Nationally acclaimed sommelier and Oregon grape-focused winemaker André Hueston Mack credits his introduction to fine wine — more specifically sherry — to Seattle’s own Frasier Crane. The first time he tried fino sherry, however, he didn’t know it was supposed to be served chilled… or fresh. “So, I had warm, old sherry,” he says. “And I still loved it.”
His new book, “99 Bottles: A Black Sheep’s Guide to Life-Changing Wines,” is his lifelong love story with fermentation, which chronicles Mack’s self-guided discoveries, lucky breaks and hard-won opportunities in the world of wine by the beverages he drank along the way. We had the opportunity to ask Mack about his new book, his passion for Pinot and his next venture in the PNW.
1) You refer to yourself as a “black sheep.” What does that mean to you?
Labeling myself as a black sheep is a constant reminder to embrace being different.
2) How does being a self-taught artist and graphic designer play a role in your work, and how did it inform your collaboration with “99 Bottles” illustrator Rob DeBorde?
I think for me having a really strong wine background with decent graphic artist skills has really helped me be able to create a culture surrounding my brand with T-shirts and content. In regards to the book and working with the talented Rob, I was more of a creative director conveying ideas and letting Rob run with it as I knew he would hit it out of the park.
3) What drew you to the Willamette Valley for the grape sourcing and production of Maison Noir Wines?
I was always been smitten with Pinot Noirs from the Willamette Valley and have always champion them as a sommelier at The French Laundry and Per Se. So when it came time to decide where I wanted to make wine, I felt like it was the best place to make Pinot Noir here in the United States and it offered a lower barrier to entry and less saturated than California. And also the people spoke to me.
4) Your wine shop, VyneYard, and your bar in planning, & Sons Hamlet, are both located in Brooklyn. Can we expect to see any NW establishments from you in the future?
Our wine shop and ham bar are right around the corner from our family’s brownstone as we wanted to contribute to the narrative of our changing neighborhood. Although we are committed to raising our family in New York we do spend a substantial amount of time in the Willamette Valley and are currently looking at concepts for both Portland and in wine country. So stay tuned!