A brand new Black-owned winery coming soon to Downtown Houston aims to bring custom-blended wine and wine education to a demographic often overlooked by the US wine industry.
Pur Noire Winery, which plans to open by early summer at 802 Milam, is a project from married couple Carissa and Kenneth Stephens, who fell in love with wine while on a vacation to Italy in 2015. The couple had already dipped their toes into the world of wine, having discovered a few vinters owned by people of color, but in Italy they discovered a whole new universe, one where wine is inexpensive, good quality, and easily accessible — not something reserved for fancy dinners or special occasions.
“We were staying in this little town called Todi, and every few days people would just get together like a potluck — bring their food and stuff outside — and there was something about that communal aspect fo them getting together and drinking wine,” Kenneth Stephens says. “It was obviously a small, tight-knit community, but they allowed us complete strangers to sit there and break bread and drink wine with them.”
Back in Houston, Kenneth, who is an attorney, and Carissa, who worked in oil and gas, started looking to invest in business opportunities. They decided to turn to the wine industry, partnering with wine makers in Napa Valley to develop their own wine brand. They chose the vineyards, varietals and vinter, and the name Pur Noire, an homage to Carissa’s French-Creole roots, and set a goal to launch four wines in March of 2020.
Then the pandemic hit. Their massive launch party had to be moved online, but it was still a success, with bottles of their red blend selling out within 90 days.
Pur Noire has been selling its wines direct to consumers ever since, but the business plan was never just about the wine. Its owners wanted to create a space for people who knew little about wine to figure out what styles they liked, and to learn about the wine-making process. They wanted an atmosphere that was welcoming and non-judgmental, evoking the experiences they felt in Todi, Italy. That’s where Pur Noire Urban Winery comes in.
The winery will include several vats and an area for barrel storage, plus a tasting room where wine lovers and those new to wine alike can explore Pur Noire’s four existing wines. Plus, the Stephenses have plans to release three more styles of wine once the tasting room is open. They’ve hired a winemaker from California who has made a number of 90-plus point pinot noirs and are relocating her to Houston to guide the process.
“Our goal was always to introduce wine to people who otherwise hadn’t really experienced it,” Stephens says. “So we have intentionally crafted our wines to be appreciated by those who have more developed palates, but also people who never really drank wine. So they’re not super sweet, but they’re also not anything super tannic.”
The wines at the tasting room will also be priced accessibly, with nothing over $25. The Stephenses will be able to offer wines at that price because they won’t have to pay for production in, and shipping from, Napa Valley. Stephens said he hopes to show Houstonians that fine wine is available right here in the city and that drinkers don’t have to travel to California or even the Texas Hill County to find it.
He also hopes to show the wine industry that there is a market for wine outside of these largely wealthy, white places.
“A lot of people don’t see African Americans as a viable market for wine,” he says. “Less than one percent of all wine makers are African American. We’re really proud that we’re African American wine makers and wine brand owners.”