For the third and final stop of the Champaign-Urbana wine bar plus retail tour, my compadre and I visited Wines at the Pines, a shop nestled among other stores in the The Pines at Stone Creek Commons development at Windsor and Philo Roads in Urbana. This wine bar also moonlights (or perhaps “sunlights” would be a better term) as a coffee shop during the day. I will freely admit that I thought this combination seemed odd and incompatible until I entered the space, but the owners, Jessica Stanis and Teresa Baldwin, somehow make it work.
Ambiance and Layout
Perhaps because of the small size of the store or the wood decor and leather and wood chairs, the wine bar and retail space exude a warm, but modern feel. Although the official shop capacity is 61, there are about 30 to 34 seats, mostly at the bar or intimate tables of two to four, with seating for an additional 24 or so on the patio during the summer. If seated at one of those small lacquered tables, look down, and you’ll see they display an array of decoupaged labels and maps of wine regions.
Also due to the cozy size of the space, the retail area is not difficult to navigate. In fact, it is more difficult to find the store in the retail development than it is to find your way through the store. The deli case and checkout counter are at the front, and the wines line the south side. Seating runs throughout, but the larger tables in the back are not visible from the front. Also near the rear of the store is a cellar stocked with high-end wines for those with a more discerning palate (and cushioned wallet).
When I stopped in for a quick breakfast to check out the coffee shop end of things, I thought the wine decor might feel a little incongruous that early in the morning, but somehow it did not. Either it was tasteful and unobtrusively designed with the morning crowd in mind, or I just wasn’t awake yet, but I’m inclined to credit the store design. I drank coffee and wine in the space at different times of the day and felt comfortable doing both.
Menu and Tastings
Wine tastings at Wines at the Pines run a little differently than other tastings I've attended. Each customer or group sits upon arrival, and they're served the wines restaurant style. This might work to your advantage depending on how long you wish to linger over your tasting or if you wish to discuss it privately with your fellow attendees. Baldwin and Stanis were vigilant about attending to customers that evening, but I can imagine if the store is very busy, it could take time to try all three of the tasting offerings or to talk with someone about the wine.
At each tasting, the shop provides a pour of three wines for free, and then Stanis also samples an optional cellar selection you may choose to add for a fee, giving customers a chance to taste something they might not normally get to try before they buy. That night, we tried a Prosecco, a Cotes du Rhone, and a Brachetto, and our cellar selection was a 2-ounce pour for $8, of a Chateauneuf Du Pape that is normally $75 a bottle.
They carry a limited quantity of a variety of cheeses so they can keep their selection fresh, and a cheese plate starts at $10 for one cheese, $12 for two cheeses, and $15 for three. A number of of deli items and hot Milo’s menu items, like pizzas, shrimp, fried zucchini, and macaroni, are available for appetizers or light dinners, and their prices range from $3 to $13. The Milo’s items are delivered from the restaurant kitchen across the parking lot, but the temperature or freshness didn’t suffer, even on the cold night we visited. Wines at the Pines also carries desserts like tiramisu and bread pudding, which they can, of course, pair with coffee or dessert wines.
The coffee shop serves a limited but serviceable selection of breakfast items, including baked breads, rolls, quiche, oatmeal, and yogurt. They also brew Metropolis coffee, which is craft roasted in the heart of Chicago.
Several years ago, while working on her PhD in neuroscience, Stanis decided to take a trip to California. At the time, she knew little about wine, but during the trip, she “was struck by the wine, by the people of the land, and tasting the wines. I came back and started reading about it, and it became my new passion.” She continues to work on her dissertation and plans to finish her PhD, but expects to use the knowledge from both fields to continue her work with wines.
While Stanis searched for a location for her new venture in 2009, Clint Atkins, owner of the Atkins Group, was also looking for a unique business to fill his shopping center development in southeast Urbana. Although Atkins saw the implementation of the store in October 2009, Stanis laments that the devoted developer never saw the rest of his vision completed. He died in late April 2011 before several other stores opened and the rest of the shopping center development began flourishing. However, his vision for the coffee shop and wine bar that Stanis implemented filled a niche in southeast Urbana like nothing nearby.
The next nearest coffee shop measures almost three miles away, so area residents have a much shorter walk or drive for a caffeine fix now, and the nearest wine bar is an equivalent distance. Teresa Baldwin, now a co-owner, originally worked at the coffee shop in the mornings and did some of the baking, then about a year later, became part owner so Stanis could focus more on the wine.
Stanis hand selects all wines for the store and likes to keep a selection of smaller production wines, international wines, and boutique wines that customers won't find on a grocery store shelf. The store carries approximately 200 different wines, concentrating on a smaller focus of unique wines rather than a broad selection. She occasionally co-hosts tasting dinners with Escobar’s, so follow them on Facebook for news of upcoming dinners.
After Stanis began holding basic tasting courses at Wines at the Pines, Parkland approached her about instructing non-credit, continuing education courses on wine. Now she teaches a couple of one-day courses where she introduces people to various aspects of wine, including general differences in wine, flavors, wine faults, and what can go wrong in wine. She hopes to expand the selection of wine courses in the future.
Wines at the Pines is located at 2860 S. Philo Rd., Suite L, Urbana. Probably more helpfully, it is at The Pines at Stone Creek Commons development, which also houses Milo’s and some local retailers, on the southeast corner of Windsor and Philo roads.
Store hours are Sunday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; Tuesday–Thursday, 8:30 a.m.–9 p.m.; Friday, 8:30 a.m.–10 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. They normally close on Mondays,
Thirsty Around Town explores alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages found in different venues around the Champaign-Urbana area. If you have a favorite obscure drink, email me. I want to try it!