Lowell Jooste was the perfect entrepreneur to start up LJ Crafted Wines, a winery that booted the bottle and adopted the growler concept borrowed from the craft beer industry to further its “Supporting a Zero-Waste Lifestyle” tagline and “Rethink, Reduce and Refill” philosophy.
Initially, his career was focused on business where Lowell earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Cape Town and later qualified as a chartered accountant. Coming from a fourth-generation family steeped in the wine business, he revisited his wine roots in 1986-87 as a visiting scholar at UC Davis’s Viticulture and Enology Department. He worked at Robert Mondavi Winery for the 1987 vintage.
After UC Davis and Mondavi, Lowell returned to his family’s vineyard in Cape Town, which his family owned from 1980 to 2011. The winery’s most notable accolades were 90-plus points by Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate for their 2004 to 2006 vintages, #10 of Wine Spectator’s 2015 Top 100 wines for the 2009 Klein Constantia Vin de Constance, and Robert Parker mentions.
After selling the family vineyard, Lowell and his family relocated to La Jolla. He spent a few years enjoying family time, outdoor tennis, cycling and surfing hobbies.
Lowell’s hiatus made him rethink the environmental impact of traditional bottling and packaging. With both his business and wine industry experience, and his entrepreneurial, inventive spirit, Lowell started LJ Crafted Wines, which shares his and La Jolla’s initials, at their Bird Rock community location.
The tough nut that Lowell had to crack was how to keep a barrel of wine fresh for weeks up to several months and how to get the wine into glasses and growlers. Coravin has a device to keep a single bottle of wine fresh. However, a standard 225L barrel (barrique) contains 300 bottles of wine.
Enter Lowell’s patented Wine Steward device and use of low-pressure inert gas to displace wine without using a bladder in the same barrel that the wine is aged in. He also has flow meters to track the quantity poured. Genius!
In 2016, worried about whether customers would adopt the Wine Steward concept, Lowell bottled half of his wine in standard 750ml bottles and offered one-liter reusable growlers at the same cost, resulting in 33% more wine per bottle. To his surprise, 90% of his customers preferred the growlers, and he never bottled them again.
Since its opening in 2016, LJ Crafted Wines has served 400 barrels of wine, saving more than 120,000 bottles, corks, and associated cardboard packaging. Bottling also requires filtration and the addition of preservatives that can affect the wine’s character.
Without bottling, they can save 75% of operational costs, including branding.
“We are not building a brand; our goal is to build a community following,” Lowell said.
At the heart of Lowell’s team and their success is winemaker Alison Green-Doran and certified sommelier Derek Bacciocco.
Alison is one of California’s first female winemakers and has 40 harvests under her belt. Alison’s wine career started with her internship at her family’s vineyard, Simi Winery, under André Tchellistcheff. She also had a cellar position in France and earned a Fermentation degree at UC Davis. After several jobs, from Lab Tech to 19 years as a winemaker, she has returned to the family business and winemaking for LJ Crafted Wines.
Derek came from a big box wine store where he was the manager.
“LJ Crafted Wines was a fantastic opportunity, I am enjoying small business compared to the corporate feel, and I love nerdy stuff,” Derek said.
See Derek’s wine informative website at DtheV.com.
Lowell took Frank and me through his lineup of small-batch, single vineyards wines. We started with a 2020 Calistoga Petit Verdot (Romeo Vineyard), whose barrel had been poured from for over two months. It tasted fresh and had no adverse flavors or spoilage, enticing me to taste more.
For whites, I had a 2020 Russian Valley Chardonnay, 2021 North Coast Sauvignon Blanc, and 2022 Carneros Albarino before shifting to the reds. For reds, I had a 2021 Napa Valley Pinot Noir (Senemar Vineyard), 2019 Mendicino Sangiovese (Hopland Vineyards), and 2021 Lake County GSM Blend (grenache-36%, syrah-26%, merlot-38%) sourced from Fore Family Vineyards.
The relaxed, family-friendly tasting room is located two blocks from the coast and has indoor and outdoor seating. Tuesday to Thursday is always happy hour with 10% off wine by the glass. Additionally, they offer cheese boards and have a seasonal gourmet small plates menu intermittently throughout the year. Frank and I had a cheese board filled with meats and cheeses that were perfect with our wines.
Also, wine club members receive 20% wine discounts and $17 off 2nd refills. Members only need to purchase one bottle per month.
LJ Crafted Wines is a game changer with environmentally responsible, great-tasting wines and a fun atmosphere. A must-partake venue. ljcraftedwines.com. — Story by Rico Cassoni
Victor Magalhaes, Proprietor of Vittorio’s Italian Trattoria in San Diego’s Highland Valley, is hosting a Foxen Vineyards Wine Dinner on Thu 1/26 at 6 PM with VP Sales/Marketing Kaitlin Hite from the winery. Guests will enjoy four courses and a dessert with 5 Foxen wines. The main course features Grilled Skirt Steak paired with 2018 Foxen Volpino Sangiovese. Cost is $75 per person + tax/gratuity. RSVP at 858-538-5884.