‘I don’t think I’ll be the last:’ Meet Florida’s first Black female winemaker

Desriee Noisette founded Mermosa four years ago

Florida’s first Black female vintner said her family’s love story inspired her to start her own wine company.

Florida’s first Black female vintner said her family’s love story inspired her to start her own wine company.

Desriee Noisette founded Mermosa four years ago.

“Mermosa is inspired by our family’s first mermaid. Her name was Celestine Noisette,” she said.

The story goes back seven generations when Celestine lived in Haiti during the late 1700s. She met and married a white Frenchman named Phillipe.

“Then shortly after they moved to Charleston, South Carolina. And when they moved to Charleston, Phillipe, unfortunately, had to protect his family from being sold into the slave trade because his wife was black and his children were mixed,” Noisette said.

She said Phillipe created a fake bill of sale to purchase his wife and children so they couldn’t be taken away and sold to other people. Noisette said he petitioned the state of South Carolina for their freedom.

“It’s this really beautiful love story,” she said. “Unfortunately, the petition was denied by the state.”

Noisette said Phillipe was a botanist and became famous for creating the “Noisette Rose.”

“There are about 300 different versions growing that were made. They still grow in Charleston and all over the U.S. and Europe to this day,” Noisette said.

Noisette said when Phillipe died, he made one last attempt to free his family.

“When he died, he had this will that was really very unusual for the time. He said to the executor, ‘Listen, when I die, sell all of my things. Give the money to Celestine and then sneak her and the kids to a northern state where they can be free,’” Noisette said.

But Noisette said Celestine didn’t follow her late husband’s wishes.

“She told the executor, ‘No, I don’t want to leave. This is where our land is, our family business. I’ve been a part of this,’” Noisette said. “So she convinces the executor to create a legal structure that allows herself and the kids to remain in Charleston as free people of color and eventually they do win full emancipation and are able to own land and the business in Charleston.”

Noisette said Celestine’s powerful voice still inspires her to this day.

“I like to say that our wines are infused with a piece of her audacity,” she said.

Noisette said she used to practice construction law for many years before changing career paths to become a winemaker.

“We would learn from the experts how to break things down, how components were supposed to come together and to me winemaking isn’t that much different,” Noisette said. “I learned from experts how to do wine formulations and got my winery license and set up a lab and started doing wine formulations about four years ago.”

Mermosa: Florida's first winery owned by a Black woman (Copyright 2021 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

After she left her law career in 2012, she opened a swimwear store in downtown St. Petersburg. She then started calling wineries across the country sharing her idea about the wine she wanted to make and asking for help. She connected with a winery in Oregon to learn the trade and come up with the formulations.

There are three Mermosa wines currently available. The Celestine rosé is a rosé wine with bubbles. The Mersecco Blanc de Blancs is created using premium carbonated white wine and features a crisp, dry finish. The Mermosa Bubbles is created using premium white wine with a splash of natural orange and pineapple juices for a refreshing, not too sweet finish.

“One of the hallmarks of my wines is that they’re on the drier end without alienating folks who enjoy sweeter wines. They’re crowd-pleasers. They’re meant to bring people together,” she said. “We are the official wines of boats, brunch and beaches.”

Just as Celestine’s siren voice broke the chains of slavery, Noisette is also breaking barriers. She is the first Black female wine owner in the state of Florida.

“It’s exciting on one hand to be the first at something, but then it’s also I don’t want to be the last,” Noisette said. “I feel a real sense of responsibility to make sure that we have programs in place and that we’re supporting organizations that help cultivate more folks, more ladies of color to get into the wine industry.”

Noisette adds she believes there has been a movement in the wine industry to be more inclusive.

“I don’t think I’ll be the last,” she said.

According to the Association of African American Vintners, there are approximately 70 Black-owned wine brands in the United States, including wineries and brands that outsource and oversee winemaking. Of that, approximately one-third are female-owned.

Phil Long, the president of the AAAV, said in an email to News 6 he believes the small percentage of African Americans in the wine industry is due to a “serious lack of awareness, both that a career path exists, and that there actually are Black winemakers/proprietors in the industry.”

He said his goal is to raise awareness, adding membership in the AAAV grew by 500% in 2020 to more than 120 members.

“More exposure for Black winemakers in the industry today and establishing career paths through scholarships and internships will help inspire the Black winemakers of tomorrow,” Long said.

Noisette shared these encouraging words with anyone who wants to follow their passion.

“I would say have audacity. No matter which industry you’re trying to follow, know that you’ve got all of the tools at your disposal, despite what noise might be out there,” she said. “Just trust yourself and have audacity.”

Mermosa is available at Total Wine and by special order at ABC. Wines are also available for purchase at Mermosa.com. Follow Mermosa on Instagram for information on future bottle signings and events in Central Florida.