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Retired real estate exec pairs chocolate and wine

By Linda Santacruz - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Steven Katz, 62, was never a big fan of wine. So when he thought of mixing chocolate and wine together as an attempt to make the bitter drink more appealing, some people cringed.

“I would look in the wine section, but there weren’t many things that interested me,” said the New York native who resides in Palm Beach Gardens with his wife, Cecile.

Katz admits he was a little bored when he came up with his brand, ChocoVine, which today is one of the most popular dessert wines in America. What started off as an investment of $250,000 turned into a product with over 15 million bottles sold.

But before all of this happened, eight years ago, Katz was a New York City real estate retiree looking for something to do.

He began researching wine companies in the United States that would create a chocolate wine. Eventually, he found Team Products – a cream, spirits and Advocaat liquor production company in Holland.

“There was only one company I found that was able to produce it,” said Katz. “They already had a lot of experience in blending different formulas.”

It took about a year and a half in blending before ChocoVine, a mix of Dutch chocolate and French Cabernet with an alchohol content of 14 percent, was ready to launch.

Yet at first, the launch went nowhere.

Katz couldn’t figure out how to sell his bottle because the idea of chocolate red wine was just too bizarre. He was confident that once people tried ChocoVine that they would like it, but it was a struggle to get them to take that first sip.

“When we first showed the product to wine distributers, everybody told me I was crazy to try and get this product to sell,” recalls Katz. “Who would drink wine and chocolate from the same bottle?”

It was six months before a distributer called Republic National Distributing finally bit, and ChocoVine began making steady sales progress.

But what really drove the product, said Katz, was getting a call from Walmart a year later.

“They had seen the product and tried it and were interested in selling it,” said Katz. “So within six months of the first conversation with Walmart, we were in several Walmarts around America.”

Today ChocoVine can be found in major grocery stores in the United States. The 750 milliliter glass bottle of chocolate wine sells at such local stores as Publix, Walmart and Walgreens for around $11.

The brand continues to grow and expand not just domestically but internationally with stores in Japan, France, China and Holland selling ChocoVine.

Recently, ChocoVine began introducing such flavors as raspberry, whipped cream and espresso. In the fall, ChocoVine will introduce a vanilla wine inspired by the popular vanilla martini.

When asked how ChocoVine’s success made him feel, all Katz said, “Many times I could have quit because so many people told me that it just wouldn’t succeed. My message would be that if you have a dream, don’t let others dissuade you. Just keep trying.”

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