Winemaker Bertony Faustin is pouring glasses of truth in his North Plains tasting room.

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Bertony Faustin, owner of Abbey Creek Vineyard in North Plains in Oregon's only black winemaker. He is working on a documentary chronicling the stories of minorities in Oregons wine industry.The rapper Notorious B.I.G. plays in the background as Bertony Faustin sits at a table in his North Plains workspace.

His T-shirt displays a large Batman insignia. He’s wearing sweatpants and a baseball cap. And he’s all smiles.

Meet Oregon’s only African American wine maker.

Faustin is the owner and operator at Abbey Creek Vineyard in North Plains, a small winery with big aspirations.

Faustin is hard at work on “Red, White and Black,” a documentary about minorities working in Oregon’s largely white wine industry.

“It’s about representing black and brown folks, women, the LGBT community,” Faustin said. “At the end of the day it’s not a documentary about wine.”

The documentary is currently in the editing stage and is expected to be shown at film festivals starting next year.

At Abbey Creek, in addition to rap music and cool T-shirts, “visitors are likely to find the wines — which bear names like “Juicy Fruit” and “Diva — paired with hot sauces from Brazil.

It’s not your typical tasting room experience, Faustin admits. Nor is it supposed to be.

“This is me,” he said. “This is who we are.”

Luck and hustle

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Bertony Faustin decided to make wine after the death of his father. Hed never tasted wine before deciding to make it his career.Faustin never wanted to make wines. In fact, he’d never tasted one before he started his own winery a decade ago.

Faustin opened Abbey Creek Vineyard in 2007. A former anesthesia technician at Oregon Health & Science University hospital in Portland, he said he needed a change of scenery after the death of his father that year.

“I came back from his funeral and realized it was time to do something different,” he said.

His in-laws grew grapes on 50 acres along Germantown Road, but they didn’t make wine.

“I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to start making wine.’ Fortunately for me I was too naive to know how much work it took.”

Faustin enrolled in a winemaking course at Chemeketa Community College for a semester, but said he learned most of the job by doing it.

“It was a hustle,” Faustin said. “I’ll take luck and hustle any day. It’s been great for us. We’ve found our niche.”

Five years ago, he opened a tasting room in North Plains.

It’s an upscale winery in what he calls “a Coors Light town,” but that’s one of the things that attracted Faustin to the area. He likes to turn things on their head.

“Sure, there are days when I am the only ‘brother’ in North Plains, but all our lives we’ve been odd man out and uncomfortable in our scenario,” he said.

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Bertony Faustin has big plans for his small winery. He wants to work with inner city youth to get them interested in wine, is taking part in a wine-making reality series and has plans to start a second label soon.

Few black-owned wineries in America

Faustin is a member of a very small club.

He’s the only black winemaker based in the state, according to officials at the Oregon Wine Board, a state agency which markets researches and promotes Oregon wines.

Abbey Creek is one of only a few dozen African American-owned wineries in the U.S.

Faustin said he’s not sure why more people of color don’t join the wine industry, but suggested it likely has its roots in wine’s earliest days.

“It started as a European thing,” Faustin said. “For most African Americans, it wasn’t part of our wheelhouse, and that persists to this day.”

Some of it might lie in marketing from the wine industry, Faustin said.

“When people say ‘wine,’ they think ‘high class, pretentious,’” Faustin said. “But a Fred Meyer wine buyer I know does $50,000 a month in sales of boxed wine. That’s the real palate. It’s not fancy.”

The wine industry hasn’t made the African American demographic a priority, either, he said.

“Look at any wine book, any wine press, and you won’t see black faces. You won’t see brown faces. That has kept it out of reach for many,” he said.

Faustin’s documentary, which began as a Kickstarter project last year, tells the story of Oregon’s popular wine industry through the voices of winemakers who don’t fit the image of a typical vintner.

Those faces include Jesus Guillen of Guillen Family Wines in Dayton, the state’s first Mexican-American winemaker. Another, Remy Drabken of Remy Wines in McMinnville, is a lesbian.

Faustin has no plans to slow down.

“It’s always about what’s next,” he said.

Later this month, Faustin will begin filming episodes for a wine-based reality show that pits Oregon winemakers against their counterparts in California.

He’s also working with local organizations to bring kids from the inner city out to his winery.

“I call it Ghetto 4-H,” he said. “I want to show them things that they won’t see otherwise. Children are the future and I truly believe that. I was fortunate to have the support of my family and my wife. Other kids don’t have that.”

If the documentary proves successful, Faustin has more installments in mind.

“I see sequels to the documentary,” he said. “We’re telling the Oregon wine story, but there’s the Oregon coffee story, the Oregon film story. I’m already looking ahead to what the next industry is that we need to focus on and highlight. It doesn’t end.”

Since announcing the documentary six months ago, Faustin has seen a positive impact on his business.

“I’ve seen more black faces in here in the past six months than I’ve seen in four years,” he said. “It’s opening that door to something that we once thought was available to us.”

After his story was picked up by the Associated Press earlier this year, he started receiving messages and phone calls from across the country.

“They said the story was empowering them to do what they’d always wanted to do,” he said.

That’s the message he wants to spread.

“You do you,” said Faustin. “Own who you are. If you do that, everything else falls into place.”

By Geoff Pursinger
Associate Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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