Economic DevelopmentWineries in Ohio

L’uva Bella Winery Plans $1M Expansion

LOWELLVILLE, Ohio — The retail success of L’uva Bella Winery & Bistro, as well as its RedHead Wine product line, is driving the company to expand its production and warehousing space.

The company is still determining the scope of the expansion project, but expects the cost to be at least $1 million, depending on opportunities to increase its retail footprint, says Marisa Sergi, chief operating officer for L’uva Bella and CEO/winemaker for the RedHead brand. The company currently distributes to some 600 locations in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and is exploring opportunities in Kentucky and Tennessee.

“We actually got a message on LinkedIn from a distributor in Tennessee that would like to carry our products in the entire state,” Sergi says. “So, things are rapidly growing and the opportunities are flowing, so we’re trying to do our best to make sure when we do have this addition, we’re doing it correctly the first time when it comes to the size and capabilities to support our growth.”

Sergi looks to start accepting bids for the project by this fall, she says. Contractors interested in the work can contact the company at warehouse@luvabella.com

Racks holding finished product in the warehouse section will be completely removed to make way for floor-to-ceiling fermentation tanks, with wine storage space added to the production side of the facility as well, Sergi says. A new, larger warehousing space will be built to house the racks.

“We’re going to try to make sure that we’re balancing the production and the storage in an appropriate manner,” she says.

L’uva Bella just hired a new warehouse manager and will create more jobs with the expansion, she says. The company currently employs 40 and will gradually hire eight to 12 after the expansion is complete, she says

“We know that with all the devastation that this valley has seen, that we’re working the hardest that we can to continue to shine some positive life on the area and, of course, provide jobs for the community,” she says.

Steady growth in retail business created the need to expand to accommodate increased production. L’uva Bella is on track to produce 80,000 gallons of wine this year, well above the 55,000 it produced in 2017. Depending on how retail contracts go, “it might be more,” she says. On average, sales increase 35% to 45% year-over-year, she says, “but with the growth we’re experiencing, we’re looking at over 100% growth this year.”

In June 2018, Crain’s Cleveland Business listed L’uva Bella as the third largest Ohio winery in terms of production. With this expansion, Sergi says it could push them into the top spot.

Big box retail has been especially beneficial for that growth. In April, the company announced the RedHead brand would expand its distribution to Walmart Inc. locations in Ohio and West Virginia and add RedHead Rosé and L’uva Bella Winery’s Purple Rain Concord wines to those locations as well. Other retailers carrying L’uva Bella and RedHead wines include Rulli Bros., Giant Eagle, Acme Fresh Market and Save-A-Lot.

In 2017, after Sergi participated in Walmart’s Open Call program through its Investing in American Jobs initiative, RedHead Wine was carried in about three dozen stores, says Charles Crowson, Walmart spokesman. The retail giant launched the program in 2013, committing $250 billion over 10 years, Crowson says.

Today, RedHead wine has experienced “tremendous growth” through Walmart and is available in some 150 stores, Crowson says, adding that the idea of continued growth with Walmart “would not be far fetched.”

In June, Sergi spoke at this year’s Open Call program to discuss the company’s growth. Increasing American jobs by supporting U.S. companies is at the heart of the Investing in American Jobs initiative, Crowson says.

“The growing relationship with Marisa and her company is something we’re happy to be a part of,” he says. “She’s been a wonderful ambassador for her company and someone we enjoy working with. They’re a prime example of what we’re looking for at Walmart.”

In addition to big box retailers and grocers where the more accessible wines do well, L’uva Bella diversifies its product with a line of reserve wines sold primarily in retailers with a large, reserve barrel-aged section, Sergi notes.

“We just released a 2017 Montepulciano from Italy,” she says. “It is absolutely delicious. So we have a little bit from dry, traditional wines to sweet, crisp and refreshing as well.”

Logistics present the biggest challenge with expanding to more states, she acknowledges. L’uva Bella relies on Superior Beverage Group for distribution to the Youngstown and Cleveland markets, and Heidelberg Distributing Co. for the rest of the state. For other states, the winery is currently seeking quotes from trucking companies that are licensed to transport alcohol and have properly refrigerated trucks.

“It’s been a challenge for us to find a business that can legally do so,” she says.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.