Mac McDonald has been creating the fine bouquets of Pinot Noir for more than a decade. As a boutique winemaker in Windsor, California, McDonald manufactures about 400 cases a year. The label on the back of each bottle reads, “I was born the son of a Texas moonshine maker.” An African ceremonial mask adorns the front label.
McDonald, 58, is used to receiving rave reviews for his wine. It’s “full, round, but not overbearing,” says Dennis Styck, founder of Vintage Wine, a boutique wine distributor in Illinois.
“His wine is fantastic,” says fine wine connoisseur Spencer Christian, former weatherman for WABC-TV on New York’s Good Morning America. A friend of McDonald’s, he often accompanies him to regional restaurants to introduce McDonald’s masterpiece to wine lovers. “It’s more full-bodied than the average Pinot Noir. It has more finesse,” says Christian, who, ironically, isn’t normally a fan of Pinot Noir.
You’re probably wondering how this Texan decided to get into the winemaking business. His story begins in the 1950s in East Texas country. His stepfather, Sue Henderson4who had a reputation for brewing high-quality corn whiskey4impressed on a young McDonald the importance of using high-quality ingredients and paying attention to detail. His mother, Elbessie, his uncles, and other relatives also made wines from plums, peaches, and cherries.
When McDonald decided to take his family history to market, he started Vision Cellars with $82,000 from personal savings. Undaunted by the competitive nature of the wine industry, McDonald began to inquire with various establishments about the kind of fruit he wanted to use for his wine. No one would help him.
“There are only a handful of African American winemakers, so it wasn’t easy for folks in the industry to take me seriously,” he recalls. It took about six months before McDonald was finally able to make a connection with a vineyard, and to find a facility with sufficient storage and processing capabilities.
Determined not to take “no” for an answer, McDonald turned up the persistence. When colleagues saw that he wouldn’t go away, some began to give in.
Getting stocked in retail stores was another uphill battle. Even Styck4who now raves about McDonald’s wine4initially turned him away. “He said he wasn’t in the market for any new wines,” says McDonald. Styck quickly changed his mind after sampling a bottle, and continues to carry McDonald’s Pinot Noir.
McDonald made his first batch of Pinot Noir in 1997 and released it in mid-2000. By March of 2001, he’d sold his entire inventory. He released his 1998 batch in May of this year, and plans to release his 1999 batch in September. McDonald has had to increase production of his Pinot Noir every year due to high demand, and currently has about $400,000 worth of his 1999 batch on hand. His wines sell for $50 a bottle.
People who once refused him now flock to Vision Cellars for business. It is fast becoming one of the finest wineries in Sonoma County, California. McDonald’s wine can be found in such upscale restaurants as Spago Beverly Hills,