A Tale of Two Wine Bars

This. Yes. More this. Yes.

In old San Juan Capistrano, where the swallows sometimes go, down on Verdugo Street, there are two wine bars. One is down a flight of stairs (with a cozy sidewalk patio accessible from the street) in the basement corner of a preexisting commercial building. It offers tasty small plates, thoughtful, well composed wine and beer flights, a comfortable atmosphere, friendly (human, not servebot) service, and detailed descriptions of the wines from both the literature and the staff. Five Vines Wine Bar is the creation of folks who have learned from other businesses of its type and get it right.

The Rancho Capistrano Winery, on the other hand, seems to have been the creation of a pack of teetotalers. RCW had a building renovated to accommodate its coming. RCW features a massive community table*, large stainless steel tanks in its windows, a patio that could hold a small wedding or helicopter. IT'S HUGE, and the atmosphere is a sterile, stark-lit, failed attempt at an old-town old-west feel with a gift shop. The table and chairs on the patio made my wife and I feel like we were six-year-olds struggling with adult furniture. The live entertainment might have had a chance in a smaller room, but on the cavernous, near-empty patio the poor guy was dying a little more with each note.

You'll notice that I haven't yet mentioned wine or food.

The descriptions on the wine menu only went as far as naming the variety or blend and elaborated no further. The servers (management included) could only parrot the menu's spare descriptions and could not answer even simple questions about the wines. They hadn't been trained on the wines at all, it seems. Who cares, right? It's just their featured product.

After tasting a few of the wines I realized that there wasn't much to talk about at all. Rancho Capistrano Winery purchases, blends, and sells wines that would give "Two-Buck Chuck" a run if it wasn't up-priced like good wine. Pour after teensy pour in my mixed white/red flight lacked any hint of character or charm. Most of them tasted like wet, or cloying, or both. I can't even say that they would improve with time. Sure, Charles Shaw is an epic story of the triumph of sugary quantity over quality but I could have bought a case of Chuck for what that measly flight cost. I wouldn't, but I could have done if I were throwing a party for people born without a sense of taste or smell.

The food was sub-standard-standard-fare (pizza, sandwich, hummus, cheese plate), food service-type heat-and-eat, likely from Sysco, Costco, or Walmart. Whatever the source, it was "fine" dining at its most "fine". After a few sips of what passed for wine and a bland nosh I felt worse for the entertainer. The cost-to-quality wasn't going to make the crowd any bigger or the gig an ongoing thing for the poor bastard.

Now, I'm sure that Five Vines doesn't have a chef hidden away crafting small plates at lightning speed, but there's heat-and-eat and there's heat-and-eat. The difference is that the snacks at Five Vines, and we've tried most of them, are good and taste considerably better than "that bottom line flavor" that Rancho Capistrano brings to the table.

At least Rancho Capistrano Winery is just doing an injustice to the winery side of the business and didn't try to be a vineyard too. At least they are only incapable of buying decent wines that they have no concept of how to blend,  except, sadly, to up the sugar. At least there aren't plants being harmed by their cluelessness. Then again, perhaps if they'd killed a few vines they might have quit. Still, the only real casualty was our wallet, and only that once.

Some get it. Others don't. Some find creative ways to get a lot out of a little. Others learn all of the wrong things from the wrong successful businesses, and make it happen, for a time, anyway, with too many dollars and too little sense at their command.

Of course, I'm pulling for Five Vines to survive of the two, but, since the area is an accessible tourist destination, there is room for both businesses. It might even work to my advantage if both survive. All of the "Two Buck-eroos" could sip their diabetes juice and munch their Walmart pizza at Rancho Capistrano while the rest of us enjoy Five Vines, free of their spittle and community tables.

Frankly, if you're the kind of tool who prefers Starbucks to your local indy coffee roaster then please visit Rancho Capistrano Winery. If you're cool, I know where I'll find you. Cheers.

Five Vines Wine Bar (Thumbs way up! CHEERS!)
31761 Camino Capistrano #11
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

Rancho Capistrano Winery (Thumbs way down. JEERS!!)
26755 Verdugo Street #100
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

*I LOATHE community tables. I don't need to rub elbows when I eat. I don't need to be seen. Now that I think about it, and it's painful to think about it, THIS HORRIBLY NAMED PLACE had a "FORGED BY THOR" community table sitting empty in the back and bottles of wine that you could get BY THE BOTTLE for slightly more than half of the bar's glass price at the store around the corner. [yellowtail]. I guess that he had to pay for the table somehow. No one was seen there. Ever.

It's bad enough when restaurants crowd tables so close that you're practically sitting on your neighbor's lap, but with community tables you're not just shouting over some douchebag's conversation, you are a part of it because, hey, we're all sitting together. AmIright, bro? Joy! Not.

I'll choose my own dinner companions, thanks. Maybe in the near future I'll post about a nightmare community table experience I had one night in Carmel.

I feel a rant coming on, or did I just have one? Yeah, probably that second one.


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