Photo of Love Cork Screw CEO Chrishon Lampley in her vineyard

Love Cork Screw’s Chrishon Lampley: For the Love of Wine

Sep 12, 2022

by Angela Parker, PhD

Chrishon Lampley is suddenly spending a lot of her time in the limelight. She is the first African American woman in the Midwest to take a wine label national. Lampley, a Chicago native, attributes her success to having inherited both her mother’s tenacity and her father’s entrepreneurial spirit, a combination of gifts that has led to the birth of her own company and a lifestyle brand.

The Path To Success

Lampley’s love of wine making and her enthusiasm for pop culture originally led her to own and operate an art bar and to work for a wine distributor. She had worked to establish herself as an African American woman with expertise in pairing wine and food, often sharing her knowledge with customers.

She eventually launched her own wine label and created an award-winning portfolio. In the wine industry, she is called a négociant, which means she buys grapes from around the world and controls how her wine is made.

In 2013, Lampley launched a blog named Love Cork Screw after listening to the needs and suggestions of wine lovers and immersing herself in wine sales and production.

She is a pioneer in an industry largely dominated by white men. She estimates that there are about 60 African American women vintners worldwide. Out of 110,000 individuals in the wine industry, only 2 percent of vintners identify as Black, and fewer than 1 percent identify as Black women.

The Love Cork Screw brand has six selections with a modern twist and memorable names, including “We’re Movin’ On Up” (cabernet sauvignon) and “Head Over Heels” (riesling). Chrishon says, “I want my brand to be fun and approachable. I want to show people that you can make it in an industry that doesn’t look like you and that you can have fun with it.” She hopes that her wines create emotion and that wine connoisseurs feel this emotion when they drink her brand.

Love Cork Screw wine bottles on display

Photography Christian De’Mar

Career Insights

According to Lampley, wine manufacturing is a combination of art and science. The science includes checks and balances along the way and ensuring that the chemistry is meeting the targets you have set for your wine. And it’s an art because no wine is the same. Just like an artist, every winemaker or négociant has a different style, preference, and reason for why and how they do what they do.

Lampley shares that professionals in the winemaking business have vastly different jobs, roles, and opportunities: as farmers, lab techs, vineyard managers, négociants, harvest interns, assistant winemakers, and master winemakers. The only experience absolutely necessary to getting started is a genuine interest in wine and the wine industry. She says that no matter what avenue you take, it is important to understand the winemaking process and the varying components that all affect the finished product. If you’re in college or looking to explore a future in the industry, look for universities that offer degrees in viticulture and enology. If there’s a winery or tasting room in your area, apply to be an intern.

If you are like Lampley and are looking to make a wine career your second act, get your foot in the door with a distributor or start by expanding your foundational understanding of wine by getting WSET-certified. The Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) is a global organization that arranges courses and exams in the field of wine and spirits.

If you decide to get into this industry, how do you select grapes and their varieties, and what process and environmental conditions will aid you in wine manufacturing? Lampley asserts that there are thousands of decisions that go into bottling your own wine: from selecting varietals to choosing the right growing location, from considering climate to choosing soil and terroir. There is an endless combination of factors that will lead to your personal wine style as a brand owner.

Lampley also explains that the quality of your wine starts in the vineyard. You can’t make good wine with bad grapes. So, working with wine growing partners whom you trust is key. In the cellar, quality is maintained by tasting regularly throughout the aging process, by monitoring storage temperatures, and by keeping track of pH levels, residual sugar (RS) levels, alcohol content, and more.

She makes sure that laboratory analysis is an integral part of her own winemaking process. Lab analysis helps guarantee that quality is maintained at every step along the way. From monitoring sugar levels in the vineyard to keeping close tabs on the juice after the grapes are crushed, lab analysis ensures that everything is on track in the winemaking process. Lampley, herself, contributes to the research and development for her brands as well. She takes care to source her fruit from regions that align with the style of wine that she sets out to produce and to work very closely with her partners.

Love Cork Screw CEO Chrishon Lampley at Speaking Event

Lampley sharing her voice and experience at a recent @Meta Panel Event in Soho House.

