It has become fashionable in modern times for upwardly mobile African Americans to attend and organize wine tastings around the country. Yet, many urban sophisticates have yet to sip on a Pinot Noir created by one of America’s most celebrated and decorated winery owners and growers, Mac McDonald, who owns the renowned Vision Cellars.
Black wine lovers and aficionados have to get a bottle of Vision Cellars and indulge themselves. Why not — every U.S. president since Clinton has.
Today, McDonald’s 4,000-case winery has bottles in elite stores and restaurants throughout California and the rest of the country. Vision Cellars produces about 300 cases per year starting at $32 a bottle. McDonald says he’s trying to get more African Americans into the business — or at least discover the magic of wines, which he calls “bottled poetry.”
“My goal is to get more African-Americans enjoying wine and being knowledgeable,” McDonald says. “It bothers me that in my travels around the country, I did not see them at my wine tastings.”
To accomplish his goal of getting more blacks in the business, McDonald helped to form the Association of African American Vintners in California. The Web site, http://www.aaavintners.org/, details that of the 6,000 wineries in the United States, fewer than a dozen are owned by African-Americans. The vintners promote wine education, and tastings at specially designed events.
McDonald, 68, understands that the majority of blacks never become acquainted or intimate with wines. In fact, he stumbled upon wines by accident as a curious boy coming up in rural Texas way back. As he tells it, he would often travel with a group of doctors who hunted in near his hometown about 90 miles south of Dallas. One of the doctors was teased for bringing wine to a hunt, which was “considered un-American for a Texan”, he says, unleashing that hearty laugh.
The embarrassed doctor handed over a bottle of French Burgundy to McDonald, just 12 at the time, and told him to keep it. You know what happened next: he tasted it and fell in love with it at first blush.
After moving to Northern California, McDonald would spend the next 32 years working at Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in San Francisco and then spend most weekends in Napa Valley nurturing and honing his appreciation for wines. He ultimately hooked up with the famous Charlie Wagner, owner of Caymus, and his son Chuck, who taught McDonald the intricacies of growing and making wine. The rest is history.
He started his wine business in 1997, and in less than 10 years, McDonald’s eight Pinots have racked up a slew of the industry’s highest awards, producing mostly pinot noir on his nine-acre property.Wine Enthusiast has consistently scored his eight wines in the high 80s and 90s.
It was not easy getting established, McDonald ensures his audience at his breathtaking vineyard in Windsor, Calif., about an hour north of San Francisco.
“[There are] nine acres here and it costs us $2.7 million to buy this — with nothing planted here,” he explained before a bevy of reporters and a contingent of General Motors execs. “It costs us $67,000 an acre to plant this [Pinot Noir seeds].”
MacDonald also said that in addition to the considerable costs of buying land, planting seeds, cultivating and growing grapes and distilling the wine, great patience is required in order to realize profits.
“Now you have to wait five years before you get anything off of it — that is if the bugs don’t eat it all, you know,” he says. “As you can see, you have to love this business and you have to think that you are going to invest your money in your love. And hopefully, your kids will get it together and one day come back and take it over.”
But, today, looking at his home, the beautiful farm, the many accolades and the handsome profits, McDonald would tell you that is has been more than worth it. –terry shropshire