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Wavelengths: By Jim Kempton
Wavelengths by Jim Kempton

By Jim Kempton

Discovering and enjoying good wine is a lifelong pursuit. Luckily we have some great help right here in town.

There’s no denying the pleasure of wine.

It can make almost any meal an occasion, give every table a little elegance and provide every conversation an added sense of satisfaction.

Although I’m a rank amateur as wine enthusiast’s go, I learned a bit about the topic while living in France. Miki Dora, one of surfing’s early icons and bona fide bon vivant, knew the venerable Rothschild family, France’s greatest vintners—and on the odd occasion invited me along. So in those “salad days,” while surfing France’s southwest coast, I had the chance to taste a Premier Cru Classé Merlot, savor a Chateau Mouton Cabernet Sauvignon and try Chateau d’ Yquem, Bordeaux‘s great dessert wine. From then on I was hooked. Even today French reds are the only ones I know enough about to buy intelligently without the help of a wine connoisseur.

That’s not to say I don’t love California wines; far from it. I once acquired two cases of 1974 Beauleau Vineyards Private Reserve Cabernet for $216 a case. A year later it was selling for $120 a bottle. You might think we would have held some of that Napa nectar for later years. But when you have a couple of cases of great wine lying around, it’s hard not to break it out every time good friends come over—which in those days was pretty constantly. We went through those two cases in about eight months. But it was one of the best strings of dinner parties I ever remember.

One of California’s first sustained vineyards was established by Father Junipero Serra and his Franciscan missionaries on the grounds of Mission San Juan Capistrano in 1779. They planted the “Mission” grape, a varietal that dominated California’s wine industry throughout the 19th century.

Luckily for San Juan, wine is a continued tradition in town, with several spots that offer a varied and distinctive range of choices. Here are just a few:

Five Vines Wine  Bar carries over 60 boutique wines as well as a selection of craft beer. Photo: Andrea Swayne
Five Vines Wine
Bar carries over 60 boutique wines as well as a selection of craft beer. Photo: Andrea Swayne

Churchill’s Wine & Spirits, at 31901 Camino Capistrano, is as unpretentious as it gets. At first, it looks like your typical liquor store; owner John Visser doesn’t fussy up the place to look hip. But cruise to the back corner and you can find a fairly amazing selection of “library wines”—old vintages of early Napa Cabernets and older vintages of Ridge Zinfandels. Visser knows his business and if there is something you want, he can find it.

The Five Vines Wine Bar has brought a new level of casual elegance to the local wine bar experience. The 1,000-square-foot operation near the Mission, located at 31761 Camino Capistrano, carries over 60 boutique wines as well as a selection of craft beer. The owners, Randy and Suzy Fisher and their three sons (the five vines), also offer a tasty gourmet food menu, cheese and chocolate wine pairings and a Vine of the Times Wine Club.

The Hamilton Oaks Winery opened three years ago on the two-acre historic property known as “The Swanner House.” The current owners, Ron and Connie Tamez, converted the collection of buildings into a wine tasting, wedding and events facility, with 10 distinctive varietals onsite. Built in 1916 by Roger Williams, this historic two-story, Craftsman-style residence now serves as a tasting room for Hamilton Oaks’ award-winning wines.
Pay a visit and discover the beauty of these gems. After all, there are only a few things that get better as they get older—sterling silver, good books, longtime friends and vintage wine. To top it off, the word is that 2015 should be a very good year for wine—maybe even one for the ages. I heard it through the grapevine.

Pay a visit and discover the beauty of these gems. After all, there are only a few things that get better as they get older—sterling silver, good books, longtime friends and vintage wine. To top it off, the word is that 2015 should be a very good year for wine—maybe even one for the ages. I heard it through the grapevine.

Jim Kempton, a professional writer and amateur wine lover, has personal proof that wine improves with age. The older he gets the better he likes it.

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comments (1)

  • Enjoyed your wine article Jim. 5 Vines and Hamilton Oaks are great additions to our town. I’d love to have you as my guest at Rancho Capistrano Winery next week to explore some interesting facets of wine tasting not mentioned in your excellent article. Siempre Adelante!

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