A trip to Europe in 2016 turned Houston couple Carissa and Kenneth Stephens from novice wine drinkers to full-blown oenophiles. The Stephens journeyed to Italy and stayed in a small, unassuming town called Todi, where their love for wine grew even deeper. Among a community of natives, the Stephens broke bread and bore witness to how wine could truly bring a community together.
The duo's deepened love for fine wines and close community led the Stephens to build their own wine brand and winery, right in the heart of Houston. The urban winery and tasting room is dubbed Pur Noire, as a nod to Carissa’s creole roots, and translates to "Pure Black." The company name is a double entendre of sorts, as the couple didn’t know many other Black-owned wine brands, and the duo wanted to make that a large part of their identity as business owners.
The storefront, located at 802 Milam, is bringing enology and custom-blend wines to downtown. The couple hopes they can spread knowledge to those who may be unfamiliar and are interested in learning more about the world of wines, from the sweet whites to the full-bodied reds.
"We have amazing wines, and our goal is to really bridge the gap. We’re taking away the pretentiousness of wine," Carissa explains, citing the wine knowledge patrons receive at Pur Noire. "Every day someone walks into this tasting room, they might know something about wines, they might not know anything. But they’re leaving feeling empowered."
The brand, which launched in March 2020, was met with many obstacles to overcome. The COVID-19 pandemic halted the Stephens in their tracks, pivoting their planned in-person launch to a virtual setting. According to Kenneth, the naming of the brand was in tandem with what he calls the “Black Awakening Period,” referencing the death of George Floyd and the height of the social justice movement.
Despite facing those hardships, as an emerging Black-owned business, the Stephens persevered. The couple recalls at the peak of the pandemic, people across the nation were ordering liquor from home, which was a beneficial opportunity for them. The couple managed to sell out of their red blend in less than five months, which was roughly four months after its release.
You’ll also find that the wine’s label art is also indicative of African history, as the label's design is Egyptian-themed.
"We need something strong. I wanted art that was distinctive, and memorable; that could potentially be a centerpiece for your dining room table," Carissa says, beaming about the historic undertones of the brand. She explains that ancient Egyptians were among the first to perfect wine practices, which is a nugget of history she feels more people should know about.
"I think most cultures can feel some type of connection or if nothing else, and enthusiasm or interest in the first modern civilization being in ancient Egypt, so that was important."
Each of the eight original wines Pur Noire carries all have their own label design, all of which personify the taste of the wine. Their Old Vine Zinfandel showcases a woman meditating, in a zen position, and their Pur Epiphany pictures Queen Nefertiti on the bottle.
The couple wants their customers' experience to emulate their experience in Italy, and it’s done with the help of their knowledgable sommeliers, who bring decades of expertise to the table, plus the relaxing ambiance of the tasting room, which is decked out in bold greens, ruby red, and sophisticated black decor. The tasting room seats 30 comfortably, making it the ideal destination for date night.
"We accept all walks of life, and we want everyone to know more about wines," the couple explains. "Pur Noire was built on love, and we really want to share that with the city."
Pur Noire is located in Downtown Houston, at 802 Milam St Suite 103. Walk-ins are welcomed and reservations are suggested. For more information, visit their website.