Damien Kanser and Jonathan Coppins aim to make wine accessible to everyone and close the gap between the beer and wine worlds.
The business partners and best friends are well-versed when it comes to wine – Coppins was the winemaker at Su Vino Winery in Scottsdale for 10 years and Kanser worked in the distribution and sales of high-end wines for 15 years.
“We’re two really big wine guys who figured it was time to start our own shop,” Coppins says.
That shop, Rift Wine Bar & Taphouse, opened in south Scottsdale in August. Coppins says they wanted to create a “neighborhood bar” for that area, which has been virtually devoid of a watering hole since Papago Brewing Co. closed in 2017. A big part of the duo’s vision for Rift was creating a comfortable atmosphere and incorporating craft beer into the concept.
“We’re not pretentious. We want to educate people on finding the wines that they want,” Coppins says. “We’ve been more and more into beer recently, and with the craft beer scene exploding, we added that to our idea. So, it’s a full-on wine and craft beer bar.”
The space includes a 23-person bar top, multiple community tables and a cozy lounge area that’s “meant to feel like you’re in your living room, so you can get comfortable drinking with all your friends,” Coppins says.
Coppins and Kanser also have a podcast called Spilling the Truth, on which they chat with winemakers and brewers about how they got their start. They built a podcast studio inside Rift so that patrons can get a peek into the process.
“We’re building it like an old-school radio show with the window and the ‘on air’ sign, so people can walk in and see us having conversations,” Coppins says. “Afterward, when we’re done with the show, they come out and pour the wines and beers for everybody, so that people can sample all the stuff that they brought with them.”
The bar and bottle shop’s name is based on a Phish album. Kanser and Coppins bonded over their mutual love for the jam band and went to a concert together after initially meeting at a wine store.
“The other side to that coin is that there’s a rift between wine and beer,” Coppins explains. “It’s trying to bring those two worlds together.”
He adds that people often assume sommeliers are snobs. They want to put a stop to that stigma.
“People believe that you have to be rich to enjoy all this opulent wine,” he says. “Some of the best wine is $10 and $15, but you never hear of it.”
Launching amid the pandemic was a challenge, Coppins says. They immediately adjusted to offer curbside pickup, to-go options and delivery.
As far as the selection goes, Coppins says it is a “mixed bag,” featuring local breweries like Bone Haus Brewing, Goldwater Brewing Co. and Simple Machine Brewing Company.
“We want to keep them going because we want them to survive the pandemic, too,” he says. “Plus, they make amazing beers.”
But they will also showcase wine from Italy, France, Spain, California, Washington and Oregon. Soon, they’ll start pairing up with different organizations to donate a portion of proceeds each month to a local charity.
They will also start hosting food trucks each week and suggest beer and wine pairings for the featured fare.
“Our big draw is we are people who are in the beer and wine world who are absolute geeks about beer and wine,” Coppins says. “We’re in it because this is our passion. We’re bringing all the stuff we love from talking on our own podcast to all the beers and wines we want to showcase.”
They also take pride in the fact that they are the ones serving patrons.
“You can come in and meet us and if you have any questions, we’ll answer them,” he says. “We’ll guide you. We’re always here.”
Rift Wine Bar & Taphouse
431 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale