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Wine is something that’s universally appreciated, regardless of race, gender or even socioeconomic status. And while wine consumers are so vastly diverse, the same can’t be said for wine professionals. The overwhelmingly white and male-dominated industry isn’t even remotely considered the picture of diversity. In fact, Black professionals make up just 2% of the drinks industry despite actually accounting for more than 13% of the U.S. population. There’s one millennial winemaker with Haitian roots, however, who’s determined to shake things up for the better.
Abner Montfleury, a first-generation Haitian American winemaker, made it his mission to diversify the wine manufacturing industry with his company, Montfleur Duvin. While he launched his first wine in August 2020 and has seen massive business growth and demand ever since, the road that led him to what he dubs his “passion” was anything but conventional.
Abner’s first foray into the professional space was completely unrelated to his current profession. After earning his psychology degree from Boston College in 2018, he actually pursued a career in higher education. Though polar opposite to where he is now, this period in his life was somewhat “divine,” as it led him to question his future.
“My first job was working at an entrepreneurship school,” he told In The Know. “I was an admissions counselor, and speaking to those incoming students already had my mind thinking, ‘What is the future? Do I want to work a nine-to-five? How long do I want to work?'”
He added that this jolt of curiosity “put a pep in [his] step,” and after frequenting a few wine festivals while serving as an admissions counselor at the University of Maryland, he had an “aha moment” that motivated him to seek change in an industry that was all too homogenous.
“The one thing I noticed is that there weren’t a lot of people [who] looked like us — [who] either owned wine or were just there,” he said, recalling the massive Black underrepresentation at the festivals. “So, for me, I said, ‘Why not be the change I was looking for?'” And thus, Montfleur Duvin was born.
This wasn’t a straight shot to success, however. He told In The Know that he put in a lot of time, research and sacrifice to get his passion from a mere dream to a realized and tangible business. One of the main difficulties he faced while trying to get his foot in the door was simply gathering the right amount of capital to get the ball rolling.
“Not having the money to get the distributors, to pay for marketing or branding,” he said, were top-of-mind hurdles that he had to overcome one by one. And while his new business has now officially launched and is thriving, there’s still room to grow.
“Right now, I’m doing it all by myself, but I’m realizing how important it is to create these connections because these are the people who are going to be serving your product,” he said, referencing the importance of person-to-person contact while growing a business from the ground up.
“For me, that was one of the challenges, but I saw it as a leg up for me because I’m on the ground,” he added. “I’m actually speaking to these owners, talking to the staff, talking to the bartenders and making sure they understand my product and my story.”
With a cool, calm demeanor and a smile of certainty, he told In The Know that this fight is why he still chooses not to sell his wines exclusively online.
“I use this as motivation to just continue to interact with people because I could always sell my wine online, but I think it’s different when you go to these places [and] meet these families and family-owned businesses, especially Black-owned businesses,” he said.
This particular philosophy was a struggle to maintain, however, especially as he launched his brand in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 — a decision he admitted was “a challenge.”
“Restaurants are shutting down. There are no wine festivals,” he remembered of the time when everything temporarily changed. However, rather than allowing this unforeseen worldwide crisis to divert his business plan, he somehow found a way to make it work in his favor thanks to what he calls his handheld “supercomputer” — his smartphone.
“I think, unfortunately, the pandemic allowed a lot of businesses to adapt,” he said. “So, if you were able to adapt, you were able to survive. Just being in this predicament allowed me to pivot and just say, ‘Alright, if I don’t have a wine festival, how else can I get my product out there?'”
Continuing to tout this hopeful business acumen, Abner added that the pandemic was actually “a blessing in disguise.”
Thanks to this persistent spirit, Montfleur Duvin officially launched in August 2020 with one white wine called Yvonne, named after Abner’s late grandmother, Marie Yvonne Galette Montfleury. The young entrepreneur’s first instinct upon launch was to honor the matriarch of his Haitian family through what he dubs his “calling.”
“For me, I said, ‘Let me just think within,'” he said while recalling the moment he hit a “brick wall” trying to think of names for his inaugural product. “I named my first wine after my grandmother Yvonne to memorialize one of the matriarchs of my family.”
According to the site, Marie, who passed away on November 27, 2019, “carried her spirit of living in the moment, making memories and celebrating life to the fullest extent during her time here,” and her grandson wanted to embody this essence in its truest form in this wine.
“I want people to celebrate life, live in the moment and continue to make memories — that’s what it says on the back of the label,” he added.
As the brand quickly evolved, Montfleur Duvin became a love letter from Abner to the host of Haitian women who helped raise him into the man he is today.
“In my immediate family, I’m the only male,” he shared. “I have an older sister, I have two cousins [and] a bunch of aunts, so it’s really [just] me. Those are the inspirational people who helped build me.”
With this in mind, he named his second wine release, a red blend, after his mother Carline Joseph, and the bottle’s label design also features a beautiful nod to his home country of Haiti. The hibiscus flower, Haiti’s national flower, is printed on the front label to shine a light on his rich Haitian heritage and, as he added, “continue to cement the legacy of the Montfleury name.”
Though the groundwork is complete on getting Montfleur Duvin up and running, Abner says he’s just getting started. While he has plans in place to expand his portfolio and get his wines to the masses in the coming months, his key mission remains to do his part in diversifying the wine industry by leading the way for more Caribbean representation in the market. He wants to do this, however, in a manner that’s steeped in organic, constant practice rather than headline-making “firsts.”
“I want to help other people who are interested in entering the wine industry,” he said. “To me, it’s all about trying to inspire those [who] may not be able to see themselves until they see someone like them in that space. And so I’m really trying to advocate for more people to get in this space, because they need people like us.”
Video producer: Nicholas Rudzewick / Interviewer: Amissa Pitter / Feature Writer: Moriba Cummings
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