RedHead CEO, Partner Buy L’uva Bella Winery

POLAND TOWNSHIP, Ohio – L’uva Bella Winery has a new owner, but the business is staying in the family.

S’quared Holdings recently closed on the purchase of the wine products company. The investment fund is jointly owned by Marisa Sergi, CEO and winemaker of RedHead Brands, and Evan Schumann, an entrepreneur and fifth-generation whose family owns Bedford-based metal refinery I. Schumann & Co. 

Sergi’s father, Frank, started L’uva Bella 15 years ago. 

In addition to producing RedHead, L’uva Bella makes wines for bulk distribution, private label and retail channels, and manufacturers and distributes juices for both winemaking and other uses. 

According to Schumann, it is the largest wine-making operation in Ohio and one of the largest producers of juice on the East Coast. The wines and juices are produced from grapes purchased from distributors in California, Pennsylvania and New York, Sergi says. 

The partners pointed to several trends that supported their decision to acquire the winery, including market research showing U.S. sales of alcoholic beverages rose 55% during the week of March 21 and a 243% increase in online alcohol sales. 

Thursday was the first day under the company’s new ownership. 

“It felt really great,” says Sergi, a third-generation winemaker. “It felt like I’m finally able to find a path to succeed and be able to take control of my own destiny, and help create a company that benefits not only my personal professional goals but also the community.” 

“It’s exciting but now the work begins to take the company to the next level,” Schumann adds. He no longer has to worry about buying the company, but now about trying to run the company. 

Schumann, who will serve as the company’s CEO, says he had been exploring acquisition opportunities when the opportunity to purchase L’uva Bella presented itself. Sergi, who will take on the role of chief commercial officer at L’uva Bella, has wanted to build the brand for some time. 

“She’s been working with L’uva Bella and helping it grow and working with her own company and helping that grow too,” he says. 

When he saw that Sergi’s parents were looking to transition out of the business, he and Sergi – who plan to get engaged later this year – decided that the winery presented “the right opportunity” for them. “It was the right time for Frank and Ruth [his wife and Marisa’s mother] to take their next step out of the business and for us to acquire it to take it to the next level,” he says. 

“They thought it was a great opportunity and a great way to keep the business in the family, but also allow for it to take new heights with a new generation,” Sergi says. 

With Schumann’s diverse background in manufacturing operations – he has worked in the oleochemical industry as well as with early- and mid-stage companies – they decided that he would be a better fit in the CEO role, she says. 

Many people don’t think of wineries as commercial operations, but L’uva Bella “is a manufacturing plant when it gets down to it,” no different than a chemical plant or a refinery, other than the product it makes, Schumann says. 

“Marisa loves what she does, loves the wine industry. I love building businesses and have a background in manufacturing,” he continues. “Between the two of us – with her branding and product knowledge and my more administrative, process and manufacturing experience, I think it works really well.”  

Sergi’s RedHead Brands will now come under the L’uva Bella umbrella, but she will retain her role as CEO with the brand, which is carried in 2,000 locations. Recently added to that list is the northeastern Ohio locations of the Heinen’s grocery store chain. 

The company is in discussions with new distributors to expand into new states, but adding those new channels will take time because of the coronavirus pandemic, she says.

RedHead is still growing from distribution through Walmart, which began carrying the brand in 2017 in 20 stores in Ohio. Today, RedHead and other L’uva Bella wines are carried in about 150 Walmart stores in Ohio and West Virginia, according to Sergi.

“We’ll know what direction we’re going with them in August,” when the retailer usually completes its expansion plans, Sergi says. “Everything’s been really positive with that relationship and we only see opportunity to grow.

“With the new acquisition, we’ll be able to capitalize on that relationship even more,” she adds. 

As far as what the future holds, the partners are looking at potential summer product releases such as sangria or white wines. “If anything, we’re looking at growing some of our existing brands,” Schumann says, and probably “slimming down” some of L’uva Bella’s lower-end products.

The company also plans to add up to 15 employees in the next three to five years, Sergi says. How soon they will hire additional staff will depend on when they reopen the bistro at the winery for full service and how quickly they ramp up production of products for the summer months, Schumann says. 

“We will look to ramp that up in 2021 into 2022,” he says.

“We are willing to bet on ourselves, our team, and our community despite the challenging current environment,” Sergi says i. “We believe we can build a bright and prosperous future for our company and our employees by continuing to produce great products and to go above and beyond to make our customers happy.” 

During the acquisition, a planned expansion of L’uva Bella’s production and warehousing space was put on hold. While the winery “definitely could use space,” the priority now is to growth and maximizing efficiencies, Schumann says. 

Pictured: Evan Schumann and Marisa Sergi are the new owners of L’uva Bella Winery. The couple bought the winery from Sergi’s parents.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.