Vino & Vibes brings world-class wine, good music, and European charm to downtown Utica
BY JAISHREE DREPAUL
When Deanna and Anna Nolan opened Vino & Vibes wine bar in downtown Utica in early 2021, it marked the brick-and-mortar manifestation of a decade-long dream. Since the couple met in 2011, they have harbored a vision of creating a space where people can experience truly remarkable wine, amazing food, and an exquisite European atmosphere. Today, the Nolans are toasting their success.
“The whole experience has been wonderful and humbling, especially since we opened during COVID-19,” Anna says. “But the doors are open, business is growing all the time, and we feel very lucky.”
The Nolans’ journey is not only a tale of love, luck, and serendipity but also one of determination, focus, and visionary business planning. The couple met in a nightclub in Anna’s hometown of Yekaterinburg, Russia while Deanna, a Flint native, was overseas playing professional basketball. Anna also worked as a translator for Deanna’s team, and the two bonded quickly and traveled across Europe together for both basketball games and leisure. During that time, Deanna also delved further into her longstanding love of DJing, and Anna became a sommelier.
In each city they visited, the couple explored the very best locally renowned wine bars, wineries, restaurants, and shops. They left each spot not only with happy memories, but with inspiration, ideas and tricks of the trade that they wanted to apply to their own eventual business. When Deanna ended her professional basketball career in 2018, the couple moved to Michigan and ended up transforming the digs at 7740 Auburn Road in historical downtown Utica into one of the area’s most beautiful hotspots.
“We took stock of everything we loved from our travels, from the actual look of the buildings, the pattern schemes, the colors, European decor ideas, how the floors looked, every-thing,” Deanna says. Anna adds, “we take our interior very seriously and we’re still working on it, but it’s already very cozy and reminds us of Europe.”
Patrons are welcomed by art and decor that speaks to European esthetics, beautiful brick walls, and rich maple floors. Gracing a tiny, but mighty menu are small plates, generous charcuterie boards, luscious desserts, and high-quality coffee. Beer and creative cocktails are also on offer, but the star of the show is the wine.
Customer favorites are Huber, a dry sparkling rosé blend of Zweigelt and pinot noir from Traisental, Austria that Anna touts as elegant, fruit-forward with aromas of fresh berries, and a hint of citrus. Also popular is Bold, an organic, unfiltered cabernet sauvignon from Paso Robles, California that boasts notes of black cherries, tobacco, cacao, and cedar. Farina, a newer wine on their list, is also becoming increasingly popular. It’s a white blend with garganega, trebbiano di Soave and pinot blanco from Soave, Italy. Customers love it because it’s refreshing and flavorful, making it perfect for spring and summer.
“I personally curate a short list of only 50 wines because we learned that quality over quantity makes customers happy and is a recipe for success,” Anna says. “I choose wines that taste amazing, are interesting, somewhat unusual, and that you won’t find easily in a market. I make sure that there is something for everyone.”
Longtime Utica resident and Vino & Vibes regular Colleen Budde testifies that Anna is telling no lies.
“When my husband and I found out that there was a new wine bar opening up, we were so stinking excited because we’re kind of wine snobs and know what’s what,” Budde says. “We’ve been to Vino & Vibes countless times, and I have never had a bad glass of wine. Not even once.”
Recently, Budde chose to celebrate her husband’s birthday with a group of other couples, and they ended up at Vino & Vibes for what she says was an unforgettable night due to the staff ’s care, attention to detail, and the quality of the food and wine.
“I didn’t even have to think that night; I just told Anna what people in our group generally like to drink,” she says. “Anna brought us several bottles of wine that were somehow all perfect, and the kitchen created a charcuterie board that paired seamlessly.”At any given time, customers like Budde are treated to music that Deanna has curated, or they might get to take in one of her DJ sets live, depending on the day. Currently, Vino & Vibes is open every day except for Monday. Ladies’ Night happens every Thursday, and on Sundays they hold a ticketed Kween Brunch that includes a drag queen performance and welcome drink.
“I take a lot of pride in being able to add to people’s experience and being able to read what people need to hear or what music can support the mood in any moment,” Deanna says. “We like to joke that Anna is the vino and I am the vibe. We both love vino and we both love music, and we’re grateful we can bring these passions together for others to enjoy.”