The Willamette Valley in Oregon is widely known for its close proximity to Portland, its scenic beauty and its amazing pinot noir. What it may be less known for is the active and talented group of black and Latino winemakers who are a key part of the Oregon wine scene. A new documentary film project set to release next year, “Red, White and Black: An Oregon Wine Story,” will feature Oregon’s minority winemakers to bring their stories to screens around America. Cuisine Noir caught up once again with André Mack, owner of Mouton Noir, to talk about what's new in Oregon wine country and the new documentary that he is featured in.
Becoming a Household Name
André Mack might not yet be a household name, but his wine, Mouton Noir with its distinctive labels and personality, is certainly popular with wine drinkers nationwide. If you haven’t yet heard of Mouton Noir, you’re in the minority. Available in almost every state and in several countries, Mack’s production has topped 30,000 cases a year, making Mouton Noir the largest black-owned wine label in the United States in terms of production and its popularity is anchored in the wine that Mack describes as “an everyday luxury” without the exorbitant prices.
“You don’t have to bring something to open it,” he says, commenting on the screw-cap closures for the bottles that can be opened by anyone, anywhere. “I wanted to make food-friendly style wines. They aren’t high in alcohol. They’re honest and they speak of place.” Oregon is that place and also the subject of the upcoming documentary film. Mack has lived in California, Texas and New York prior to entering the wine industry, but Oregon made the most sense to him when he decided to start Mouton Noir. “I was drawn to the culture and the people,” he says of the state. Perhaps more significantly, Oregon’s Willamette Valley is a cool-weather region that grows excellent pinot noir and the region is known to be, “the closest to Burgundy.” Previously a sommelier for Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and Per Se, Burgundy was his region of choice. “On all the great wine lists I’ve built, the bookends were white and red Burgundy.” With that passion, western Oregon made the perfect location.
In spite of his success, Mack still finds that people are sometimes surprised to see someone who looks like him in the wine business. That may change after the completion of the documentary although the backstory of how the film came to be is proof positive for why the film is being done.
Diversity in Wine on the Screen
The idea began with Bertony Faustin, owner of Abbey Creek Vineyard, who wondered if he was the only black winemaker in Oregon. Although Mack’s production was far greater than Faustin’s and both were near Portland, Faustin didn’t even know that Mack existed. The two met and the project concept grew. Keeping it within Oregon, director, producer and actor, Jerry Bell, Jr. (you may recognize him from his cuter-than-cute Swiffer commercial with his son), was approached to direct the documentary and the search began for funding and to find other minorities in the Oregon wine industry. The project soon expanded to include Hispanic, LGBT and Asian winemakers.
Wine is the unifying theme of “Red, White and Black,” but the documentary is equally about lessons, motivations and inspirations. “It’s about inspiring people,” says Mack, “It’s not just about the way I look, but also the way I run my business.” Mack continues, “It’s about embracing who you are, it’s what makes us unique. Use that to empower yourself and do what you want to do.”
Mack is especially keen to talk about the importance of taking risks and he’s done just that when he left Keller’s restaurants. “Most people are stricken with fear because the next job has to be bigger than this one.” For Mack, it wasn’t about getting bigger, it was about having control and creativity over his product. “I’d reached a ceiling. As a sommelier, your job is to evaluate the finished product, but you’re always curious [of how the wine is made]. I decided I wanted to have an impact.” He hopes that talking about his experiences will do just that.
Filming of “Red, White and Black: An Oregon Wine Story” will take place during the fall 2015 crush with plans to release the documentary in spring 2016. You can follow the documentary’s progress on Facebook.
2018 editorial note: Mouton Noir is now Maison Noir.