On a drive home to Charlotte after a trip to Atlanta last summer, Lakendra and Chris Walker decided to open their own wine shop. Over the weekend, the couple had spent a happy evening at a wine shop called Wine Shoe and fell in love with its warm vibe. As they drove back, they talked about how they wanted to replicate that kind of relaxed experience and inviting tasting room in Charlotte.
The Walkers already had a full plate, though. The pair, who have been married 11 years, work together at his law office where he’s an attorney and she’s a paralegal. They also homeschool their 9-year-old daughter, Morgan. But to them, going to tastings and sharing wine had always been the perfect way to unwind together, and the wine shop idea sounded irresistibly fun.
“We decided that opening a wine shop was something we could add to our lifestyle,” says 39-year-old Chris. “We don’t look at this as work—this is fun.”
Lakendra, 34, jumped into the search for a location. The first space that caught her eye was a narrow storefront in Plaza Midwood. She loved the space’s brick walls, the original wood ceiling, the concrete floors. Combined, they created a rustic wine cellar ambience—the exact vibe they were going for. “I didn’t even want to look anywhere else,” she says.
So last September, the couple, who live in Steele Creek, quietly opened Cork & Crate wine shop on Central Avenue. “We built this place to create something we felt was missing in Charlotte,” says Lakendra. “We want this to feel like an extension of your living room.”
The shop is tucked into the unassuming block between McDonalds and Krazy Fish on Central Avenue, which makes its chic modern interior a happy surprise. A geometric grass wall on one side faces shelves of wines on the other. The selection, which is organized by region and country, hails from both big and small labels and is carefully curated by the couple. Perhaps the shop’s most interesting feature though is its elegant private tasting room, where 12 armchairs line a long communal wooden table and paintings of wine country hang on the brick walls.
It’s here that on two Fridays a month the Walkers host $10 wine tastings featuring complimentary charcuterie and cheese alongside sips of fine wines. And forget any reservations you might have about wine being intimidating. Cork & Crate’s cozy charm is a far cry from some of the swirl-swish-and-sniff seriousness of some of the city’s swankier wine bars. Here, everything is designed to make the experience not just approachable, but engaging and enjoyable. Christopher leads the tastings, openly admitting that he’s not a sommelier—just someone who loves wine and has a palate that can choose a good one.
The wines range from $15 to $300, and can be purchased by the bottle to go or opened up in the shop. Cork & Crate has quickly turned into the kind of neighborhood shop where locals pop in to pick up a bottle for a last-minute hostess gift, or walk over for a glass (or two) with friends after a dinner party. And the tasting room’s convivial atmosphere—and good wine—have led to plenty of new friendships as well.
“We only have one problem with our tasting room,” says Lakendra. “After a few glasses of wine and people meeting their neighbors around the table, no one is ever ready to leave.”
Visit Cork & Crate’s Facebook page for more information. The shop’s tasting room can be rented for private events and starts at $120 for 12 people, which includes four bottles of wine.
Photos by Justin Driscoll