Two summers ago, Phish spent three nights at the Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington playing a slew of their hits from their most popular albums.
And among the sea of Phish-heads that weekend were two buddies from Arizona, Jonathan Coppins and Damien Kanser, who would later open a wine bar and tap house in Scottsdale inspired by and named after one of their favorite Phish albums.
Opened in August, Rift Wine + Tap is a 2,600-square-foot lounge and shop that boasts a 22-seat bar and offers a wide variety of highly curated craft beer and boutique wines.
Coppins said he and Kanser chose “Rift” because it was “the perfect divide between wine and beer and trying to bring those two groups together.”
The name was also fitting location-wise: Rift sits on Scottsdale Road close to the Scottsdale-Tempe border.
The tap house features 25 rotating craft beer handles as well as a large selection of cans and bottles to-go. Coppins said retail has been, so far, “unbelievable.”
“Way more than we would’ve expected,” he said. “Especially with our neighborhood, people are really willing to go out on a limb and try something new: try a new beer, try new wines. Plus, people love new stuff. They want the next thing, the next day. So, it’s a constant rotating shelf.”
New beers show up on Rift shelves two to three times a week “and wine shifts once a case leaves,” Coppins added.
While Coppins and Kanser may be relatively new to the beer world, wine is where their expertise shines.
Coppins been a winemaker at Su Vino Winery for 10 years and Kanser has worked in the wine industry in sales, distribution and at wine bars for 15 years.
“We were sitting around [the Phish concert] after bouncing around from winery to winery the day before, and we were talking about how we’ve been in this industry the whole time and maybe we should start our own shop,” Coppins said.
Rift has about 100 different wines from which to choose, with most bottles ranging from $15 to $25.
Coppins and Kanser will also offer a red and a white flight.
They added beer to the concept because “all the great beer places have mediocre wine selection and at best. So, we figured we could be the in-between between both of them,” Coppins continued.
The Rift team will be available for customers to tap for guidance on choosing the right wine.
“Honestly, it’s best to always ask for help, especially in a small store like ours because we’ve trained our staff. They’re all wine geeks and beer geeks. And with me as a winemaker, I can teach them like how it’s made and the things that they look for and to actually engage the customer, ask questions,” Coppins said.
“We don’t want people to walk in, look around, not have any help, panic, and grab something,” he continued. “We’re going to help guide you to try something new and inexpensive.”
What also really sets Rift apart is the soon-to-come podcast studio, where Coppins and Kanser will continue to record their podcast “Spilling the Truth.”
Guests will have the opportunity to watch and listen to them record with leaders in the beverage industry, including winemakers, brewers and brand ambassadors.
Coppins said they should have the studio finished in the next two weeks.
“I’m going to do the old school radio window where you can look in and see us all recording and everything,” Coppins said.
Their most recent podcast — their first since the onset of the pandemic — welcomed guest Yousef Hawash of “The Social Distance Drinking Club” podcast, who discussed his recent beer collaboration with Tombstone Brewing.
“I love it,” Coppins said of “Spilling the Truth” and being behind the mic. “I love to talk. I love to teach and educate people on things. So, when people get that look in their face, like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that,’ and lights up. I love that moment. That’s why I love having guests on our show.”
Coppins said they plan to post an episode once every month or two as they continue building the podcast studio.
“The second we have the studio done, we’ll hit the ground running and do once each week, if not two,” he said.
The duo’s business plan was done in January, their leased was signed Feb. 1 and they began construction in March.
But once the pandemic hit mid-March, they had to immediately rethink the design, which originally was one large community area with shared tables, hands-on games and other now-unsavory features.
“We had to quickly adjust to more retail and get people to come and try new things,” Coppins said, adding that they keep the shop “as clean as possible.”
“We want you to come in and feel safe and get what you need, especially to take home,” he said.
If You Go
431 N. Scottsdale Road