LOWELLVILLE – A soon-to-begin $1 million expansion at L’uva Bella Winery on Center Road in Lowellville will position it to expand beyond the 5,000 retail locations where its wines are sold.
L’uva Bella owners Marisa Sergi and Evan Schumann plan to break ground this month on the first part of the two-phase expansion to the winemaking operation. At the same time, a rebranding for the RedHead wine brand is underway.
Sergi and Schumann purchased L’uva Bella last year from Sergi’s parents. In the last six months, they’ve grown the business 300%, according to Schumann, so the expansion isn’t coming a moment too soon.
“Right now our demand exceeds supply, which is always a great thing,” says Sergi, chief growth officer. “This expansion is going to increase our capacity to produce more wine for more retailers across the country.”
The first phase of the expansion, which will cost approximately $500,000, will involve installing three new outdoor tanks, Schumann says.
The tanks will increase annual throughput by 90,000 gallons, adding about 50,000 cases to L’uva Bella’s annual production.
“We’ll also be adding a new filtration system that will take our filtering from about 200 gallons an hour to just over 1,000 gallons an hour,” he adds.
Phase 1 is targeted for completion in June. Phase 2, which will involve additional tanks and warehouse space, is expected to get underway by early next year, with completion slated for later in 2022.
Over the next eight- to 16 months, the company plans to add up to seven positions to its current workforce of 30, Sergi says.
The total investment is estimated at $1 million.
“We’re very excited about the expansion here at L’uva Bella. It’s going to add a lot of jobs down the line as well as a lot more throughput for our lines,” she says. “We’re in about six states right now and expanding rapidly. So we’re grateful to be able to add more manufacturing jobs to the greater Youngstown area with this opportunity.”
L’uva Bella sells wines in 5,000 stores in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Tennessee, Virginia and the District of Columbia. That number includes 510 Walmarts, with the retail giant planning to add distribution in North Carolina and South Carolina by the end of the year, Sergi says.
“We’re grateful for their support in our ability to expand to new markets and share wine with more people,” she says.
Additionally, she praises the work of new distribution partners in Virginia, Tennessee and Washington, D.C., and foresees further expansion through them as well.
Walmart began selling RedHead Wine, which Sergi developed, in 20 of its Ohio stores in 2017 through its Investing in American Jobs Initiative.
Walmart buyer Cassidy Brewer says watching Sergi and her brands improve since joining the retailer though its Open Call program has been a pleasure.
“Her wines have been widely enjoyed by our customers, and she has always been more than willing to work with our stores for promotional events,” Brewer says. “Marisa’s tenacity and creativity as an entrepreneur are exactly what we hope to find through our Investing In American Jobs initiative, and we look forward to seeing her company grow in the future.”
Other chains carrying L’uva Bella’s wines include Giant Eagle, Meijer, Heinen’s and Marc’s, Sergi says, and Sheetz in Pennsylvania will add the winery’s products beginning in June.
The winery’s brands include the top-selling Purple Rain Concord, Red (formerly RedHead) and the Passion line.
The new branding for Red, which will feature the new Red Brands labeling, was driven by Sergi’s desire to “change up the brand a little bit to step into a more bold position in the market” and to reflect her career evolution, she says. The brand added a rosé and a sweet rosé.
“The label has had the same branding since 2013. I wanted the name and image to be more bold and eye-catching,” she says. “The switch to ‘Red’ gives the brand a sleeker look that I wanted the brand to have.”
The expansion project and rebranding comes as Sergi was included in the first class of Forbes magazine’s Next 1000, a feature intended to spotlight the new class of entrepreneurs. The list, published in January, features entrepreneurs from across the country who reflect diverse backgrounds.
The Next 1000 initiative is part of Forbes’ “ongoing mission to champion ambitious sole proprietors, self-funded shops and pre-revenue startups – all with under $10 million in revenue or funding – that reflect the diversity of America,” the magazine said.
“Small businesses accounted for two-thirds of net new American jobs before the pandemic. Unlike venture-backed startups, which largely skew male and often overlook under-represented groups, the entrepreneurial heroes featured on the Next 1000 reflect individuals from diverse communities who are redefining the American Dream,” said Maneet Ahuja, Forbes senior editor.
Being named to the list “shows you can flourish anywhere, especially in Youngstown,” Sergi observes. “You just have to be resourceful and be part of the community and try to build any situation up, regardless of your circumstances.”
Pictured: Marisa Sergi and Evan Schumann last year purchased the L’uva Bella Winery in Lowellville from Sergi’s parents.