The reluctant wino

Anyone know how to hit on a mechanical bartender?

C. Moon Reed

I don’t care about wine. Don’t get me wrong; I toured a vineyard once. It was simultaneously boring and complicated, a combination that reminds me too much of school. Trapped in a room of mysterious metal vats, I decided I’d rather let my friends pick my wine. From that point on, I put my effort into cultivating a taste in fine friends with full “body,” great “legs” and a fantastic “finish.” And that was that …

… Until my editor suggested I check out M Resort’s Hostile Grape, and its amazing mechanical wine dispensers (known as vending machines in lesser-heeled circles).

One Friday evening I sped south on the 15, gleefully passing the gridlocked northbound lanes full of California tourists. Dreading the wine, I allowed myself to be distracted by a crowd at the pool’s bar—a line of people self-serving catered food. It felt as if I was crashing a wedding. I was okay with that.

Turns out the food was free. It seems I’d stumbled upon the 30-something, upscale, exurb utopia. Because M is a step beyond encroaching suburbia, the place opens up to the sky instead of a light haze. That clean surrounding darkness makes it look and feel like an oceanside resort. A live reggae band completed the illusion.

When the bartender filled my plastic cup with wine (I was trying to stay on task), I couldn’t tell whether he said $2 or $10. Considering the free food, free music and classy atmosphere, I’d have been satisfied with either price. I handed him a $20 and waited for my answer. When he returned a large cluster of bills, I wondered: Had our Founding Fathers dared to hope for an America this beautiful? A Wild West so manicured?

I doubted I could find a wine in Hostile Grape that would please me more than the $2 plastic cup of unknown provenance. Old Vegas hospitality in one of the newest casinos in town.

When happy hour ended at 9:30, I reluctantly met my fate. As makes perfect sense, Hostile Grape is located in a cellar. You make a grand entrance, descending a barrel-lined walkway into a warm and cozy yet modern bar. If the same bar was in Manhattan, it’d be expensive and exclusive, and rightfully so. Instead, random locals wandered in. Nobody seemed to notice how opulent everything was. What’s the nicer version of the phrase “like pearls before swine”? Or perhaps entitlement is just a holdover from the boom days.

Despite my naysaying, I do sometimes buy wine as a gift, and I have a system for that type of purchasing. Unfortunately, it only works at grocery stores. Foiled by a wine list with no pictures!


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Hostile Grape

Here’s what I do: I start with a color and a price range: Say, $10 and red. Then I go to the $12 section and look for the discounted bottles. Of the $12 bottles of red wine that are on sale for $10, I pick the bottle with the coolest-looking label.

This is where the taste and discretion come in. You don’t want a bottle that’s too cartoony. That signifies a juvenile flavor. On the other hand, you don’t want a wine with a plain label; this shows a wine overly mired in the status quo. A winemaker unwilling or unable to take risks. BORING. The best wine is in a bottle that has a spark of creativity, but not to the point of being silly.

To my surprise and joy, my system works at Hostile Grape. The Dr. Seussical contraptions that dispense wine directly from the bottle allowed me to understand firsthand the sense of power and creativity of the sommelier. What the self-service dispenser lacked in customer service, it made up in the choice of fun.

For example, I selected a 2006 Napa Valley Petite Sirah. The label design: A silver embossed crescent moon hanging over the name “Spellbound” on top of a matte black background. I can’t explain the tannins or anything, but the wine tasted awesome. Understated and sublime, just like the label’s design.

Two downsides: 1.) You must buy a $5 card to use the machine, and then put money on it in $25 increments; and 2.) the machine offers three different-sized pours, but lacks the generous hand of a human bartender.

Perhaps the fee is pushy. And the concept a little gimmicky. But isn’t that what’s Vegas is about? Free appetizers, cheap drinks and in the end, a little novelty to get you to spend all that money you saved.


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