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A Look At Some Black Chicagoans Who Are Breaking Down Barriers In The Wine Business And Enjoying Success

CHICAGO (CBS) -- In our celebration of Black History Month at CBS 2, here is a look at the world of wine – which has very few Black people represented at high levels.

Some of the few are from Chicago. CBS 2's Audrina Bigos spoke to the trailblazers about breaking into the wine business – and breaking barriers, as we see more Black and Brown in the world of reds and whites.

Michael Lavelle Wines was founded in June 2020 by Howard University alumnus Aaron "Michael" Coad and Terrence "Lavelle" Low, and their partners, sommelier Devin Kennedy and Brandon Crump. Low and Crump are from Chicago's South Side and sat down with Bigos to talk about their success.

"They haven't seen us before, so it's unusual to see us is in this space - but also to be doing well in this space," Low said.

The luxury wine label is now deemed the youngest Black-owned label around.

But it doesn't stop there. They are pouring into others, with part of their wine proceeds going to fully fund an MBA in wine business and management from an HBCU graduate.

They also partner with the Roots Fund, to expose Black and Brown youth to the wine industry.

"Seen something that they haven't seen before, done by someone who looks like them – if you can see, 'Hey, that looks like my brother; that looks my cousin or nephew,' that's the impact," Crump said.

And that is needed. Right now, less than 1 percent of the 8,000 winemakers, negociants, and brand owners in the United States are Black.

"Oh gosh, not only being an African American, but an African American woman? Are you kidding me?" said Chrishon Lampley. "There's only 60 of us – there's 60 of us out of 111,000 in the world that do this - African American women."

And now, Lampley is nine years in the game as owner and negociant of Love Cork Screw.

"Being the first African American woman from the entire Midwest to ever go national with the wine brand - I just love showing people they can do it," she said.

Twin sisters Michelle and Nicole Nicholas of Chicago did it too. They own The Guilty Grape, with wine from micro-vineyards in California.

Their success in mostly white wine business, like Lampley's, is not without struggle.

"The no's that I received - whether it's being kicked out of an account, whether it's not being accepted in certain restaurants," Lampley said.
"The first reaction is, 'We don't talk to employees,'" Low added, "but I'm the owner of this wine brand."

But that won't happen at the Bronzeville Winery, which opens next month on the city's South Side.

"We are the first," said Amy Jennetten, managing director of the new wine venue. "There's nothing else like it in this area."

Bronzeville is a neighborhood once called the Black Metropolis of Chicago.

"We need to be represented across the board, and I think that's the trend you're starting to see," Jennetten said. "That's the expectation we are requiring."

The team at the Brnozeville Winery wants 60 percent, Black-, minority-, and women-owned items on their menu – which is being built by Derrick C. Westbrook, head sommelier and wine consultant.

"Once you get diversity in the winemaking areas, you start to see the wine list look a little more diverse," Westbrook said.

And now, there's more of them to choose from – like Lampley's Love Cork Screw, with more than 1 million wine bottles sold.

"If I can make it in an industry that's less than one percent of me, you can do it," Lampley said.

And Michael Lavelle wines are now sold in 10 states.

"To see that we have new opportunities and new doors and new industries - and that's life changing," said Crump.

We shot the interview with the men of Michael Lavelle wines at Fox Trot in the Gold Coast, which is one of the local retailers carrying their product.

To buy Love Cork Screw, you can shop at select Whole Foods and Jewel-Osco locations.

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