I'll admit that when I first heard about LJ Crafted Wines, in La Jolla, its premise sounded like a gimmick: Wine made almost entirely outside of San Diego flows directly from barrels that use a newfangled way to keep the juice fresh.
I'll also admit that after visiting the airy, hip Bird Rock urban winery's tasting room and trying 10 of LJ Crafted's 15 single varietals, I was more impressed with the polished quality of the wines than how they got into my glass.
Sure, co-owner Lowell Jooste, a South African with a notable wine pedigree in his native country, has developed an innovative wine-preservation system. His Wine Steward (patent pending in the U.S. and the European Union) allows wine to be served essentially like a beer tap. Available for purchase in a liter glass growler - 1000ml, versus a standard bottle's 750ml - the wine is as fresh when the barrel is full as when it's almost empty.
But in the end, what counts to wine lovers is how good the wine tastes, right? And from the crisp, citrusy Napa sauvignon blanc to the aromatic, tropical fruitiness of the Alexander Valley viognier, the bright cherry elegance of the Russian River pinot noir to the rich, juicy, Napa petit verdot, LJ Crafted Wines crafts some terrific wine.
Credit goes to the grapes, sourced from a multitude of fine Northern California vineyards, and to winemaker Alison Green. With more than 40 years in the business and a student of the famed André Tchelistcheff - a demi-god of winemaking in California - Green's LJ Crafted wines are a master class in varietal purity and deliciousness.
Three of the wines (the 2013 cab, 2015 pinot and 2015 zinfandel) recently captured gold medals at a wine judging, competing as the first barrel-to-growler submissions. In wine competitions, all judges get is what's in the glass, and with LJ Crafted wines, they got quality, not gimmicks.
5621 La Jolla Blvd., La Jolla. (858) 551-8890 or ljcraftedwines.com. Glasses at the tasting room range from $8-$15; growlers from $24-$40.