CHICAGO — Three years ago, Chrishon Lampley was on top of her world as a respected wine connoisseur and co-owner of a booming lounge in the South Loop.
Lampley, then 35, spent her days working behind the bar at Three Pea's Art Lounge, formerly at 75 E. 16th St., bombarded with questions from curious customers desperate to hear her latest recommendations.
"People always asked my opinions on things: which wine for which event, basically wine 101 or what I thought was hot in the city," she said.
But that all changed on Christmas Day 2010, when her bar was ruined because of a sewage backup.
Something in Lampley's "spirit" told her to stop by the lounge that day before she visited her family in the suburbs for the holiday. There was no sunlight as she entered and a rancid odor hit her before she could turn on the lights. Her heart dropped as she flipped the light switch revealing three years of hard work down the drain.
"It was devastating. Everything was floating in sewage," she said. "Everything you work so hard for just gone. Something you built from the ground up floating in sewer water."
The insurance company said the flood was caused by baby wipes flushed down the toilet from a condo above the bar. The company said the incident wasn't covered and refused to pay Lampley and her business partner, leaving them on financially shaky ground.
"It was pretty pivotal on our relationship. We saw our money floating in the garbage and there's nothing we could do about it," she said. "I went dark for a while. I wasn't sure what to do."
Eventually Lampley returned to working full-time in the fashion industry, but she couldn't shake her passion for wine. Three years after the bar was trashed, she found herself "rededicated" to her passion, spending hours writing her blog, Love Cork Screw, after working her day job.
"It was my outlet just to tell people where to go and what to drink," she said adding the blog landed her radio appearances that turned into her own podcast but didn't pay her anything. That's when Lampley was introduced to Tiffany Taylor, who had an idea to turn the blog and podcast, which now had more than 8,000 listeners, into a profitable brand.
Taylor, 35, of North Kenwood didn't know much about Lampley's wine roots when she told her she was interested in the wine industry, but was impressed that "a lot of people were still coming to her to see which [wine] brand to choose," Taylor said.
"Why don't we start our own wine brand?" Taylor asked Lampley over the phone from a winery last spring.
"I laughed at her because this was my passion, but she was very interested in everything I was doing," Lampley said.
After agreeing to name the brand Love Cork Screw, Lampley began educating Taylor on the basics of the wine business along with tips to attract a wine lover. The two then sought out vineyards and began constructing the flavor for their first two varietals: "Head Over Heels" and "In Too Deep."
Midway through December, the two had six varietals and used the brand's Internet community to help launch them.
"We try to keep people interactive through social media and short films," Taylor said explaining the duo wrote and produced three-minute cliffhanger films for Head Over Heels and In Too Deep and plan to do the same for every varietal they release.
"We wanted a fun story with each of the wines and each of the wines has our personality, which is how we developed the film," Taylor said. "It's important because there's no other wine brand that does it how we do it."
After launching "Love Cork Screw" in December, they inked a deal to put it on the shelves of a grocer popping up all over the city, Mariano's, which signed a deal to take over several shuttered Dominick's in the city. Mariano's agreed to put the wine in all 29 stores in the Chicago area, fueling the brand's "ridiculously rapid growth," Lampley said.
"They really fell in love with the brand," Lampley said after the deal became official in March. "We were in two [Mariano's] and now we plan on being in all the locations opening up."
The brand has piqued the interest of vendors in both Michigan and Illinois. So far, it is in 22 locations across the city including Nouveau Tavern, Velvet Lounge, South Loop Market, L26, Fleetwood Restaurant, The Noble Grape and Farmhouse. Despite the rapid growth Taylor said the brand is far from slowing down at this point.
"We're not disappointed where we are, we're pleased. We just know there's so much more for us to do. We've got big goals to reach," Taylor said.