Meet The Maker: André Hueston Mack of Mouton Noir Wines

Posted by Jen McNeely, July 20, 2016

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Before he was a renowned rebel winemaker, André Hueston Mack was a sommelier at The French Laundry in Yountville, California. He had a successful career in banking prior to working at one of the world's most famous fine dining institutions. His journey has been full of unexpected twists and turns, and it this sense of curiosity and willingness to take risks that has shaped and defined the Mouton Noir Wines.

Beyond praise for the taste, we love how André has redefined garage wine, and while it's what's on the inside that counts, we'd be remiss to not mention how cool his bottle art is. Next time you visit us, order a Mouton Noir O.P.P. (Other People's Pinot Gris or Noir).

André visited Toronto a few weeks back for a trade tasting, and we got him to tell all, from his favourite summer sippers to how he mustered the courage to ditch his desk job. He also confessed that he’s always been, and will continue to be, a black sheep (they're the best kind).

What do you like to sip in summer? What are your favourite summer pairings?

Old German Riesling is a favourite, but I find myself drinking a lot of Loire Valley whites. Summertime meals are generally lighter – mainly salads with a small bit of protein, which pair wells with the flavours of the Loire.

What is garage wine?

My use of the term “garage wine” is twofold: Many of our heralded musicians started bands in their garages and later became adorned by people worldwide. It is with that spirit of determination and dream chasing that we use the term. And secondly, our facility looks like a giant garage.

Was there a particular moment that made you leave your desk job and start making wine?

In 2005, while walking through the kitchen at Per Se, looking at so many young determined, diligent faces staring at plates and realizing that they all aspired to own their own restaurant someday, but on their own terms. I noticed things were changing throughout the city: there was a wave of new restaurants opening that were throwing formality out the window while upholding technique and respect of the food. This new group of restaurateurs/chefs wanted the freedom to express themselves with their denim jeans, t-shirts and the music they grew up with. I wanted to make wine for these guys and their restaurants and it was at that moment that it became my goal.

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What are three lessons you've learned since making that big switch?

1) Mother Nature deals you a different hand every vintage and you have to make do and create the best wines given the circumstances.
2) Starting a business – any type of business – is very hard. In theory, your friends will support you, but when push comes to shove, only a handful of your true friends will be there for you.
3) Be nice to everyone because someday that busboy you were an asshole to will be the boss, and he’ll never forget how much of a prick you were.

When it comes to winemaking, what excites you most?

I'm thoroughly excited about all of it: the process from start to finish. I do have to say that blending is the most creative part of it, in my opinion. I'm fascinated by the idea that anyone with the exact same components (wines) could make something entirely different, and that really gets my creative juices flowing.

What's in a label? As in, your labels are like art...

A lot of people have compared our labels to art. I attribute that to the minimalistic feel, which most wine labels don't have. They are stark, bold, black and white, and in your face. I'm a self-taught graphic designer who couldn't afford the services of a professional when I first started, so I kept it pretty simple and wanted to put all the resources inside the bottle, not on the outside.

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What are the greatest myths about good wine?

1) That good wine has to be expensive.
2) That all white wines should be served as cold as possible.
3) That a heavy glass bottle is an indication that the wine must be good.

How have you changed since switching gears? Are you more down-to-earth now?

I don't think I've changed at all. I've always been laid-back and sometimes it would be my downfall. It's the reason why I would clash with other parts of management in the restaurant, hence the nickname “Black Sheep.” I truly believe that my wines are a reflection of myself and that shines through our attitude toward wine and the taste in the bottle.

Finish this sentence: People who are interested in learning more about wine should...

“Taste as much wine as you can and never stop being curious – ask questions!”

Have you always been a black sheep?

Yes, as far back as I can remember. From a young age I travelled the world with my parents and I was always the new kid looking for friends and trying to fit in. But I must say that by taking myself out of my comfort zone, it's made me better at what I do. Viva La Mouton Noir!


All photos by Bryan Thomas

Posted in: Food + Drink

Tags: André Hueston  Meet the Maker