She wasn’t raised with a love of wine but instead found the adventure all on her own. In her own words, “When you find something you are excited and passionate about, you have to pursue it.” Nicole Mallari has made that pursuit into an exciting and delicious new chapter in her life –becoming the founder of Vintnoir, the online destination en route to her dream of a physical boutique tasting room where “Wine + Culture = Excellence.”
Nicole is no stranger to following her dreams and inspiring them in others. She bears a Bachelor’s in Psychology and a Master’s in public administration, where she has years of experience invigorating pillars of society from charter schools to retirement associations. She’s a woman that dedicates her life to people, not private industries. So now, while still keeping her commitments in public service, Mallari is actively pursuing a Certified Specialist of Wine certification as she happily dives into a new passion –wine consulting and building the bold Vintnoir brand…
“A Friend in Wine”
… but it began by seeing that passion in someone else. Nicole’s wine journey truly started on a wine excursion given to her by Theodora Lee, a woman who would turn into a fabulous example of the kind of forward-thinking wine enthusiast that Nicole aims to be.
The wine tour showcased the growing world of black-owned wines in Napa, a perspective that turned the experience into much more than just Nicole’s tour-for-the-day. Seeing the winemaking success in Lee, a woman of color like her, creating a bold new drive that still hums in Nicole, “When I met her, it sparked the question in me…okay now you need to start thinking about what you really love and what you want to do for the rest of your life.
Luckily for all of us, the answer was wine. Since that propulsive day, Nicole has studied at the Napa Valley Wine Academy and achieved the second level in the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. Her own education is only a part of her wider vision, though. Nicole’s true aim has a scope that will take the wine community into the future –and all of us into a tasting.
Dream to Reality
The long-term goal for Vintnoiris to evolve from its online presence to a premiere boutique destination. Nicole envisions an exquisite tasting lounge that prides itself on featuring predominately black-owned wines and vintages sculpted by indigenous people of color and women, “It can be so much harder for a black winemaker –who is embodying excellence –but whose journey into winemaking has so much fewer opportunities for financing and finding a seat at the table.”
Her goal is to honor under-represented artists who as-of-yet haven’t had the same resources needed to find a foothold in the wine industry, “I want them to have a place to share their story. Share their wine. Host a preview. A place where I can educate as well. Vintnoir will be the opposite of what you see in stores or, for that fact, wine country -where 99% of wines are from non-people of color. I want diversity for wine drinkers to shop from and somewhere people can go and say, ‘I’m not out of place here.’ “
That desire is built on a lifetime experiencing the realities of just how far her world, her country, and –yes –the culture of wine has to go toward becoming a truly inclusive place, “When I went to wineries and tasting rooms, I didn’t see many people that looked like me behind the counter.” She’s had her share of disappointing moments in restaurants where sommeliers expect her not to know her wines due to the color of her skin. Vintnoir is a bold step toward leaving that stigma behind and lifting the wine industry up into the right side of history.
Color Beyond Red (and White)
Bringing diversity to the wine world is a revolutionary goal, but Nicole is thrilled to know that she is not alone. As a member of the African American Association of Vintners, she is delighted by the panorama of vibrant voices she’s finding from black winemakers around the world.
She’s a fan of the Passport Series from Charles Wine Company, a black-owned vineyard producing incredible varietals in Los Angeles. Nicole also has a deep respect for the McBride Sisters, who have a very interesting story –two sisters who didn’t know about each other until their adult life. Though they may not have grown up together, their reunion was highlighted by discovering that they both shared a love of wine. Now, Robin and Andréa are the owners of the largest black-owned wine company in the United States, with a commitment to pride and diversity that is exemplified by both their SHE CAN and Black Girl Magic collections.
It doesn’t take long asking for her recommendations, however, for Nicole to harken back to that first wine tour given to her by Theodora Lee, and Lee’s own spectacular wines from her Theopolis Vineyard. Mallari’s voice warms as she regards the artistry of one of the women who started her on this path, “Theo’s got some great wine… a nice Sirah and also her Symphony –the first time I ever tried a symphony grape. She calls it Champagne without the bubbles.”
It’s that knowledge and desire in Nicole to lift up winemakers of color that truly ‘puts the black in Vintnoir.’ It’s a vital and important necessity today for every industry –even wine –to expand their horizons to the wide panorama of who we are. To appreciate the under-represented and welcome their flavors to the mix. Right in the title, Black Vintners are Vintnoir. They’ll forever find Nicole’s mission to be the pedestal they deserve to be placed on. At its core, that vision is beautiful and essential for all of us.