Local entrepreneur infuses wine flavor with chocolate

Photo by Derrick Knutson
Joseph Woerly making his chocolate bars by hand in the kitchen area of More than Sprouts in Pine City.

When a wine lover is asked what sort of food pairs well with his or her favorite drink, the response is oftentimes “chocolate.”

North Branch resident Joseph Woerly has decided to take the pairing out of this relationship and develop a product that has those flavors combined into one. Thus he’s created Vino Cocoa chocolate bars that are infused with wine flavoring, and the fruits of his labor are available for purchase in the Forest Lake area.

Currently, there are three options to temp people’s palates: cabernet dark chocolate, merlot dark chocolate and chardonnay white chocolate.

Woerly said his bars are available at a handful of area stores: Sprouted Branch in North Branch, City Center Market in Cambridge, Daniela’s Chocolates in Forest Lake and More than Spouts in Pine City.

Woerly said he’s always considered himself an artist, and he wanted to figure out a way to turn his art into a business. When he moved to North Branch about four years ago from Florida, he worked at Harvest Granola until the business closed. There, he said he learned about food packaging and how to source ingredients.

Woerly said he has a good friend who he’s spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with for years. On those holidays, he said his friend’s mother would make magnificent chocolate desserts, and he’d bring wine to the celebrations. That’s where the idea for Vino Cocoa was born.

Knowing that he wanted to make a premium, organic, fair trade product without preservatives, he decided to source his chocolate from Venezuela.

“It has a better flavor than other bars that are out there that have a lot of filler,” he said.

Identifying a partner to make the flavors he wanted took some time.

“Finding the flavors was difficult to begin with,” he said. “Nobody was making my flavors for me. Now my flavors are custom made for me. I had to have someone specially make them. It took me a long time to even convince someone to make them. I approached a really well-known candy company, and they decided to make my custom flavors.”

So far, Woerly said the response to his product has been positive. At one location, it initially didn’t even make it to the shelves for customers to try.

“At one store, the owner actually ate all the chocolate, so she didn’t even sell it to her customers, but she paid me for them,” he said with a laugh. “When she didn’t even get to sell them to the customers and she ate them all, I figured that was a pretty good sign.”

Woerly said he’s approached some larger stores about selling his product there, namely Macy’s and Lunds and Byerlys, and they’ve told him they’ll consider carrying his chocolates.

“Lund’s and Byerlys said they’ll do a test this fall, if they have any shelf space for locals,” he said.

People who want to check out Woerly’s chocolates online can visit vinococoa.com; he can be reached at [email protected]