Shaking Up the F&B Industry: White Oak Wine Café
Brandy Kirchner | Owner | Auburn, Indiana
What Inspired You To Open?
Insanity? In all honesty, I’ve been cooking since I was 14—for almost 40 years now. I went to New York to get my Court of Master Sommelier and ended up studying there for three years. After living in Ann Arbor, I decided to relocate back to Indiana and open a wine store that’s also a restaurant.
Tell Us About Your Concept.
We wanted to bring the old and new world together, so our garden transports you to Tuscany while our restaurant feels like a tasting room in Napa. When it comes to our wine offerings, we were looking for smaller, lesser-known, boutique-style producers. I want people to step out and try a glass or bottle they wouldn’t normally consider. Our experience facilitates conversation; everyone takes their time—they stay and talk—so we set 2–3 hours between reservations.
Charcuterie Has Exploded In Popularity In Recent Years. Describe The Selections On Your Menu.
Our building is surrounded by art, so we are always dramatic with the charcuterie board presentation. I put dimension into it instead of simply laying it all on a piece of wood. The real beauty is in our wine flights, so people can pair different wines with bites of food. We want customers to experience the whole tasting—and realize how delicious a well-made Lambrusco can be with a cured meat.
How Has The Pandemic Affected Business?
We had only been open six months prior to the pandemic. We’re located in a small town with loyal and generous customers, many who bought wine by the case. I’m grateful to live in a community where locals don’t want to lose what has been created. The impact of COVID wasn’t as severe because people were good to us. And Indiana has been pretty good to small businesses. We were considered essential because we offer food, so, apart from closing for the first few weeks like everyone else and drawing back a few other times, we were able to stay open.
Which Labels Or Varietals Are Speaking To Your Customers?
Elio Perrone Bigaro, a sweeter wine, is our number one seller; people have been jonesing for it. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has also been popular. My biggest hurdle is gaining trust and being able to put something in front of my customers that they will enjoy. A benefit of working with Vanguard is having access to Pinot from areas our customers aren’t necessarily expecting, not just the trendy areas.
What's The Best Part Of Your Job?
I love watching people have good time. A lot of fun happens where we are because we can focus on conversation. That’s our reward: We’ve brought something to the community where people can relax and enjoy good wine. That’s what we were trying to do. I like living in a small town—the population here is 10,000—where one street or block becomes the place where you do everything.