his days as a sommelier with Thomas Keller's Per Se and French Laundry, Mack earned the nickname "mouton noir" — French for black sheep — because he always had a way of doing things that was a bit different from the corporate norm. 

"It was always the running joke when we got bored at work, I'd say I'm going to make these wines and I'm going to call my label Mouton Noir," says Mack, 39, who lives in New York with his family.  "It was a dream and something I always joked about and then through some crazy roundabout way it all seemed to come together."

As a winemaker, Mack is about making seriously good wines and having fun while doing it. Taking inspiration from the independent winemakers of Burgundy, hip-hop style and the beautiful fruit he sources from Oregon, Mack is making wine that matters. 

Alain Ducasse's Adour in the St. Regis Hotel, New York, pours Mouton Noir wine, as do Bernard's Bar at the Elysian Hotel in Chicago and Rogue 24 in Washington, DC.  Mack's Code Noir Merlot — a silky wine full of berries and hints of chocolate — is featured by the glass at the restaurant Michael Mina in San Francisco. 

"Dre is one of the coolest people in the wine business," says Rajat Parr, sommelier for the Michael Mina restaurant group. "He has a special talent to finding wines that tell a story."

One of the best-known commercial wines in Mack's portfolio is O.P.P. In case you're wondering, O is for Other, P is for People and no temple scratchin' needed; the last P is simply Pinot. 

Mack makes wine at a custom crush facility in McMinnville, Oregon and heard there was some good wine already in a barrel for sale.

"We bought barrels of wine from a winery down the street that went bankrupt and we referred to them as the 'other people's wine,'" says Mack. "When it came time to name it, we called it Other People's Pinot." 

Some wine buyers are flustered when they see the label, but most get it.

"Well the label is very catchy, but aside from the label, the juice on the inside is crisp and clean," says Adam Linet, who sells Mouton Noir's O.P.P. at his wine shop Vino FineWine & Spirits in New York's Flatiron District. "It's a nice bridge between the highly extracted pinots America has and something Burgundian."  

It's no accident that Mack's wines are both approachable and elegant like the best pinot noirs of Burgundy. He takes his winemaking inspiration from the independent winemakers of Burgundy who buy grapes and make their own individual wines.

"I take a lot of my cues from Burgundy," says Mack.  "We're in the Willamette Valley region, one of the most respected in Oregon to produce wines that show individuality of the respective sites, to make a wine that's true to where it's from."

A military kid, Mack says moving every two years gave him the ability to be able to adapt to any social setting. 

"I always felt like I was always in two worlds and now when I got to be in business and became a sommelier it was kind of more of the same thing," Mack says.  

He puts his two worlds together most graphically in his line of Get Fraîche Cru T-shirts. Most feature puns and plays on pop culture that only a wine geek would love. Vinocidal Tendencies spoofs a punk band, Domaine Dujac is homage to the prized red Burgundy, while Run DRC mashes up the iconic rap group with Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, the world-famous estate in Burgundy.

"I just want to have fun," says Mack. "I don't have a family legacy or heritage in this business, so I can really be me."

Visit www.moutonnoirwines.net for a list of wines currently available and follow Mack on Twitter at @moutonnoirwines. Be sure to get a copy of Cuisine Noir's Summer 2012 print issue for our review of Mouton Noir's 2010 'Love Drunk' Rosé in Wines in Review.

Photo credit: Get Fraîche Cru

Maria C. Hunt

Maria C. Hunt

Maria C. Hunt is an award-winning food and drink editor and the author of The Bubbly Bar: Champagne & Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion (Clarkson Potter, 2009). full bio

Website: www.thebubblygirl.com

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