Netflix recently released its new movie, Uncorked, that follows the journey of a young black man on his quest to becoming a master wine sommelier.
As the drama unfolded between Elijah, who tries to balance his dream with his father’s expectation of carrying on the family’s Memphis barbecue restaurant – André Hueston, founder of Maison Noir Wine, found the film to be a full-circle moment.
And it wasn’t for the fact that his wine company was featured in the movie. It was mainly because Elijah’s story mimicked his own journey.
“I think it’s important because it just sheds light on something that you normally don’t see us do, or portrayed as,” Hueston told Travel Noire in an interview.
When Hueston started his business in 2007, less than 1 percent of the more than 6,000 wineries across the United States were black-owned. But making history was the last thing on his mind.
Hueston was working as head sommelier for Thomas Keller’s world-renowned Per Se in New York City when he came up with the idea of combining his passion for both wine culture and hip hop.
“I joked a lot about how I wanted to make t-shirts that said “Beaune Thugs” and people would say ‘Oh, right. Beaune is the wine capital in Burgundy France,'” said Hueston. “But for me, I was thinking of Bone Thugs N’ Harmony. I always would laugh at the parallels of what would come to my mind when I was learning about these things at work and how I made them relatable to my world.”
He continued to learn about the wine industry before pressing forward and creating his own lane.
“I put my worlds together and sought out the people,” Heuston added. “I presented it to the world and I just kept thinking that I don’t give a s**t about the people who don’t get it. I wanted to reach the people who did get it.”
Uncorked Dropped At A Significant Moment Of Change
For Hueston, the movie couldn’t have come at a better time for aspiring sommeliers of color as the documentary only validated what he has suspected for some time: the industry is changing.
“Maybe about 10 years ago, that is when it really started to hit me,” he said. “I started to get emails, I mean thousands of emails a month mainly from African Americans, saying, ‘Hey, I really dig what you’re doing. How can I do what you’re doing?”
Hueston attributes a lot of his success to the fact that he believed his mother when she told him, “you can do whatever is that you want,” adding that when he started he didn’t have much money.
Today, he’s the largest African American producer of wine. You can find his wines in almost every state and in 26 countries.
He hopes his success paves the way for other black-owned vintners – especially because he’s tired of talking about diversity.
“I’m tired of being on shows when they have a diversity theme. I’ve earned the f*****g right to be here on your show so let’s talk about why I’m here instead of questions about ‘how can we change diversity or how can we have more inclusion?” he said. “I don’t want to be on those shows anymore. You know why? Because if you have people on your show to talk about things they’ve accomplished, then other African Americans will see people who look like them and think, ‘I can do that too.’ Honor those people for the work that they’ve done already and that’s when you start to see more change.”