The late educator and civil rights pioneer Sarah Louise “Sadie” Delany once said, “Life is short, and it’s up to you to make it sweet.” The founders of Lina Wines in Ohio are putting that advice to good use with the expansion of the business they started in 2012.
“As we were getting more interested in wine, we noticed that there was a gap in the market for wine that was flavorful and fruit-forward; that you smelled and tasted and was more on the sweet side,” says Sharece Miller-Curry. Her husband Michael Curry recalls what he missed as the couple began buying and tasting wines. “We would get bottles that said a hint of vanilla or a hint of chocolate, and I would buy it because of that. When I tried it, I didn’t taste any vanilla or chocolate in the wine,” says Curry.
The two novices soon recognized what even wine experts acknowledge; more people enjoy sweet wines than the drier premium choices you probably see on many restaurant wine lists. Wine Spectator’s Ask Dr. Vinny says most wines sold in the U.S. are on the sweet and simple side, and that is the clientele the Currys aim to please. “We tell people to drink what you like, what your palette says that you like,” says Miller-Curry. “If you wind up drinking sweet wine forever, that’s fine. If you end up going into the drier wines, that’s fine too.”
Seizing the Market with Sweet Wines
The Currys make natural fruit-infused sweet to semi-sweet wines from fermented grape juices along with some drier varieties at their warehouse production facility in Maple Heights near Cleveland. The 600 or so bottles they produce each month deliver the taste and nose described to customers. “When we tell them it is a kiwi-pear sauvignon blanc, they’re going to taste the kiwi-pear in it along with a nice balance,” says Curry. “It’s not going to be overpoweringly sweet. You’re still going to get that traditional taste of the wine along with a fruit ending on it.”
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The couple recently moved their tasting room and special wine events out of the warehouse production facility to the Communion Social Lounge they opened in Garfield Heights in 2017. The new wine bar offers patrons a larger space to enjoy Lina Wines and much more. “We have a full kitchen, a full bar and a bunch of different events like karaoke, poetry night and other things we know people love to do,” says Curry.
Customers can stop by Communion to buy a bottle of Lina wine or attend a wine tasting event. The personalized wine bottles are also available in an atmosphere that encourages wine novices to ask questions. “People often have an aversion to wine because they don’t know much about it, and think they will sound stupid if they ask questions or don’t want to drink certain types of wines,” says Miller-Curry. “We wanted to take out the snobbery and make wine approachable and enjoyable.”
Local restaurants, markets and beverage stores in the Northeast Ohio region sell Lina Wines. Prices range from $11.99 to $16.99. Primo Anno, Badazz, Mango Mania and Pink Lips are among the most popular with a mostly female client base. However, the couple is also making fans among men and dry wine drinkers. As Curry explains it, “Their expectations are that it is going to be this horrible wine. Then they try it, and they’re like, ‘You know, that’s not bad. That’s actually good.’”
Both Michael and Sharece come from families that encourage their entrepreneurial spirits. His parents sell Lina Wines at A Taste Above, the takeout restaurant they own next door to the winery warehouse. Michael has a barbershop in the same commercial space and a real estate company. Sharece works full-time as a lawyer and shares responsibilities for the couple’s business interests. They both emphasize the importance of the research, testing and marketing they did to convince investors that Lina Wines would succeed. “We’re great salespeople. They saw the vision. They saw the potential, and they know our ethics, how we do things,” says Curry.
The couple offers sound advice to anyone who wants to start their own business. “Study and learn before you start putting your capital into it. To me, the best thing you can do is learn as much as you can before you start,” says Curry. His wife recommends “starting small” and being “humble about things because that will aid in the learning.”
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The Currys hope to use what they have learned to expand Communion. They want to open multiple locations to offer affordable wine experiences and events that sweeten the enjoyment of family, friends and life.
If you are in the Cleveland area, you can visit Communion Social Lounge at 4653 Warner Road, Garfield Heights, OH or check it out on Facebook or Instagram.
More information is also available on the Lina Wines at www.linawines.com.