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Explore Brooklyn with Local Legend André Hueston Mack

5 Lessons You Can Learn From André Hueston Mack

More than a decade ago, André Hueston Mack walked away from a successful career at an investment firm to pursue his passion: wine. Risky? Yes. Did it pay off? Absolutely. Mack pressed the reset button on his career, working his way from the bottom up in the restaurant business. After eventually becoming a sommelier in Texas, he was honored in 2003 with the prestigious title of “Best Young Sommelier in America.” Then the big-time came calling.

As Head Sommelier at Thomas Keller’s Per Se, one of New York City’s most lauded culinary destinations, Mack oversaw a wine list that comprised more than 1,800 award-winners. In 2007, Mack struck out on his own and founded his winery, Mouton Noir. This die-hard Brooklynite is truly a “Mack” of all trades: entrepreneur, artist, designer, and winemaker. 

Here are five key lessons you can learn from the life and career of Brooklyn Local Legend André Hueston Mack.

Inspiration can come from unlikely sources.

It’s a tale as old as tossed salad and scrambled eggs. Man watches “Frasier.” Man finds his true calling in life. Mack credits the madcap, wine-soaked antics of Frasier and Niles Crane with piquing his interest in wine. “I drank way more Sherry back then,” Mack admits. “Every time his brother came over, Frasier would ask, ‘You fancy a Sherry?’” His fledgling fascination with apéritifs and digestifs is what originally brought André into wine shops. Talk about must-see TV!

Embrace what makes you unique.

The nickname “black sheep,” which would become the translated name of his wine company, Mouton Noir, was given to Mack by his former Per Se colleagues. However, “the name actually chose me,” he says, noting it felt especially right because of his “unorthodox” approach to life and business. He explains, “Mouton Noir is really about embracing what makes you different and using that to propel you or empower you to accomplish your dreams.” It’s a moniker and a motto that’s served him well.

Create a solid business travel routine.

While his headquarters remain rooted deeply in Brooklyn’s eclectic urban vibe, Mouton Noir’s vineyards are located almost 3,000 miles west in Oregon’s lush Willamette Valley. Mack makes the trip every week – estimating that he travels 200 days a year – and credits being able to manage his bicoastal lifestyle to carry-on bags, slip-on shoes and knowing he always gets to return home to his wife and three kids at the end of each trip.

Make your product accessible.

Mack, who calls himself a “conveyer of good times,” maintains that you don’t have to be an expert to soak up some happiness in a bottle. “In my opinion, if you just want to enjoy it, if you like the way it tastes, then you're appreciating wine,” he says. Eschewing typical elitist stereotypes, Mack promises you can pair wine with just about anything – from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to candy corn. “We’re all experts in our own taste,” he says. That conviction is what makes him and his brand of wine counter-culture so accessible, and the world is gulping it up.

The only wine “don’t” on his list? “Flat champagne. No one wants to drink flat champagne.”

Don’t ignore your creative side; it may be a key to your success.

It’s a good thing he believes “sleep is overrated,” because Mack has two companies to run. His boutique graphic design firm and “think tank,” Get Fraîche Cru, was born in 2009 out of “necessity and survival.” When Mouton Noir was launching, Mack didn’t have the funds to hire a graphic designer. In a brilliant stroke of DIY necessity, he created the funky wine labels himself. The bottle for one of his favorites, 2015 Love Drunk rosé, reads, “When reality is better than your dreams.” It’s pretty accurate, says Mack. “That’s really kind of how my entrepreneurial career has gone. It's been a surreal kind of ride thus far.”

Mack’s latest project mashes up his love of food, wine, nostalgia and art. “Small Thyme Cooks” is an oh-so-tasty activity and coloring book for food lovers of all ages, and its playful pages feature some of Mack’s all-star chef friends, including Anthony Bourdain, April Bloomfield and Wylie Dusfresne. Not only is the book fun, but it also helps Mack give back. A portion of the proceeds goes to the Charlie Trotter Culinary Foundation, which raises money to award scholarships to young people who have a passion for cooking and food. “It was a way to celebrate not only Charlie’s legacy, but all these other great chefs. Who wouldn't want to be immortalized in a coloring book?”

Why does André Hueston Mack think sleep is overrated? Find out on the Local Legends podcast, available on iTunes and Google Play.

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