July 3, 2020

Weekly Crush: Marisa Sergi, the millennial making waves in the US wine industry

By Angela Oemcke

Meet our first international #WeeklyCrush all the way from the USA, Marisa Sergi. Marisa is the winemaker and owner of her own label, RedHead Wine, and recently has acquired her family’s label, L’uva Bella Winery. We reached out to Marisa after an article about her, and Evan Schumann (pictured above), as a millennial making a big splash in the US wine industry went viral (check it out here). 

As a third generation winemaker, who’s grandparents immigrated from Italy taking their knowledge and passion for producing wine with them, it’s no surprise that Marisa’s passion for wine was sparked early on, leading her to study Enology and Viticulture at Cornell University. It was here that she established RedHead Wine for one of her projects, but little did Marisa know that her passion for wine, flaming red hair and an email about free hot wings would lead her to becoming the CEO & Founder of RedHead Brands at 23. From the start Marisa has prided herself on creating an authentic brand, from her hands on approach to wine making, to RedHead wines being independent from any large corporations.
So pour yourself a glass and kick back as we dive into all things US Wine Market, millennial wine consumers, supply chain management, virtual relationships, TikTok, hot wings and more…

To find out more about RedHead Wine visit the website, and be sure to check them out on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram to continue to follow the story. Also, don’t forget to follow Marisa to keep up (if you can) with all the exciting things she is up to as well on Twitter and Instagram.

I have to ask, you say you came to be the CEO & Founder for RedHead Wines as the result of an email about free hot wings, among other things, what’s the story there? 

I created RedHead originally as a capstone project to graduate from Cornell University.  I received an email about free food at a meeting for student entrepreneurs.  They were serving my favorite take-out and I wanted to join.  I luckily had a bottle of RedHead with me so I brought that to the meeting.  The professor made me give a pitch about my brand and that helped get the ball rolling on structuring the project to become a real business.  Soon after the meeting, I wrote a business plan that ended up winning several awards and support from other industry experts.  This gave me confidence to pursue the brand full-time. 

How does it feel looking back to when you were helping your family with their wine wine business, to where you are now with two wine companies under your belt? 

It is surreal that the experience I had helping my family led me to where I am today.  It is crazy to me still, to know that I own the largest winery in the state of Ohio and am leading our distribution business to 3x it’s revenue in the first year.  It is a testament to all of my mentors, support from friends and family and all of the retailers who have given me an opportunity.  I am very grateful and will never take my businesses for granted.

It is crazy to me still, to know that I own the largest winery in the state of Ohio and am leading our distribution business to 3x it’s revenue in the first year. 

Even prior to buying Lúva Bella Winery from your family, you’ve worked hard to make a name for yourself in the short time you have been in the wine game. You have already been on the speaking circuit with people like Gary Vee, that’s pretty awesome. So, tell us about your motivation to play an active part in the wine industry?

The wine industry is so welcoming and enjoyable.  It is easy to want to be part of something that has a great reputation and has positive and interesting people.  The aspect that I enjoy the most about working in food and beverage has definitely been all of the people I’ve met along the way.  My network has supported and allowed L’uva Bella to grow at the rate we are and, of course, backs the positive reputation that we have.

On the Wine Market…We asked Marisa to shed some light on her experience in the wine market, as a big part of what we do at Cellr is make true direct to consumer marketing easy for producers. Find out how here

Why do you think the industry has a weird stigma around millennials in the wine industry, as well as millennial consumers? How do you think the  industry can work to better engage with millennials?

I believe the industry will have a stigma for many generational groups, not just millennials.  Working with a group that you are unfamiliar with, makes business more challenging.  I believe it is important for the industry to keep making high quality products that have great stories.  Any consumer, young or old, prefers authentic and honest products over those that have brand names or stories that are too “manufactured.”

What channels do you use to connect with consumers in the USA and what activities do you do to engage them to buy your wine? 

I am on nearly every single social media platform.  My favorites right now are LinkedIn and TikTok.  I create as much content as I can that educates, entertains and shows the journey of what it is like working in food and beverage.  It’s a great story-line to have as every day brings something new to the table!

I have noticed you are very active on social media, and also have a lot of great digital content online to engage consumers. How important is building a virtual relationship with consumers in the US wine market? 

It is one of the most important things you can do in any market, not just the US.  A significant amount of people are always online and on their phones. You must try to be out there so you are always top of mind. This helps set you apart from any competitor.

A significant amount of people are always online and on their phones.

From what I have seen you put a lot of effort into face-to-face time with consumers and distributors, but with your wine selling all over you really can’t be everywhere at once. In what ways is it challenging to connect with consumers and keep your message to market consistent across all points of the supply chain?

I wish I could clone myself – it would make things much easier for me!  I honestly just go to as many places as I can and share the experience on my social media sites. This way, if I am not in the market you shop, you are still able to connect and engage with the wines and myself!  This has helped gain customer loyalty and awareness outside the markets I have visited.

On Authentication and Supply Chains: We asked Marisa about her views on authentication and her current supply chain management. At Cellr we want to understand how producers feel about the current systems in place and make a packaging solution that is consistent with what they needFind out what we do for brand protection and supply chain track and trace.

Talk to us about your supply chain, do you currently have visibility of your products after they leave the winery? What impact would having detailed data showing you where (in the world) and when your wine is being opened by the consumer?

As my partner and I just took over the winery roughly two months ago, we are working on implementing state-of-the-art equipment and tracking systems to support our growth and customers.  Access to real-time data has never hurt anyone in business ( to my knowledge!) I would support having access to that real-time detailed data.

With the global explosion of wine fraud pushing into the mid/premium brackets due to sheer volume, how important is it for wine consumers to be able to identify your (legitimate) products via anti-counterfeit measures?

This is definitely important to me.  We work with grape suppliers very closely to ensure we are buying the best quality grapes.  I learned in school how to identify grape varietals based on leaf shape (shout out to the Cornell V&E department ) so it’s nice to have chemical and visual testing backed by science to ensure we know exactly what we are putting in our bottles.  We also have trademarked our artwork and brand names to help protect us legally.  This has and will always be a top priority for us!

You’re a big advocate for believing in yourself and being authentic, how has this translated into the wines you make? Which wine in your range do you have a special soft spot for and why? (if you can, please send a photo of yourself making wine)

We have only made and sold wines that we would personally enjoy ourselves.  It does not feel right to put a product out there that you would not have as a go-to in your kitchen or to share with friends and family.  I have also assisted in the formulation through aligning the taste profiles with my own preferences, while still looking at market trends and other data.  I only act with my “gut feeling” which has helped guide me to make the best decisions.

To find out more about RedHead Wine visit the website, and be sure to check them out on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram to continue to follow the story. Also, don’t forget to follow Marisa to keep up (if you can) with all the exciting things she is up to as well on Twitter and Instagram.

Don’t forget to check her out on Youtube as well.

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