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Wine’s Most Inspiring People 2024: André Hueston Mack — An Enthusiastic Entrepreneur in the World of Wine

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By Laurie Wachter

 

André Hueston Mack [Image courtesy of Maison Noir Wines]

André Hueston Mack left at the pinnacle of his career as head sommelier of Thomas Keller’s Per Se restaurant in New York City for the creative promise of entrepreneurship. Over the past 17 years, he’s built a multimillion-dollar company as a winery owner, winemaker, restaurateur, graphic designer and host of the number-one wine show on YouTube, World of Wine with André Mack. All of these things combined have landed him on Wine Industry Advisor’s 2024 list Wine’s Most Inspiring People.

Winemaker Mac McDonald of Vision Cellars in Sonoma County, Calif., has mentored Mack on his journey and is proud of his success. “He’s done so much to get to his position,” says McDonald. “Some folks think that he’s had success because he just got lucky. But he’s worked hard at it and done his homework.” 

Mack tempers his hard work with a sense of humor and a positive attitude that makes him approachable and helps him build long-lasting relationships. 

“I put things out there so people realize wine doesn’t have to be serious,” Mack explains. “They can have fun with wine, and that makes it more accessible. I think it’s because I let them say, ‘It’s okay. I can be myself.’”

Life Lessons

Mack’s mother taught him he could be anything he wanted — but should never forget where he came from: Trenton, New Jersey. 

“My parents were military officers, so we moved every two years,” he says. “No matter where I was in the world, sometimes as far away as Germany, Mom would put me on a plane to Trenton. It’s where I gained street smarts and an understanding of two separate worlds.”

André Hueston Mack’s mentor, Edward Lee “Mac” McDonald, owner and winemaker of Visions Cellars in Windsor, CA, has offered him advice and guidance in his career and life. [Image courtesy of Vision Cellars]

“He had a good old-fashioned upbringing,” agrees McDonald. “That stuck with him. He has a lot of respect for people, especially the older generation. He’s a good, down-to-earth person.”

Mack started down a traditional career path, working at Citicorp Investment Services, but soon took a severance package to escape a job he didn’t like. While looking for his next career move, he came upon old episodes of Frasier, the sitcom about two bickering brothers who connected through wine. And thus, he found his next career step.

“I learned a lot from that show,” Mack says with a laugh, “like how to say Gewürztraminer and that Sancerre was Sauvignon Blanc. Those two pompous brothers gave me the courage to walk into a wine store.” He froze at his first wine tasting when asked what he thought of the wine. Humor and a Frasier reference rescued him, as he replied, “Well, it’s no Château d’Yquem,” and everyone erupted in laughter. 

Trajectory to the Top of the Wine World

Spurred by his wine store forays, Mack sought out a restaurant that featured a pricy wine menu and won a job at the newly opened Palm restaurant in San Antonio, Texas. 

“We tasted most of the wine list during training. I tasted three different white wines side-by-side for the first time and found I could tell the difference between Reisling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. I was floored. That’s when I realized I wanted to work in wine.”

After that, Mack spent every waking moment studying wine and soon moved to the steakhouse next door, Bohanan’s Prime Steaks and Seafood, for his first position buying wine. He asked top restaurants such as Charlie Trotter’s for their wine lists and tasted more than 2,500 wines to create a small wine list — and develop his palate along the way. While at Bohanan’s, he received the “Best Young Sommelier in America” award from Chaine des Rotisseurs. Master sommelier Paul Roberts then hired him as head sommelier at Yountville’s The French Laundry; a year later, he moved to New York City to help open Thomas Keller’s new Per Se restaurant. 

Jesse Rodrigues, M.Ed. and André Hueston Mack met while working as sommeliers at Thomas Keller’s restaurants. [Image courtesy of Jesse Rodriguez]

“I knew André before he became André,” laughs Jesse Rodriguez. “He and I started at The French Laundry at the same time. Those high-end restaurants can be dog-eat-dog, but André was so generous and so cool. He was like, ‘Hey, man, we’re on the same team, let’s just know how we can work together.’”

Knowing When to Fold ‘Em 

After three years, Mack decided to leave a job most people could only dream of to learn more about wine, have more creativity and pursue entrepreneurship by making his own wine.

He created wines for the by-the-glass restaurant trade with higher acid so they could be left open longer. His nickname at Per Se, “Mouton Noir” (French for Black Sheep), became his brand name, mirroring his irreverent take on life. He later changed the name to Maison Noir, but the Oregon garage wines continue to carry his tongue-in-cheek labels. O.P.P. stands for Other People’s Pinot, Bottoms Up is a white wine with an upside-down label, and Knock on Wood is an unoaked Chardonnay. All sport graphic black and white labels that stand out on a shelf of color labels. At the same time, Mack designed a line of streetwear t-shirts that fused wine with the hip hop, punk and skateboarding culture he soaked up in Trenton.

“When you’re at Per Se, you’re opening up bottles of DRC worth $15,000 or $20,000, and it’s a great wine education,” says Michael Papaleo, vice president of business development at Banville Wine Merchants, Maison Noir’s New York area distributor. “There’s no other way to taste those wines, especially for a young person. But you can lose touch with what your friends are drinking. With OPP, André took that experience and translated it to the next generation of wine drinkers. The label is so cool  that people have to pick it up from the shelf.”

Bringing it Home

André Hueston Mack [Image by Liz Clayman]

Mack left Per Se because he wanted to have an impact on the wine industry. And he has already accomplished that. He’s built a multi-million dollar company, and millions of fans around the world watch his YouTube show. Mack also turned his entrepreneurial wizardry toward home, where he and his wife, Phoebe Damrosch, began launching a line-up of bite-sized restaurants in the Brooklyn neighborhood where they live with their four sons.

“He’s bringing his boys along into the business so they understand a little bit about what he’s doing,” says McDonald. “He’s balancing time with his family, and I think that’s good. You have to just hang out with the family once in a while.”

André Hueston Mack’s restless mind and fertile imagination are sure to take him on more successful journeys — and the world of wine is sure to benefit from whatever he builds as a result.

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Laurie Wachter
Laurie Wachter

Laurie Wachter

Laurie developed her love of analytics and innovation while advising consumer packaged goods companies, including Kraft Foods, PepsiCo and the Altria Group, on consumer and POS data analytics and direct-to-consumer marketing. Today, she writes about the wine, food and beverage industries for a global client base from the Northern California wine country.

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