On cloud wine: Bird Rock’s LJ Crafted Wines celebrates eight years

business front of LJ Crafted Wines with two blue umbrellas and patio seating

With (several) glasses half full, LJ Crafted Wines recently celebrated its eighth anniversary in Bird Rock and entered its ninth year serving sociability and sustainability.

The tasting room, which also offers charcuterie and other small bites, serves its wine straight from the barrels into glasses onsite or reusable growlers to take home in a concept owner Lowell Jooste hopes will catch on globally. 

Eleven years ago, Jooste, a fourth-generation winemaker from South Africa, moved to Bird Rock with his family and wanted, with his wife Anne, to start a wine bar that promoted community and ecology while highlighting the best grapes.

Through its reusable growler program, in which customers bring back their empty wine growlers for sanitation and refilling, LJ Crafted Wines estimates it has replaced more than 170,000 single-use wine bottles, which, as demonstrated by the map on the store’s wall, would stretch from the southern end of La Jolla at Bird Rock all the way north to the northern end of the Torrey Pines golf course if lined up side by side.

The program has proved very popular, with Jooste noting most members live within a half-mile radius (though the tasting room fills up with patrons from all over San Diego), as LJ Crafted Wines (is the LJ for Lowell Jooste or La Jolla? Yes.) is a daily meeting spot for people walking their dogs or friends grabbing a quick drink after work.

“We’re doing predominantly single vineyard, Napa and Sonoma wines,” said the tasting room’s certified sommelier – who has been there since day one – Derek Bacciocco, calling out the rarity of having all the grapes for a wine come from one vineyard.

“We buy grapes in Napa and Sonoma,” Jooste said, making wine in those regions and shipping the full barrells to the La Jolla tasting room to serve.

“People come here to hang out and be with their friends and socialize,” Bacciocco said, “then they pick up on what we’re doing. And they think [the sustainability push] is an added bonus … that just kind of spreads extra pixie dust on the project.”

Making a wine bottle represents about half the carbon footprint of the entire industry, Jooste said, noting he’s proud of conceiving a program that eliminates that step.

Bacciocco noted how special the Bird Rock residents are for embracing the sustainability idea: “You need the community to make this work.”

And outside of Bird Rock, people are taking notice: LJ Crafted Wines has taken home numerous awards in its eight years, most recently winning gold in the 2024 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, the largest such for North American Wines, for its 2022 Chardonnay Napa and its 2021 Zinfandel form Alexander Valley, Hoot Owl Ranch.

“We won silver for nearly everything else,” Jooste added. 

Jooste was also asked to lead a seminar in early February at UC Davis in its viticulture & enology department on bottling and packaging. 

“We’re so tiny and under the radar, and UC Davis is on the cutting edge of what’s happening in the world, wine-wise,” Jooste said. “It was quite an honor.”

About five months ago, LJ Crafted Wines endeavored to get its wine into more houses, started a shipping program using 750-mL lightweight aluminum cans, which weigh less than 10 percent of a wine bottle’s mass. 

The cans are easy to enjoy by the pool and elsewhere, or to transport home with a tourist, Jooste said.

Hoping to continue being an example of quality and sustainability to other tasting rooms worldwide, Jooste said being a role model is one of the best contributions he can make to the winemaking industry.

But beyond that? “The most important thing is that the customers are coming back,” he said. “That’s the best proof of the pudding.”

Picture of Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto has been reporting on and writing about La Jolla since 2019. With dozens of local and state journalism awards to her name, Elisabeth knows the industry as well as she knows her community. When she’s not covering all things 92037, you’ll find her with coffee in hand staring at the sea.
Picture of Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto

Elisabeth Frausto has been reporting on and writing about La Jolla since 2019. With dozens of local and state journalism awards to her name, Elisabeth knows the industry as well as she knows her community. When she’s not covering all things 92037, you’ll find her with coffee in hand staring at the sea.

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