Tired of paying hefty fees to participate in festivals where she couldn’t even connect with consumers on a deeper level, Chrison Lampley decided to create her own.
ClinkFest launched in Chicago last year to feature women and BIPOC individuals in the wine and spirits industry. Lampley created it with her friend Joyce Dawkins and ClinkFest attracted dozens of local wine and spirit brands across the city. This year it’s back and bigger. It will be held Sept. 17 at the Bridgeport Arts Center.
“What’s really special about this event is that people can experience wine and spirits from around the entire country. Some people are coming in from around the world,” Lampley said. “Partners like Mariano’s allow us to offer tastes from James Beard award-winning chefs that complement the drinks.”
Lampley is behind Love Cork Screw wines and Dawkins is founder of the nonprofit She ROCKS It, an organization dedicated to uplifting women across Chicago and beyond. At ClinkFest, ticket holders will be able to meet and speak with many of the creators and CEOs behind the brands showcased.
For Inspiro Tequila founder Mara Smith, spaces like ClinkFest are a rare opportunity to engage directly with consumers who are passionate and intentional about supporting women- and minority-owned businesses.
“We never have a kind of centralized location where people can support smaller, independent brands like us,” Smith said. “Being able to share our brand on a deeper level – highlighting the grants and mentoring that we offer to other female founders is something that’s unique.”
Lampley said consumer engagement beyond just tasting was key.
“They’re going to see women in BIPOC that they didn’t know existed in the industry. It was important to feature brands that people are familiar with alongside emerging ones,” said Lampley, who founded her wine brand in 2013.
She admits that navigating the traditional tasting circuit was costly, and even though her brand is now distributed in 18 states, paying festival costs from participant fees and shipping product sometimes didn’t reap any sizable benefits.
“It’s expensive to ship wine, on top of having to pay to send staff to pour. So this fest is accessible to everyone — including distributors and suppliers,” Lampley said.
Jesse Steward, Jr., founder of Alexander James Whiskey, will be at ClinkFest. Named after his son, the Chicago-native’s brand is best known for its smoothness. Anytime he gets to share his whiskey, he said he’s keeping family history alive and creating a legacy.
“For the consumers, I think the best part of this event is you’re trying products that you probably would never get to try all in one place at one time, plus as you’re meeting the people that are the brains behind the brand,” Steward said.
Those who don’t partake in spirits but are interested in connecting and networking can also come and join the festival. Non-alcoholic spirit brands will be on hand.
“In addition we have some vegan wines too. We’re big on giving this younger generation what they want,” Lampley said.
Aside from introducing Chicago consumers to Chicago brands, Lampley said one of the major goals of the festival is to help shatter glass ceilings for women and BIPOC folks in the industry.
“[Black women are] still less than 1% of the entire industry. So if we just keep showing up and showing out, it will happen and I’m here to push through as much as possible.”
If you go: ClinkFest is happening Sept. 17 at Bridgeport Arts Center (1200 W. 35th St., Chicago). Tickets start at $85.
Samantha Callender is a digital reporting fellow for WBEZ. Follow her across socials @OnYourCallender.