From the refreshing “pick-me-up” Rosé to the cozy Zinfandel, four millennial Black men are enhancing the community’s palette bottle by bottle.
“You don’t see that,” owner, client service and operations specialist Brandon Crump told BLACK ENTERPRISE in a 2021 interview.
Fast forward two years. The award-winning luxury wine label Michael Lavelle Wines is reigning as the youngest Black-owned wine company, adding more and more illustrious awards and community service badges to its collection.
Founders Aaron “Michael” Coad and Terrence “Lavelle” Low launched the private label on Juneteenth 2020 after “recognizing a void in culturally relevant wine craftsmanship offered to millennials and minority audiences,” BE previously reported.
For this duo, redefining the way people of color experience wine was the key to closing the gap.
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A partnership with Crump and sommelier Devin Kennedy further solidified a destined marriage between passionate curiosity and business expertise. Since the last time BE Digital Editor Selena Hill spoke to the emerging entrepreneurs, more grapes have been harvested, more sips have been had, more supporters have joined the movement. The celebration continues.
Launching during a tumultuous time, the four friends were diligent in their ambitious mission: to disrupt the predominantly white-owned industry. The team sold all of its delicious inaugural vintage rosé through their website, per Urban Vino, and thrived despite the challenges in securing distribution partnerships that aligned with their mission.
Less than 1% of the wine and spirits business represented Black ownership in the U.S. in 2020, according to a Bloomberg report. “But there was also a lack of education around its offerings,” said Low, who serves as head of house.
Motivated by the need to educate the masses, the Chicago native and his three business partners “developed a spirits brand fused with art and culture designed to give Black millennials an unmatched wine experience,” BE reported. Although Michael Lavelle wines had sold more than 1,200 cases since its launch, it was just getting started.
2018 Iris Zinfandel ($25)
Aged in French oak barrels, the old Michael Lavelle limited edition will “arrest the senses” with aromatics of lush blueberry alongside notes of dark chocolate, vanilla, and cinnamon. A sip reveals ripe raspberry, red cherry, and Madagascar vanilla bean.
Having expanded offerings of Michael Lavelle to select locations in Richmond, VA, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, the dynamic team delved deeper into the the rich history of wine. They remained true to their intention to make quality wine accessible for communities of color.
The wine collection was available in local Black-owned restaurants in the South Side of Chicago as well as in eateries in West Loop, a trendy district in downtown Chicago, and Michelin-starred restaurants. Additionally, the company witnessed success of its Iris Rosé, Iris Zinfandel and Iris Chenin Blanc, which were highlighted in publications such as The Washington Post, Forbes, New York Times, and Wine Enthusiast.
“When we set out to create this, it was for everyday luxury. You didn’t necessarily need a reason to indulge. We wanted to make it accessible. We wanted to make it affordable,” Low told BE.
2021 Iris Rosé ($20)
As Michael Lavelle’s first varietal, this wine was created from a blend of cabernet and pinot grigio grapes. The signature rosé is smooth with crisp flavors and fresh fruit aromas, including wild cherry, strawberry, and watermelon.
In April, the Michael Lavelle team expressed gratitude via Instagram for collaborating with Frame Chicago, the city’s source for photo and art printing since 1981, and burgeoning Chicago artist Kayla Mahaffey.
“Frame Chicago was transformed to showcase Kayla’s archived prints and originals to celebrate, reflect and observe the stories which Kayla’s colorful paintings convey, the stories of inner thoughts and personal issues that sometimes go unheard,” Michael Lavelle shared in a caption.
The community work doesn’t stop there. The wine label also partners with the nonprofit Roots Fund to expose and encourage Black and brown youth to join the wine industry. Its proceeds have helped fund education for an HBCU graduate.
“It’s not about adapting to wine culture it’s about honoring our community through wine,” said Low via Instagram.
2022 Iris Chenin Blanc ($23)
A summer yellow daffodil in the glass, the Blanc offers aromatics of lush honeydew melon, lemon oil, and fresh nectarines. Taste ripe peaches, Granny Smith apples, and lemon zest.
In February, Michael Lavelle hosted a successful event at The Park at Fourteenth (@theparkat14th) with the likes of actor Tristan Mack Wilds in attendance. Michael Lavelle turned it up a notch, enticing candle lovers with a new product to pair with their premium selections. The relaxing Aroma candle dropped via Instagram in March.
The 2023 Proof Award winners have expressed how proud they are in delivering the best wine, experience, and even better moments. After celebrating 10,000 followers on Instagram, more wine lovers will be won over as they add Wilds to their Miami takeover on Sept 9 at Washington Avenue’s Wine Tasting & Live Music event.
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