How Sommelier André Hueston Mack Became a Renaissance Wine Man
The bottles that finance whiz turned wine guru André Hueston Mack says "belong on your table next to your salt and pepper shaker."
"What can we do next?" is a question that André Hueston Mack seems to ask himself constantly. He left a career in finance to become one of the best sommeliers in the world. He worked at some of the top restaurants in the country, launched a wine label, owns a restaurant, and, as of the time of this interview, is about to open a bakery. Here, Mack talks about his career, the styles of wine he loves, and his hopes for the future.
F&W: How did you first get interested in wine?
AHM: After leaving finance, I wasn't really sure what I was going to do. I spent most afternoons on the sofa, and I would watch back-to-back episodes of Frasier. I was mesmerized by the rituals they had that revolved around wine; something about it hooked me. That show caused me to invite wine into my life and gave me the courage to walk into a wine shop for the first time.
F&W: Why did you launch your own wine label?
AHM: I was the head sommelier at Per Se in NYC, but I found myself yearning for more. What better way to learn about wine in a different setting than to make my own? By leaving, I [was given the] nickname "mouton noir," which trans- lates to "black sheep." I took that and I built a company around it. I felt naming the company "black sheep" gave me creative license to do whatever I wanted to do. [Note: Mack's label is now called Maison Noir Wines.]
F&W: How would you describe your style of winemaking?
AHM: We pick early and use minimum oak, but the lifeline of all of our wines is acid. I take inspiration from Europe; wine is a condiment. I want to make wines that belong on your table next to your salt and pepper shaker—wines that make the food taste better, versus the whole idea of wines as the centerpiece of the table that should be worshiped.
F&W: What does being a trailblazer for African-Americans in wine mean to you?
AHM: I'm just the tip of the iceberg. There's tons of other people that look like me that just don't know that this world is for them yet. When you don't see anybody that looks like you, it's hard to picture that you can ever do it. For me, somehow, I listened to my mother when she said I could be anything—I truly thought that. I didn't realize the power of that belief until much later.
F&W: What are your hopes for the future of the industry?
AHM: I think that inviting more people to the table just makes it a better table. It could take wine and food to so many different areas and places that we can't even see now, and a future that seems very hopeful, bright, interesting, and creative.
André Mack's Wines
2010 Maison Noir Wines Other People's Pinot Noir ($25)
"This Willamette Valley Pinot is the best of both worlds," Mack says. "It has ripe fruit with an Old World sense of the land."
NV Maison Noir Wines Horseshoes and Handgrenades ($25)
Fruit is at the forefront, followed by leather notes, in this blend of Oregon Syrah and Washington Cabernet and Merlot.
2018 Maison Noir Wines Bottoms Up ($25)
There's a lovely acidity that drives this Riesling blend without making the wine overly tart, and it's balanced by notes of sweet stone fruit.