Love Cork Screw Chrishon Lampley at booth

Photos courtesy of Chrishon Lampley / Love Cork Screw

This talented vintner and blogger says that she sources her grapes in California, the Midwest, and Chile. Her pinot grigio, riesling, Niagara, seyval blanc, syrah, and Concord grapes are grown in the Midwest. She purchases cabernet sauvignon grapes in California and sauvignon blanc grapes in Chile.

She is also happy to explain key terms in her industry. She defines acidity as one of four fundamental traits in wine (the others are sweetness, tannin, and alcohol). In making wine, she notes, your goal is to find balance among these four traits. Acidity (measured through pH levels) gives a wine its tart and sour taste. The sweetness of a wine is determined by how many grams of sugar remain after fermentation (this is called residual sugar or RS). Tannins are a main component in the structure of a wine and are derived from the skins, seeds, and stems of the grapes. They contribute bitter flavor and texture to wines. On the tongue, tannins provide a drying and gripping effect. And, finally, alcohol is produced through the fermentation of fruit sugars via yeast. The higher the alcohol, the “warmer” it will feel on your palate.

In the vineyard and in the cellar, the lab tech and the winemaker will monitor all of these components as they produce the wine. Before the harvest, vineyard managers and the winemaking team will regularly monitor sugar levels to determine the optimal time to pick the grapes. In the cellar, it is the role of the lab tech to analyze wine at all the different stages between harvesting and bottling. Once the wines have gone through the various stages of fermentation and aging (resting the wines in a barrel or tank), then the négociant steps in to meet with the production and winemaking team. It is at this stage that Lampley is presented with various tank and barrel samples to taste and to evaluate what will go into her final wine.

Future Focus

When Lampley started her winemaking journey, there were naysayers who said she would not succeed. Her perseverance, however, has proved them wrong. She now has shelf space for her wine selections in Target, Whole Foods, and Walmart. She has appeared on the Home Shopping Network, has received a Dell Technologies Award, and has been recognized as one of the few minority women working successfully in the wine industry. Lampley has been featured in Forbes, VinePair, Cosmopolitan, the Chicago Tribune, and on the Food Network. She also has a TEDx Talk, available to inspire would-be winemakers.

When asked what her recommendations are for African American women interested in understanding the science behind winemaking, she says that anyone passionate to pursue this field should take advantage of all the resources they have at their fingertips. She says, “Be proactive, network with other Black wine owners and vintners, ask questions, and do the work. Familiarize yourself with the science behind the wine through wine certification programs like WSET, by taking classes and seminars, by attending tastings, by seeking out mentors, etc. Immerse yourself in the industry and be prepared to have a thick skin and to work harder than any of your peers. Trust in your vision and stay on your path.”

Lampley is on a mission to reinvent how we think about and experience wine. She is passionate about leveraging her platform to mentor entrepreneurs and to pave the way for more inclusivity and opportunity for women of color in wine and beyond.

“My ultimate goal in this business is for Love Cork Screw to become a household name,” she says, “a go-to wine brand that is on every shelf of every wine aisle in the country, a brand that people trust.”

Recently, she also launched a new endeavor to develop a lifestyle brand, a home décor collection named for her family. In 2021 her dream came to fruition with The Lampley. This most recent accomplishment ties in with her years of work in the wine industry. She says that her brand encompasses strength, while maintaining her family values of tenacity and creativity.

It has become her mission, through The Lampley, to educate entrepreneurs and to establish a platform for creative Black women like her. She hopes that 90% of the participants in her new lifestyle marketplace will be women of color. Learn more in this short video.

 

Angela Parker, PhD has over twenty-five years of experience in the federal government and in the private sector with a focus on environmental science, health and safety, food and environmental laboratory services, and quality initiatives. Dr. Parker is also a faculty member teaching environmental and public health graduate courses at Grand Canyon University. She mentors graduate students who are researching ways to reduce environmental harm with cutting-edge innovations.

 

This article was originally published in AWIS Magazine. Join AWIS to access the full issue of AWIS Magazine and more member benefits.