Black winemaker, renown sommelier shows how b-ball and wine make a great pairing in Black entrepreneurship. But those pairings happened before. Trust me, I know, I was there.
André Hueston Mack’s, Maison Noir Wines, has always been vino for the people: from the screw caps to the hip hop odes. When I heard that the award-winning sommelier just struck a partnership with the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), I thought, “well-deserved.”
With Mack’s newest venture, he seems to merge another interest of his, wine with sports. On the surface, they make an unlikely pairing—wine and b-ball. The status quo says wine is refined and sophisticated, and opposite of the ruggedness of basketball. In the million court games, whether professional or in the park, play ball is physical and sweaty, and in some cases draws blood or breaks a bone.
Plus at professional sports games like basketball, you’re served some sort of fermented hops, not wine. However, I know Mack—who is a definite hip hop head—has a knack for making unlikely pairings.
“I’ve always believed that wine was a conduit to bringing people and passions together, and this new partnership with the NBPA has my worlds colliding,” said Mack when talking about the partnership. “Basketball and wine—a pairing that I’m excited to share with the world.”
One of Mack’s commitments is to make wine accessible to the people. The ballers on the court and the hip hop community from the Golden Era and beyond. I know that first hand. In a small collaboration I had with him, I learned how to fuse enterprise with social initiative.
. . . .
In 2013, I was a couple of years into launching a green-friendly barbershop in Downtown Newark. It was a new idea in Brick City, to have a shop for locals that used natural products and took the time to paint the walls with eco-paint and bamboo floors. But the people deserved it.
Next to me sat a charter high school. Every day, kids hoofed by my modest storefront with the intense teen energy high schoolers emitted. Back then I had a son who was a sophomore, so I knew that teen spirit all too well.
One of the things I noticed were the grooming habits of the young boys. A few were well-put together, while others were not and most barely made it in the “so-so” category. Because I received my first taste of teen years in East Orange, New Jersey, I knew how that felt—learning the early years of manhood and wanting to be fresh.
One day, an idea struck me as I told a kid for the umptenth time that he had to wash his hair and clean the back of his ears before he got a haircut. These boys needed grooming lessons and the tools to master their rituals. The kit would contain the essentials: comb, brush, toothpaste, soap, lotion, shampoo and conditioner, and all organic and natural.
For years, I would cut special needs students at John F. Kennedy School per the request of my mom, who was a teacher there for decades. I would take that idea to the shop, but give them a kit that would start the idea of intentionally incorporating cleaning up better before school. So me and my wife launched the “Grooming Blueprint,” an initiative where we would give out grooming kits and grooming classes to boys.
To raise money, we had a beer and wine tasting at the dance academy of my bredren, tap-phenom, Savion Glover. Mack was the premier wine maker who donated a percentage of the wine to our efforts. We reached out to him, in search of Black male beer and wine-makers and found Mack. Then he was Mouton Noir Wines, or the Black Sheep. He didn’t know us, or if we were legitimate, but he took a shot on us after a cold call.
What made the partnership even deeper is that I found out Mack was from Trenton, New Jersey. At the time, the wine that popped was his O.P.P., or Other People’s Pinot, as in pinot noir. But that was also a play on East Orange’s group, Naughty by Nature’s classic hit, O.P.P. which stands for “other people’s property.” Mack dripped in hip hop, hence his name Mouton Noir was also a name from a NYC group, Black Sheep.
In whole, our fundraiser went well for my first time doing anything of the sort. O.P.P. was the drink of choice, including mine, but also a popular selection was Mack’s Knock on Wood, along with Horseshoes and Hand Grenades. Our efforts helped supply a little over 200 grooming kits across the city. There was even a family who fell on hard times who drove from Pennsylvania for the kits. One kid told me that he shared a comb with his mother, and the comb and brush set would be the first time he would have those grooming tools for himself.
After the event, I dove back into the grind of keeping a barbershop alive in the changing landscape of the Bricks—the nickname for Newark. Today, as often as I can, I’ll pick up a bottle of O.P.P. when I see it. As of late, I’ve been seeing it more. Even, I bought a couple when I was in Wilmington, North Carolina’s Whole Foods. “Damn it feels good to see people up on it,” I thought when I dropped three bottles into my wife’s shopping cart.
The NBPA is working to do its part, in some way, to show their belief in how Black lives, via Black businesses, are important. So I’m over saluting Mack and the Black house he’s built.
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