Florida Foodie: Desiree Noisette sells audacity in a bottle

Florida’s first, Black, female vintner talks about betting it all on starting her business

It takes a lot of audacity to sell your home for capital to start a new business, but that kind of chutzpah is baked into Desiree Noisette’s family history.

“I sat down with [my husband], and I said, ‘Listen, our neighbors just put their house on the market, and it’s sold in two days, and they got a ridiculous price for it. What do you think, if we sell our house?” Noisette said. “I used our existing kind of windfall in real estate for our house, to kickstart everything.”

That is how Mermosa began 4 years ago in St. Petersburg.

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

Desiree Noisette credits it all to Celestine Noisette, her ancestor who lived in Haiti during the late 1700s and married a white Frenchman named Phillipe.

“They get married in Haiti, and then they go to Charleston, South Carolina, and in Charleston, Felipe is forced to claim Celestine and the kids as slaves,” Noisette said. “Then, when Felipe dies, he has this will that says to the executor, ‘sell everything, give the money to Celestine, and then sneak her and the kids up to a northern state where they can be free.’”

Desiree Noisette said Celestine Noisette told the executor no and decided to stay in Charleston.

“This is where her audacity comes in,” Noisette said. “She just had this powerful voice and I think that this has come down through the generations.”

With that powerful voice in her arsenal, Noisette dove in headfirst to the wine world when she decided to start Mermosa.

“I just started researching like crazy. And I just picked up the phone and started calling wineries. It was kind of wild, I would call places in California. And in general, my idea of infusing wine — really nice wines — with orange and pineapple juice wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea,” she said.

Eventually, Noisette tracked down her guru in Joe Dobbes, an Oregon vintner in the Willamette Valley.

“He’s a pioneer in the wine industry and he really educated me,” Noisette said. “I picked up the phone and I called people and I guess I got lucky.”

Noisette spoke with Florida Foodie about building her business and the challenges she has faced as a woman of color in the wine industry. She also reluctantly chooses her favorite wine from Mermosa’s line.

Please follow our Florida Foodie hosts on social media. You can find Candace Campos on Twitter and Facebook. Lisa Bell is also on Facebook and Twitter and you can check out her children’s books, “Norman the Watchful Gnome.”

Florida Foodie is a bi-weekly podcast from WKMG and Graham Media that takes a closer look at what we eat, how we eat it and the impact that has on us here in Florida and for everyone, everywhere.

Find new episodes on Apple podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you download your favorite podcasts.

About the Author:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.