Growing up a fourth-generation South African in the wine industry, Jooste first visited California as a visiting scholar at the Viticulture and Enology department at UC Davis in 1986. This would ultimately cement a position working at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa the following year. After returning to work on his family’s vineyard and winery in South Africa for quite some time, Jooste relocated to Bird Rock in 2012.
Although the sheer size of LJ Crafted Wines would lead one to believe that there could not be enough room to store large wine barrels, Jooste and his team utilize the space to the utmost degree. Perhaps one of the key features of the tasting counter is his innovative, patent-pending wine-serving apparatus named the “Wine Steward.” This adaption allows wine to be served from the barrel it is aging in, also maintaining its integrity.
The key to their business, like the basic division of wines by region, is where they purchase their grapes.
“We buy our grapes in the Sonoma or Napa valleys,” said Jooste. “It’s all about the main ingredient, which is the grape. Also, we’re only going to be working with top-quality wine. All of our production occurs in Northern California, and then is shipped to us in barrels.”
Another large facet of their business is the “to go wine club,” which now boasts 550 members. In this respect, Jooste borrowed an idea from the already-robust craft beer market.
“I noticed that over the years, so much goes into the production of making these glass bottles, which in turn are thrown away or recycled,” he said. “We noticed that no one else was really utilizing growlers for craft wine, so decided to create a wine growler program for club members. Typically, we have about 10 to 12 wines on tap at all times. Hygiene is also very important to us, so when someone brings in a growler to be refilled, we provide them with an entirely sanitized one.”
Since their inception, LJ Crafted Wines have sold more than 12,000 growlers of wine. This breaks down to roughly 40 barrels total, as there are 300 bottles of wine per barrel. Jooste feels that this reduces their carbon footprint tremendously, simply in eliminating the processes to make all of these bottles, as well recycling the used glass itself. Another facet of the way they serve wine is that typically, during the last stage of wine production the wine is filtered, pumped and preservatives are added.
While this can expedite the time between production and consumption, Jooste believes that this cuts back on the quality of the overall finished product.
Wines at LJ Crafted Wines alternate every month. Jooste says that this month, they will see a total of “eight new barrels enter their tasting room. Next month, it might be two or three.”
It should be known that not only does LJ Crafted Wines carry a vast assortment of their own domestic wines, but also offers a small menu of charcuterie boards (highly recommended) as well as other small plates, that pair tremendously with a wine recommendation from the sommelier, Derek Bacciocco. Bacciocco is extremely knowledgeable in his field, and is a self-assessed “wine dork.”
“I am truly passionate about wine,” said Bacciocco. “Initially, during a tasting people are reserved, a bit intimidated. Towards the end, however, they are asking pointed questions and begin to pick up on the subtleties of each wine. It is important to mention that we do not serve blends here.”
An ever-important key to their success, as mentioned previously, is their to-go wine club. Entry to this club allows members 20 percent off any growler refill, with the stipulation that they purchase at least one bottle a month. Sometimes customers come in, turn in their growler, exchange niceties, then return home. Other times, they may wind the day down with a friend, often times Jooste and Bacciocco. Regardless, there is no incorrect way to stock up on one’s favorite vino.
The recent recipients of a double gold award for their 2013 Patient Terrier Vineyard Pinot Noir, LJ Crafted Wines were presented with this honor at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, that took place March 24-26 in Rochester.