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A beloved local beverage is making a comeback this summer. (PHOTO: Lovino Sangria)

Lovino Sangria makes comeback after two-year hiatus

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It's been almost two years since Lovino Sangria disappeared from store shelves, leaving fans of the refreshing party-perfect beverage in the lurch.

But thanks to Discovery World's Director of Philanthropy Jennifer Clearwater, who purchased the recipe and brand in 2016, local sangria will be making a comeback.

"Our grapes are fermenting," she says, "And we should have 100 cases of the sangria ready to release in Wisconsin by June."

Created and launched by Erica and Jamie Zdroik in 2012, Lovino developed a loyal following largely due to its balanced flavor profile. The key, says Clearwater, is a base of Cabernet Franc, which has a complex flavor profile and helps to create a refreshing beverage that isn't cloyingly sweet.

"One thing I loved about this product was the recipe," she says. "It doesn't rely on brandy and sugars, so it's healthier than most sangrias on the market. And Erica and Jamie get all the credit for that. It's a great product, and my job is simply to get it back into the market."

To make it happen, Clearwater has entered into a partnership with Craig Fletcher of Mona Rose in Ashwaubenon, Wisconsin to produce the beverage.

"Craig was already producing a Cabernet Franc, and it was really good," she says of the partnership. "The vegetal notes from the wine forms a really nice base for the sangria. And his business is already part of the Wisconsin Winery Cooperative, so that offers us a mechanism to distribute the product at a small scale. Eventually, we'd like to be a wholesaler for the product, but this is a good place to start."

In preparation for the release, Clearwater has also spent recent months reconnecting with Lovino fans through social media with the help of "Wine Girl," a figurine she purchased online years ago.

"I'm so cliche," she says with a smile. "I've been a Napa Valley Cabernet fan for so long … and that's really who I am. And now I own this business. It's perfect. Sangria is a social beverage. It's about getting together with friends and having a good time."

Despite her love for wine, Clearwater says she was never a fan of sangria. But after spying a bottle at a charitable auction in 2012, she says she was intrigued. She loved the story behind the product and says she liked the idea of supporting a local business. So she purchased a bottle to try.

"I'm actually not a sangria drinker," she says. "In fact, I'm not really into sweet drinks at all. I'm more attracted to dry leathery earthy Cabernets. But it was a warm summer day when we opened the bottle, and surprisingly, I loved it. We're nerdy 'Game of Thrones' fans. So, we got to a point where we'd get a bottle just about every week to drink while we watched."

When Clearwater came across an announcement on Facebook that the Zdroiks were interested in selling the company in 2014, she says she reached out to gather more information.

"We had a conversation," she says. "But after thinking about it, I realized that it wasn't a good fit for me at the time. And we let it go."

But by the summer of 2016, Clearwater says she noticed that Lovino had disappeared from the market. So, she reached out to Zdroik again and they met for coffee.

"When Erica told me the company was still for sale," she says, "I had a change of heart. And I decided I really wanted to take it on."

Clearwater is sole owner of the company. But she says Lovino is a family business.

"My husband has manufacturing experience," she says, "so he's knowledgeable about supply chain management. My father is in sales and my mother is a retired accountant. So I'm really pulling from their knowledge to make this a success."

She's also making use of her background in public relations and marketing to reconnect with Lovino fans and build long-lasting partnerships that will help to propel the brand forward.

"Thirty years from now, this could be a global brand," says Clearwater. "I really believe that. But right now, we're starting off slowly. We're going to grow slowly, smartly, strategically. And demand will determine how fast that happens. Perhaps we'll open a tasting room at some point, or a warehouse in Port Washington. Right now, we're building partnerships and focusing on getting the product into as many different hands as possible."

Curious Lovino fans can follow progress of the brand (and the adventures of Wine Girl) on Instagram and Facebook. And stay tuned to OnMilwaukee for additional details on the re-release.

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