LOWELLVILLE, Ohio — A specialty private equity group’s capital infusion of at least $1 million will support L’uva Bella Winery and Brands‘ expansion efforts, the company’s principals said.
InvestBev Group LLC, a Chicago-based group that specializes in the adult beverage, cannabis and raw distillate space, made what L’uva Bella President and CEO Evan Schumann characterized as “seven-figure” investment. InvestBev Group and L’uva Bella finalized the deal Friday.
The funds will allow L’uva Bella – which produces the Purple Rain, Passion and Red’s wine brands – to scale its marketing and sales efforts across the eight states where it now distributes and to begin aligning with new distribution partners across the East Coast and Midwest.
The winery and its bistro operate at 6597 Center Road near the Pennsylvania border.
“We’ll definitely take L’uva Bella to new heights,” Marisa Sergi, chief growth officer, said. Having the additional money to invest in elevating the company’s marketing, existing workforce and bring in additional talent from across the state or nationally to build a “world-class” consumer packaged goods company is “very exciting” and “a really great way to kick off 2022 for us,” she remarked.
The capital infusion has allowed the winery to hire a sales manager in North Carolina. There are plans to add three additional sales people by the end of the year and increase marketing budgets in its state territories, according to Schumann.
“Getting to know L’uva Bella through the investment period, it was very clear to our team that Evan and Marisa have the pulse on their brand and know their consumer better than any other wine company with a similar drinking demographic,” InvestBev partner Brian Rosen said in announcing the investment. “We are looking forward to helping them scale and grow for many years to come”
L’uva Bella explored potential capital partners for eight months before entering into the agreement with InvestBev Group, Schumann said. InvestBev stood out because of the firm’s partners, in particular Rosen, and his expertise in the adult beverage space and alcohol’s three-tier distribution system.
“We’re very critical and careful of the dollars that we take on and the partners that we bring onto our organization. We had done a lot of due diligence and a lot of research into different firms that we were interested in working with,” Schumann said.
An investment fund formed by Schumann and Sergi, who married last year, purchased L’uva Bella from Sergi’s parents in 2020. The winery competed the first phase of a planned two-phase expansion project late last year so identifying new markets and filling that capacity as soon as possible was a priority, Schumann said.
The winery produced just north of 70,000 cases of wine in 2021, including private label bottling, Sergi said. The goal is to reach 100,000 cases in 2022.
The first phase of the recent expansion project, which cost $700,000, included installation of a new filtration system from France, four 8,000-gallon, temperature-controlled tanks to expand capacity, and other infrastructure, she said.
Before moving forward on the second phase, Schumann and Sergi are preparing to begin a six-figure renovation of its bistro they expect to be complete by the end of this year.
“We’re about to redo the interior of the bistro in a new concept to shed more light on the modernization of our brands and of our wines, and then bring a new concept to the local area for people to enjoy,” Schumann said. “That will be starting here shortly.”
L’uva Bella’s products are carried in national and regional grocery and retail chains including Walmart, Meijer, Food Lion, Kroger, Circle K, Giant Eagle, Dave’s Markets, Discount Drug Mart, Marc’s, Sparkle, Harris Teeter and Total Wine.
“We’re always exploring new partnerships with other retailers, independents all the way up to the big-box chains,” she said. This spring, L’uva Bella is being sold in 11 select Target stores in Ohio’s major cities, “which will hopefully take us into further states with the retailer once the pilot has finished.”
L’uva Bella has guaranteed shelf space in 150 Food Lion stores and authorization to sell from displays in another 350, Sergi said.
Retail giant Walmart began selling Sergi’s RedHead wine – recently rebranded as Red’s — in 2017, which it picked as part of its Investing in American Jobs initiative.
The retail giant now carries L’uva Bella brands at stores in Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, the District of Columbia and North Carolina, and will be adding Kentucky and Alabama this year. It recently granted L’uva Bella nearly 4,000 modular placement facings on the store shelves that carry its brands, and is one of the chain’s fastest-growing wine brands in the chain’s eastern portfolio, Sergi reported.
“L’uva Bella is a great example of the opportunities curated through our Open Call event, in which businesses and entrepreneurs are invited to pitch a product and potentially secure a deal with Walmart,” Walmart spokesman Payton McCormick said. “L’uva Bella has built an excellent network within Walmart and fortified their brand with popular items such as Purple Rain Concord. We’re excited to see how they continue to grow with us.”
Meijer began carrying the winery’s products in 2019, when the Michigan-based retailer expanded into northeastern Ohio, Sergi said.
Meijer opened its first Mahoning Valley store last year and recently began work on a second at the Eastwood Mall Complex in Niles. A third is planned in Austintown.
It carries L’uva Bella’s Red’s, Purple Rain Concord and Purple Rain Niagara products, according to Lisa Lyon, Meijer wine buyer.
“As a family company, we’re committed to enriching lives in our communities and a big part of that mission is supporting local businesses like L’uva Bella Winery and Brands,” Lyon said. “We’re pleased to carry L’uva Bella because we want our customers to see themselves and their community reflected in the products on our shelves.”
L’uva Bella also is elevating its high-end reserve wines sold at its bistro, recently launching its bourbon barrel-aged Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir as well as the L’uva Bella Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel.
“What’s special about these wines are all the grapes are from the best vineyards we could source from in California, so it’s truly a really great, quality wine,” she said.
Schumann was cautious regarding predictions of how soon brand growth would necessitate further expansion of the winery capacity.
“The expansion of our brand and our markets will undoubtedly increase our infrastructure requirements at our facility,” he said. “At this point, our next expansion project will be a secondary warehouse, and we’ll be looking at an additional bottling line. Warehouses are probably No. 1 and we’ll be looking at warehousing needs likely within the year of 2023.”
Pictured at top: L’uva Bella principals Marisa Sergi and Evan Schumann