Meet the Woman on a Mission to Make Atlanta's Wine Scene More Inclusive
For most of her adult life, Steffini Bethea liked to unwind with a glass of wine. But she admits now that she was doing it all wrong.
"I always stuck with the same varietals," she says. "Not because I loved them but because I was too intimidated to request something different. If I was in the mood for a white wine, I would order Chardonnay, and if I wanted a red, it was always a Cabernet Sauvignon."
A vacation to Malaga, Spain, changed Bethea's wine life forever. "I experienced Tempranillo, a black grape widely grown to make full-bodied red wines, and fell in love with its complex, savory notes." That's when she realized just how much she had deprived herself of incredible wines simply because she was too afraid to step out of her comfort zone.
While working at a popular Atlanta wine bar, she considered opening one of her own, but she wanted to learn as much as possible before making a move. In 2012, Bethea finally opened Purple Corkscrew Tasting Room with her sister, Kellie. At first, it wasn't the booming business they envisioned.
"The rent was affordable, but it was in a bad location and had minimal parking," she says. "That taught us the importance of location, location, location!" After a few bumps, Bethea (whose sister went on to do other things) relocated in late 2013 to Avondale Estates, east of Decatur, Georgia, and expanded the business to include a retail store.
Purple Corkscrew features a handpicked selection of small vineyard, boutique wines, and the cozy tasting room feels like you're lounging in Bethea's home while enjoying a glass of your favorite wine.
"It's not about just buying a bottle, or flight of wine; it is about providing our guests with impeccable customer service and an experience that leaves them wanting to return again and again," she says.
Growing a wine business wasn't Bethea's biggest challenge—it was being a Black woman in the wine world. "I can't tell you how many times I've been overlooked at trade shows, mistaken for an uninformed customer, or a server at my own shop," she says. "I was not taken seriously by winemakers, suppliers, and importers."
She recalls being denied highly allocated wines because some distributors felt a Black retailer couldn't sell their brands despite her diverse clientele. To quiet skeptics, Bethea has earned several certifications, travels extensively to wine regions, and divides her time between Atlanta and Washington State, where she is enrolled in a viticulture and enology program.
"I've also assembled a staff of amazing, knowledgeable women that all happen to be Black," Bethea says proudly. She and her team meet with winemakers weekly and do about 75 tastes to select bottles to-go into the shop. Purple Corkscrew carries more than 350 labels from almost every wine region in the world, as well as a variety of Black-owned labels. Among the most expensive selections is a Billecart-Salmon champagne, and a vintage 1965 Chateau Lafite Rothschild.
Like many businesses during the pandemic, Bethea had to pivot to cashless, credit card-only curbside pickup, and virtual Zoom tastings. She's excited to finally be back open for in-store purchases and reservation-only tastings, including a Meet the Winemaker series and an upcoming caviar and champagne event. Purple Corkscrew also offers a Sommelier at Home service. "We provide an educational experience facilitated by one of our staff members who are all certified. Together, we pick out the wines with the customer, create food pairings, and provide the proper stemware," she says.
After nine years in business, Bethea is excited to be part of Atlanta's expanding and inclusive wine scene along with Black, women-owned 3 Parks Wine Shop and Corks and Cuvee in Conyers, Georgia.
"We strive to make wine more accessible and create a space for customers to ask questions," Bethea says. "Purple Corkscrew is a one-stop destination to shop and sip at their leisure."
So, after all these years, does she prefer a red or white wine? "The wine I love most is the wine that is in my glass at the moment I am drinking it," laughs Bethea. Spoken like a true oenophile.
Purple Corkscrew Wine Shop and Tasting Room is located at 32 N. Avondale Road, Suite A, Avondale Estates, Georgia. (678) 515-8232.