Corvina Wine Company blends family history with wine
Milwaukee has blossomed in the past few years in terms of the number of food and beverage venues available to consumers.
But West Allis hasn't been far behind.
Among the bevy of new businesses to crop up in the area is Corvina Wine Company, located across from St. Rita's Parish at 6038 W. Lincoln Ave.
The business, which sports a well-appointed interior with seating for up to 35, opened in 2012 as a retail wine shop that offered private tasting events. However, beginning this year, Corvina added a wine bar with more than 30 wines by the glass, plus more by the bottle.
Customers can drop in for a glass of wine, along with small bites, including charcuterie selections from Underground Meats, pretzels from Milwaukee Pretzel Company, preserves from Madison's Quince & Apple and a selection of both local and international cheeses.
It is also one of only a few retailers who use and sell the Coravin, a wine preservation mechanism that injects argon gas into naturally corked wine bottles, allowing the wine to be extracted from the bottle without the fear of oxidation.
In the shop, consumers will find a regular selection of 85 to 100 wines, with the majority in the $10-20 range.
"We love to find bottles that over-deliver at that price point," notes Frank LaSusa III, who owns Corvina with brother Joe. "We also love to bring in things that normally get gobbled up on the coasts and often don't make it to Wisconsin."
The brothers note that, though they have a natural affinity for Italian wines, the shop offers broad representation from around the world, including more unusual wines from Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary.
As for the name, Corvina refers to the name of a wine grape that originates in the Veneto region of Italy.
"When we contemplated a name, we thought we might use the name of a wine grape," Joe explains. "In the end, Corvina was easy to pronounce, and it's also a very resilient grape. So that seemed appropriate."
Making wine personal
Although the wine selection at Corvina in many ways speaks for itself, it's also the sense of individualized service that sets the shop and wine bar apart.
"It's the sort of place where, if you come in and offer information about the types of wines you like, we can recommend things that you might enjoy," says Joe. "In fact, if our customers want us to, we can also build a wine profile for them, so that we can look back on what they've tried and purchased and talk about the next thing they might want to try – whether it's similar or completely different."
Frank nods in agreement.
"We love carrying over that personal sense with our customers, getting a feel for what they like to drink and introducing them to new things," he says. "For example, someone might say that they don't like Chardonnay, but then we'll give them a line up of five or six wines – some of them Chardonnays in various styles – and they'll like the majority of them."
The brothers gravitated toward the wine business after entertaining countless clients during careers as pharmaceutical sales representatives.
"We met a lot of sommeliers in the Chicago area and got involved with trade tastings," recalls Frank, who eventually took work selling boutique wines with a small distributor out of Chicago.
From there, he obtained a certificate with Tuscan Wine Masters and completed the Level 1 course of the Court of Master Sommeliers and the Wine and Spirit Education Trust London program. Currently, he's continuing his studies to earn his Master of Wine degree.
Joe says he's taken numerous wine classes, as well; however, his education has derived primarily from enjoying a wide variety of wines, as well as traveling to some of the world's finest wine regions and experiencing tastings with producers.
Part of the family
Corvina's location also has a long history in the LaSusa family. Like so many Sicilians of the time, Frank and Joe's great grandfather Francesco LaSusa emigrated to the U.S. in the early 1930s and opened an Italian deli and grocery store in the space, which he operated through the late 1970s.
At that point, their grandfather Carmelo operated a printing company there for nearly 30 years. He later handed it over to his son, Frank, who rented it out to several businesses, before selling it to his sons to establish Corvina.
And the history of the space is meaningful to both Joe and Frank, who credit their Italian heritage for setting the groundwork for their appreciation for wine.
"During Sunday dinner our whole family would get together," notes Joe. "And there was always a jug of wine in the fridge. It was strong, so when we were kids they diluted it for us with white soda. And as we grew up, there were more family gatherings, many that took place at the old Pizza Man on North Avenue. There was always plenty of wine and conversation."
"That's how we view wine, too," adds Frank. "It's about sharing and gathering. There are always good conversations over a bottle of wine."
The brothers say it's an honor to draw customers into their long-held family legacy through the wine shop. And what they've found along the way is there are many in the neighborhood and beyond for whom the place evokes fond memories.
"People always come in and tell us great stories about the shop," notes Joe. "For instance, there used to be a candy store at St. Rita's across the street that was run by nuns. But a lot of the kids would sneak over to the grocery store to buy their candy. The nuns found out and they'd come in and look for the kids. y great-grandmother would save them by hiding them behind the counter, so people will come in and tell us how our great-grandmother saved them."
And little touches in the shop pay homage to its history, including photographs of their great-grandfather's store and old wine presses and wine barrels that Francesco used for making the good stuff.
The notion of family also comes into play with the selections that the LaSusas make for the shop.
"We love to buy from smaller, family-run wineries," says Joe. "And in the case of many of the wines, we've had the pleasure of visiting the wineries, so we can share the passion and stories with our customers."
Corvina also offers wine tasting and educational classes that cover a variety of themes, varietals and regions, most of which take place on Saturday afternoons. For more information, sign up for the Corvina Wine newsletter, or follow the shop on Facebook.
Corvina is open Tuesday through Thursday from 1 to 9 p.m., Fridays from 1 to 10 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
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