Local entrepreneur’s wine to appear on Walmart shelvesPublished: 6/30/17 @ 12:07
By Kalea Hall
Marisa Sergi wrote in her memory book when she was in fifth grade that she wanted to be a winemaker.
Today, the 23-year-old is in fact a winemaker, but more than that: She’s an entrepreneur with a fearless spirit.
That spirit took her to Arkansas this week to pitch her product to Walmart.
The pitch was accepted, and come fall, the RedHead Red Blend wine she created will be on the shelves of a few dozen Ohio Walmart stores to start.
“It felt like an out-of-body experience,” Sergi said of Walmart’s accepting her pitch. “I couldn’t believe they gave me a chance to be on their national stage. I was extremely grateful and excited for the opportunity because I knew it was not easy to get them to say yes.”
For the Walmart open call, the company invited more than 500 businesses from across the nation to present their products Wednesday. The more than 500 companies pitched more than 750 products from 46 states. Only about 100 received a deal for Walmart stores.
Stephanie Gilchrist, director of the Women in Entrepreneurship program at the Youngstown Business Incubator, told Sergi and other women involved in the WE Program about Walmart’s open call for pitches.
Gilchrist wasn’t at all surprised that Sergi’s pitch was accepted.
“One thing I learned about Marisa is she’s confident and not afraid of risk,” Gilchrist said.
Sergi received $5,000 from the WE Program in the fall of 2016 to help move her business forward.
Sergi, a resident of Lowellville, is a third-generation winemaker. Her late grandfather, Dominic Sergi, made wine as a hobby. In 2003, her father, Frank Sergi, started L’uva Bella Winery and Bistro in Lowellville to honor Dominic.
“I grew up around wine,” Sergi said. “I have fond memories of tasting fresh grape juice.”
She also has fond memories of her grandmother, Michele Sergi-Russo, who came to the U.S. at age 14 with nothing more than a suitcase and a dream. Part of that dream was to make a good life for future generations of her family.
Sergi admires her grandmother’s brazen move.
“I embraced her sacrifice to the fullest by getting an education,” Sergi said.
Sergi graduated from Cornell University, where she studied the science of winemaking and grape growing, or enology and viticulture, respectively.
While in school, she developed the idea behind RedHead wine. She created a wine that was both sweet and spicy, like a true redhead, which she is.
“I just thought it would be something fun to capture the personality of a redhead,” she said.
Sergi’s RedHead Red Blend, a mix of California Zinfandel and Chilean Carm n ®re, hit stores in the fall of 2013 and is now in 200 Ohio stores.
She also has a RedHead Provence-style Rose available in select markets. It’s blended from Malbec, Merlot and Zinfandel.
“I grew up around people talking about business and strategy, and that influenced my success,” Sergi said. “The best piece of advice I have is it’s always ‘no’ if you don’t ask.”