by Brianna Melanson
images by Bobby Mack of Mack Photography
Christopher and Lakendra Walker’s mission is to give Charlotte a rare wine experience through their new business Cork & Crate. Located on Central Avenue, this cozy wine shop and tasting room is unlike any other in the area.
Partners in both business and marriage for 12 years, the wine shop is not their first career collaboration. Chris is an attorney and Kendra is a paralegal. When they aren’t at the wine shop, they’re still practicing law, training their new puppy, and parenting in addition to homeschooling their 9-year-old daughter. It’s impressive how they juggle everything so gracefully. Since they spend almost every waking hour together, Kendra would wind down with a glass of wine. That’s why they tell their customers that wine “saved” their marriage.
Kendra started to go to wine tastings, and eventually Chris would go with her for a romantic night out. It was during those magical moments they realized wine’s positive impact on their life. They embraced the wine industry, tasting wines from all over the world. They were especially inspired by the intimate wine shops where the owners would take their time to personally talk with the couple about their selections.
Chris says the two knew that a wine shop would be a great addition to their lifestyle on a trip to Atlanta in April of 2017. It all fell into place fast, and it is precisely what they envisioned. They already had a realtor who knew what they were looking for, and in 30 days, they signed the lease with the landlord of the space.
Cork & Crate opened to the public in September 2017, and they have really assimilated into Plaza Midwood’s unique culture. In less than a year, they’ve gained a hefty following and have been building a newfound relationship with Charlotteans. Chris and Kendra love being able to interact with everyone and teaching them beneficial information about wine. Kendra points out that Cork & Crate is the epitome of the phrase, “Good people, good times, good wine.”
No matter what the price, from $13 to over $200, the Walkers have a wine perfect for you. Even if your budget is small, you’ll wind up bringing home a bottle that tastes expensive. Not every occasion is as special as a 15 year wedding anniversary, for instance.
Those who love to indulge in wine aren’t always wine experts. Even if you do have something specific in mind, Chris and Kendra may have another suggestion that you may have not thought to try before. Going into your typical wine store can be intimidating, and the staff at a grocery store may not be well-versed in wine. Here, you can get away from the fluorescent lights and enjoy a pleasant buying experience.
The friendly folks at Cork & Crate want to take all of the stress of wine purchasing off your shoulders. If you have no idea what to buy, they are confident that you’ll end up with an exceptional bottle that you’ll never second guess. The Rudd Samantha’s Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 Oakville Collection is one of the couple’s favorites for when they decide to have a very elegant date night or are celebrating something nice.
Pamplune is a French grapefruit and peach Rosé that is currently in New York City’s top 10 wines. Kendra recommends it for a sweet date or a girl’s night. All your friends at the table will be able to smell the delicious fragrance as it’s poured.
Chris says, “It makes me happy when someone takes their first sip and confirms it’s good. And I know they’re not just being polite, because they’ll buy a second bottle.” They love hearing your feedback, so be sure to come back and tell them how your friend or significant other enjoyed the wine. The Walkers genuinely want your time there to be positive before you go off to your destination.
Special wine tastings are held on Fridays for $8 to $15 depending on the varietals. Each week’s tasting includes five wines of a similar variety, like red blends or Merlots.
This summer, they’re excited to bring back the Rosé tasting. They also have a tasting called “Oysters & Bubbles,” where they’ll serve oysters (included in the price) paired with Prosecco, Cava, Champagne, or Mimosas.
During each tasting, Chris walks you through the wines, explaining each one and the story behind it. His profound sense of humor makes it an unforgettable experience, and you’re bound to make new friends and even see some familiar faces.
During the tasting, you’re encouraged to offer your feedback by giving each wine a one to five star rating and a review, like if you found a particular wine to be too dry or just the right amount of oak. Chris and Kendra take these reviews into consideration when they go to restock their shelves.
Kendra notes that through these tastings, they’ve been able to discern the distinguishable palate of the Plaza Midwood neighborhood. Currently, the neighborhood’s favorite found from their shelves is The Federalist’s Zinfandel 2014.
Cork & Crate has hosted birthday parties, book clubs, ugly sweater parties, and more in their secluded back room, accommodating up to 40 people. Many people in the neighborhood are able to walk to the shop, but there’s also parking in front as well as at Nick’s Auto. For bigger events, they conveniently offer valet parking. The shop provides the wine in a signature Cork & Crate wine glass based on the number of people to be served. You can add charcuterie or other catering for a more filling menu. The Walkers will set up everything in the room for you from the food to the décor, so you’ll have nothing to worry about when it comes time for your special event. To really get the party started, belt out your favorite songs with their karaoke machine!
The back room is open to the public as long as there aren’t any events booked—it’s where most of the Walkers’ favorite memories in the shop have been made.
While the shop is open late—until 11 p.m.—the Walkers have made such strong connections with people around their elegant wooden table, that they’ve often been invited into their homes after closing to continue conversations. The fact that people feel they can open up to them and feel so comfortable at the wine shop has been extremely rewarding to them.
It’s a comfortable, casual environment, complete with a fireplace and beautiful paintings of Italy. Locals come in with their laptops to work while sipping on a glass of wine, which they offer by the glass. This year, you can look forward to more wines by the glass and a wine machine. Plus, now that they have a space to sell wine, the Walkers plan to travel to Europe to gather and bring back more ideas of premier wines to continue expanding their inventory.
You’ll also want to keep an eye out for their very own food truck coming soon. Since the shop doesn’t have room for a kitchen (and Charlotteans can’t seem to get enough of food trucks), they’re creating their very own, and it’ll be parked in front of the shop. The Walkers don’t mean to brag but, they also excel in culinary arts. They’re thrilled to share their dishes, which will pair well with any of their wines. There’ll be a staple dish in addition to meals that will change from week to week. What can’t the Walkers do? They also plan to feature other local chefs to show off their food.
Cork & Crate supports local as much as possible. All of their fresh flowers come from the beloved Midwood Flower Shop. Scott Reading, a Plaza Midwood resident for 20 years, made the backdrop with their logo as a gift. Now, customers take pictures in front of it for Instagram. Local artist Lee Halliburton designed the logo, and local artist Sarah Dowell painted the countries on the crates on top of their shelves. Plaza Midwood continues to exceed their expectations and is now on their radar for a new place to live because of all the wonderful people they’ve encountered along the way.
Chris and Lakendra Walker are grateful for Charlotte’s prolific support and kindness. They are dedicated to making everyone feel satisfied with both their experience and wine purchase. Let’s raise a glass to the Walkers for being such a wonderful addition to Plaza Midwood.