Step inside Abbey Creek Vineyard and Winery, and you’ll notice right away this isn’t your typical experience – hip hop music plays in the background, family pictures are posted on the wall, and you’re greeted by Bertony Faustin, Oregon’s first black winemaker.
This spot is not just about the wine either — it’s about building community and inspiring others, says Faustin, who likes to say he’s “half man, half amazing.”
The son of Haitian parents, Faustin definitely marches to his own beat. A former anesthesiologist technician — and a teetotaler — Faustin tried opening the first winery in Multnomah County, but ultimately was bested by zoning laws that require vineyards be located in land zoned exclusively for farm use.
He’s now growing grapes in North Plains, a small town in Washington County just north of Hillsboro.
Abbey Creek is a small batch winery by design. Faustin produces six varieties and sells out his 1,500 cases every year.
While he hosts a monthly dinner open to the public, he only sells his wine by the bottle, through his website, or by the glass at Society Hotel in downtown Portland. The hotel has historic significance because at one time it was the only place a black person could lodge if they were traveling through Portland.
On a personal level, Faustin says he seeks to live up to his father’s legacy of tenacity and resilience.
“My father, who did not know the language when he arrived in this country with his family, began work as a janitor and eventually worked his way up to management in a linen factory,” Faustin says.
At the time they arrived in the 1960s, Haitian immigrants were labeled as “boat people” or “Uncle Tom.”
“My father took what he had and made it work for him,” he says. “I did the same.”
Effecting his own change
After his father’s death, Faustin began to evaluate his own life, his happiness and career at OHSU.
“It’s up to us to what that change is going to be,” he says. “For me, the winery is about the relationships with people.”
He believes strongly that sacrifices are required to get the things we want, and he’s more interested in influencing others to think on what they can do, rather than what they can’t.
He was coached and encouraged by his friend Eldridge Brossard to consider opening his own business, and attributes much to Brossard for his advice about business.
“He says that in business you need to separate facts from feelings,” Faustin says. “His coaching has changed all my relationships, both personal and business. I had to decide early on that we weren’t to do it the way everyone else does.”
He “jumped right in” by working at a winery for a year. He enrolled in a course at Chemeketa Community College but left after three months, opting to seek out advice from those currently in the industry. He credits Jason Bull at David Hill Winery for leading him forward.
He has grown the vineyard from five to 15 acres, but he’s not interested in becoming a large enterprise, and only has one employee. He attracts about 200 visitors a month.
The tasting room isn’t fancy, but it’s welcoming. Wine barrels take up about half of the space and visitors can see where the grapes are crushed, fermented and aged.
“Good vibes attract visitors, not just the wine,” Faustin says.
An inspiration to others
Being a winemaker allows Faustin a platform to “inspire and empower people because of who I am,” he says. “I am not everything for everyone. I tell people, ‘Own who you are.’”
He has spoken to groups through Oregon Humanities, and given interviews with the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and Intel.
He self-produced a documentary film called “Red, White & Black: An Oregon Wine Story,” with a sign that reads, “The best wines are the ones we drink with friends.”
The film showed at a small handful of screens in Portland, but garnered 12 offers to produce it for wider distribution. Instead, Faustin wants to form his own production company.
He’s formed a nonprofit organization titled “Wines for a Cause,” and raises funds for local organizations. He doesn’t believe in just writing checks but wants to follow where and how the money is used, and how it’s helping others.
He admits he’s not too concerned about whether others accept him. He wants to use his energy toward creating his “own truth,” he says. “By doing that, I am free. I sell love, magic and the moment.”