Chrishon Lampley on Building the Wine Brand Love Cork Screw

Love Cork Screw owner Chrishon Lampley

“You’re not great at anything, but you’re good at everything.” Chrishon Lampley did not know how to take her mother’s comment. More sensitive types would shrink into the fetal position or seek counseling. “I was kind of upset until she assured me that it was a beneficial thing,” says Lampley. Her mother simply found the most efficient way of saying that her daughter’s experiences would culminate into one great thing.

Love Cork Screw (LCS) is proving to be that one thing. The wine brand can be found in almost 50 Chicagoland stores, including Target and Whole Foods. LCS wine club memberships span the United States. Big-box stores and larger wine brands are taking notice of the Midwest-focused company’s success and progress.

Lampley created LCS while regrouping from the loss of Three Peas Art Lounge, an art gallery and event space she co-owned in Chicago’s South Loop. “Catastrophe totally gutted that business,” she says. Before the venture ended, Chrishon had developed a reputation for her wine lists and a lifestyle blog aptly titled “Love Cork Screw.”

“I lost everything and was devastated, but had this overwhelming compulsion to start a new business. Who does that? Me.”

New Business, New Beginning

In 2014, Love Cork Screw was born as a wine brand after Lampley researched the industry and scouted possibilities that did not involve purchasing a vineyard. She decided that becoming a négociant was the preferable option, enabling her to remain near her aging parents. LCS buys grapes from small regional farmers, then produces, bottles and labels the wines under the trademarked LCS brand name. Her background in sales for luxury brands Christian Dior and Escada helped her develop a marketing strategy that ultimately landed her wines in Target and Whole Foods.

Lampley also made some commitments at the onset. “I vowed never to use screw tops. I will not sell blends but rather only straight varietals. I will keep the brand approachable to both new consumers of wine as well as seasoned. And I will focus on often overlooked Midwestern grape varietals.”

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Four years later, Lampley admits that owning a wine brand is a journey of continuing education. “Research aside, nothing prepared me for the expenses related to building a wine company. I wasn’t prepared for large orders one day and being discontinued another. This is a hard business that is only getting harder, so I stay teachable for the sake of longevity.”

A teachable moment presented itself at the start of 2018 when LCS did not sell a bottle in retail for three months. “I was even kicked off of a few store shelves.” Lampley studied the market, focused on the wine club and waited. The following quarters have been kinder, with a few restocks in the very places that discontinued LCS, and a spike in sales, leaving her excited to end the year well. So far, 2019 is looking even better with major growth in wine club subscribers and expansion to retail stores out of state.

Lampley is clear that her path has not always been easy, which makes the successes sweeter. “The day I heard that Target wanted my wine, I cried. It wasn’t me saying I had made it; it was me saying I can do it. There are bigger brands that cannot get in those stores. This is something special.”

Further proof that her mother’s wisdom was something special too.

If you live in the Chicago area or plan to visit, you can find a retail outlet listed on the LCS site. You can join the wine club or shop in the LCS online store that also includes wine-infused candles and her cookbook, “Your Guide to Tasteful Manners with Love Cork Screw.” For tastings, appearances and other LCS happenings, be sure to follow Lampley on Instagram.

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Robin is a public relations consultant who loves writing about food and food people for food.