Sasha Johns turns discarded wine corks into gifts—and wine itself into a sweet spread.
The clock reads 12:30 p.m. as Sasha Johns stands up from her kitchen table to make coffee on a Friday afternoon. She rose early to drive the students on her Shelby County bus route to school, and in another hour, she’ll need to sweep out her bus before starting the afternoon rounds. The coffee will help to keep her productive during the hours in between—the hours that find Sasha seated at an old wooden writing desk in her craft room, a mishmash of wine corks and wires and bits and baubles spread out before her, waiting to be turned into ornaments and wreaths and floor mats like the one under her feet as she boils water for her coffee at the stove.
Sasha, also affectionately known as the “wine cork lady” among some of her acquaintances, can take what a wine connoisseur might say is just a stopper for a bottle of her favorite vintage and give it new purpose in a piece of jewelry, a seasonal decoration or even, yes, a kitchen mat. And she makes and sells wine jelly, which is exactly what it sounds like: jelly made with different types of wine. The question she hears most often is not “how do you make these things,” but “how did you find yourself making these things?” Her story, like that vintage from the cellar, is years in the making.
As an artist’s daughter, Sasha was exposed to art at a young age and developed an affinity for it. “I’ve been raised in it all my life,” she says. “It’s my creative outlet.” When she received a bad grade on an activity in kindergarten because her coloring strayed outside the confines of the drawing, her mother came to her defense, telling her—and her teacher—that Sasha should be allowed to be as creative as she wanted to be in her art. “It is a thing that has stuck with me my whole life—that it’s OK to color outside the lines,” she says.
Art was always in Sasha’s life, but it didn’t move to the forefront until she was an adult, navigating wifehood, motherhood and living in a new city, Atlanta. It was there that she made her first wine cork wreath for a silent auction for charity. She thought it was “cute and cool,” but she wasn’t sure how it would be received. She quickly found out. She started receiving requests from people for the wreaths. And then, she started receiving requests from people for other items they wanted her to make out of wine corks. She accepted each new request as a fun challenge to feed her creativity. Also in Atlanta, Sasha followed her gardener’s green thumb to a group of women called the Chattahoochee Unit of the Herb Society of America who met at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. “I was just interested in growing mint and stuff,” she says. “I went to it in my free time.” The women immediately welcomed Sasha—the youngest of the group by about 20 years—into their fold, and she blossomed in the warmth of their friendship. They were gardeners, but more than that, Sasha says, they were foodies. They brought dishes they made with herbs they had grown at home to each meeting for potluck meals. One of the women made wine jelly, a commodity Sasha had never tried. Once she did, though, she was ready to try her hand at making her own. The jelly became a sweet and fitting branch of her burgeoning wine cork art business.
Sasha has operated an Etsy shop for her wine jelly and cork gift line, True Vine Gifts, for seven years. True Vine Gifts is not just a play on words (although the clever allusion to a grapevine can’t be missed). The name is rooted primarily in her faith as a follower of Jesus Christ and points to John 15, which begins with: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (NIV). It’s her faith that has defined her life in times of joy and sorrow—and the gray area in between where feelings tend to bleed into each other. “I am a believer and I hope that comes out to people when they get to know me. I want to make things that speak to people, and if it helps them trust God in some way, that’s even better.”
Her wine jelly comes with a side of humor, too. “I tell people Jesus turned water into wine, and I turned it into jelly so the Baptists can have some,” she says. All jokes aside, though, the wine jelly and cork gifts give Sasha an opportunity to talk to people, to share her heart and her faith with them. Some of her regular customers have become friends she wouldn’t have met without the business. All because she decided to put discarded corks to use in new creations.
Find Sasha’s handmade items at Etsy.com/shop/TrueVineGifts.