Small Business Spotlight: Love Cork Screw Welcomes Everyone to a Glass of Wine
In 2019, Chrishon Lampley stood in the middle of New York’s Times Square, looked up, and saw her wine brand Love Cork Screw emblazoned on a billboard.
“That was just one of the best days of my life,” the wine négociant and Polsky Small Business Growth Program alum said. “It was one of those things where you look up and everybody else starts looking up, and I’m looking straight at a billboard with ‘We Go High,’ my rosé, on it. It was unbelievable.”
The billboard was one of a pair that Lampley received as part of a sponsorship she earned through her business’s strong social media presence. She runs successful Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok accounts, a blog, and a one-time radio show associated with the Love Cork Screw brand, with content that focuses on wine, entrepreneurship, and pop culture. Through this presence, Lampley has become affectionately known to her followers as “the Wine Lady.”
“I think my social media resonates because I’ve always been a very transparent individual,” Lampley said. “I talk about both the good and the bad, and let people see the real me. That authenticity speaks to people.”
A Universal Appeal
Lampley launched Love Cork Screw in 2013. The company currently produces seven wine varietals which feature whimsical labels such as “Be the Light” Sauvignon Blanc and “Good Times, Good Friends” Pinot Grigio that appeal to the brand’s target demographic of 25- to 44-year-olds.
“I wanted my brand to feel welcoming and not intimidating and to appeal to both the wine novice and wine enthusiast,” Lampley said.
The company distributes its bottles in 18 states and ships to 40. Consumers can purchase the wines on the company’s website or find them in local and national retailers, including Target, Whole Foods, Meijer, Mariano’s, and Jewel-Osco.
The idea for the wine brand developed after a flood destroyed the art gallery and bar Lampley had been running in Chicago’s South Loop. Lampley oversaw the venue’s wine list and worked on the sales and distribution side.
“Losing my business was devastating and I let myself wallow for a little bit, but then I asked myself, ‘What now?’” she said. “I’ve always had an attraction to wine and enjoy how it brings people together. Some of the best things happen over a glass of wine, from business transactions to family gatherings. I wanted to be a part of that.”
Driven to Succeed
Breaking into the wine industry took drive and determination. First, Lampley studied to become a négociant, or wine merchant – one of less than one percent of Black women with the distinction. This helped Lampley identify the small, regional vineyards she’d partner with to develop her custom-crush blends.
Then, she had to navigate all the legalities involved with bottling and selling wine. “It’s one of those weird industries where there isn’t one person who knows all the answers, and there’s not one answer to everything,” Lampley said. After that, it was finding distributors to get her products into stores and marketing her wine to get them moving off the shelves.
“There’s this idea that the wine industry is just drinking wine and going to wine tastings every day, but you need to take the sexy part out of your mind” Lampley said. “Ninety percent of the business is negotiation. You need to love pitching and love numbers. You need to not have an ego. There are times when you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and get dirty. Even now, I’m still carrying boxes.”
Ten years in, all of Lampley’s hard work has paid off. To-date, Love Cork Screw has sold more than 1 million bottles of wine nationwide; its “Be the Light” Sauvignon Blanc has received a Wine Enthusiast “Best Buy” distinction with a rating of 89/100; and the company has been featured in magazines such as Ebony, People, and Forbes.
“It’s been an unbelievable journey,” Lampley said.
Plans for Growth
Lampley participated in two Polsky Small Business Growth Programs while building her business. In one, she worked with students to revamp her company’s website and in the other to develop a business and marketing plan.
“Working with Polsky has been a great experience,” the entrepreneur said. “They opened my eyes up to so many things and introduced me to an amazing webmaster that I still use to this day.”
In 2020, Lampley launched a business called “The Lampley” that complements what she does at Love Cork Screw. The online retail platform sells handmade home goods made by underrepresented artisans.
“When I entertain, I like to bring in all five of the senses,” the multi-business owner said. “In addition to wine, I want the perfect place settings, candles. I want natural products for body care. The Lampley is where I can feature these kinds of items designed by women and BIPOC creatives and purveyors.”
Two years ago, Lampley launched the Clink Festival in Chicago with business partner Joyce Dawkins. The wine and spirits festival, which takes place in September, highlights women and BIPOC individuals in the industry.
“Festivals are very expensive for vendors, but also very important to building brand awareness,” Lampley said. “The Clink Festival is my way of giving back to the community by eliminating vendor fees to allow more individuals to participate.”
With Love Cork Screw, Lampley now plans to focus on increased brand recognition with more store tastings around the country and a greater presence on restaurant and golf course menus nationwide. She also hopes to increase her current staff of two full-time employees and six contractors to allow her to focus more on marketing and selling.
“I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish and for showing people that it can be done,” Lampley said. “I felt like I needed superpowers in the beginning it was so difficult, but I just kept charging forward. I’m looking forward to continuing to grow Love Cork Screw. As hard as it’s been, if I had to, I would do it all again.”