Going out is about friends, comfort, and conversation, says Kelly Welti, co-owner of The Oaks Wine Bar in Winona.
Featuring a Rat Pack-era soundtrack and exposed brick and barn wood, the bar has a relaxed atmosphere aimed to please small and large groups seeking a social hour. But instead of providing the party, The Oaks wants a setting where customers won’t have to to shout over the amplified music or over packed crowds. It’s an atmosphere matched by an impressive selection of wines—20 via a unique wine bar system that keeps bottles fresh longer, 8 more on tap, and a selection of by-the-bottle choices to round it out. Kelly and her husband Jeridiah own the family business, and their children help out behind the scenes.
“One Memorial Day weekend we decided to go on The Great River Road Wine Trail,” remembers Kelly. It’s an organized route that visits 11 wineries dotting the Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa borders. “We really enjoyed it,” and with time wine became more than a hobby for the Weltis.
Kelly is also a theater fan and had felt Winona was missing two things: a place for conversation with friends and a community theater. Seeing a vacant downtown building (formerly Rock Solid Christian Youth Center), the Weltis moved to fill that void, opening The Oaks in February.
Three months later they’re ready to celebrate. At 3pm Friday there will be a formal ribbon cutting, followed by wine specials, giveaways, and appetizer samples in a formal grand opening running through Saturday. With the wine bar in full operation, they will soon turn attention upstairs, where a remodeling project will reveal a stage and community theater at a later date.
Over the past three months, The Oaks has been a hit. “If you wanted to go somewhere with friends and have a conversation, you couldn’t do that in Winona,” Kelly says. The city has ample coffee and sandwich shops, she says, but evening options were limited to college and sports bars or restaurants, none of which suits her interests. “A lot of people felt like us,” she says. They have received positive feedback about their design that includes traditional bar stool seating, individual booths, and also an upstairs loft with couches and lounge chairs.
They serve mead, craft beer, spirits and cocktails, and small plate appetizers, though the wine, of course, is the main feature. An Oz Winebar keeps oxygen from reaching the wine, allowing a single bottle to keep over a month without losing quality, which makes the business more cost effective. “First glass to last glass they all taste the same,” says Jeridiah.
Sharing a bottle of wine with friends at home is quiet and comfortable, but The Oaks takes that experience public, providing a selection for different palates and a way to try new things without the investment of a whole bottle. At The Oaks, the wine will be fresh, the music will be soft, and the company will provide the atmosphere.