The best of the La Jolla wine scene
We Olive & LJ Crafted Wine Bars
By: Linda Kissam
Photos by Allan Kissam (except where noted)
In a town obsessed with upscale shopping, trendy eateries, craft beer and fancy cocktails, the wine scene in La Jolla, CA can sometimes fly under the radar. But there are two very special wine bars you need to try. Whether you think of wine as something you guzzle, or you’re a self-proclaimed aficionado of sorts, these two places is where you need to get your vino on.
First stop is We Olive. We Olive and Wine Bar is located on Prospect Street which is in the heart of downtown La Jolla. Street parking can be a challenge, but there is a parking garage a few doors down.
Expect small and intimate seating (indoor and outside) preceded by an olive tasting showroom as you walk in. If you didn’t know there was a wine bar in back of the olive tasting, you would not know that it existed. This is mostly a local’s word-of-mouth “find.”
Definitely order the charcuterie board or flatbread pizza to go with your wine. The wine list is well balanced with mostly California wines and local beers. A lot of care and focus has been put into the choices. Ask your server for suggestions. If the Carr 2014 Cab Franc is available, try it. You won’t be sorry.
Suspended above La Jolla Cove, it features a small balcony with wooden tables overlooking striking ocean and coastal views. It is the first We Olive and Wine Bar built featuring California premium artisan wines, olive oil tapas, craft beer and occasional events with Artisan Partners. Not all We Olives franchises have the wine bar feature.
Start your time there with complimentary tastings of all their California Extra Virgin Olive Oils, vinegar’s, and gourmet foods. It’s a kind of do-it-yourself tasting opportunity with no pressure to hurry up. Knowledgeable staffers will help you get started and answer all your questions. Get creative in mixing and matching oils and balsamic vinegar’s. Everything is wonderful, but my favorite is the Meyer lemon infused oil mixed with white peach balsamic vinegar. Drooling comes to mind.
Sunday – Thursday 10am – 8pm
Friday & Saturday 10am – 9pm
Open at 11:00am daily.
Second stop is LJ Crafted Wines located in La Jolla’s Bird Rock neighborhood. Parking is on the street or a small parking lot next to the venue. Think urban winery (they make one barrel per year on site, the rest comes from up North) with a trendy neighborhood bar feel. The space is small but beautifully designed. Sit at the long bar, chairs & tables along the wall or outside on the front sidewalk patio. The distinctive wood décor along the wall is made from their own barrels broken in the Napa earthquake a few years back. It’s a story of making lemonade out of lemons.
LJ Crafted Wines is a family-owned winery. The name is a combination of the founder’s name,Lowell Jooste, and the city where it is located, La Jolla. Interestingly, the family-friendly vibe extends to the wine tasting counter which allows kids inside. There is a kitchen on site featuring a beautifully presented charcuterie board.
Take note of two things that set this winery/wine bar apart from anyone else. They serve their wine from barrels and their “to go” options include a cool growler program.
A patent pending process (called Wine Steward) allows their wines to be served directly from the barrel. Think of a stainless steel pipe that goes to the bottom of the barrel. Then a very low pressure of nitrogen and carbon dioxide goes into the barrel. It works a lot like a Coravin—which is a needle you can push through the cork of a very good bottle of wine, and sample it without ruining it. This is the only tasting room offering wine direct from the barrel.
The Wine Steward allows wine to be repeatedly served directly from the barrel while maintaining the integrity of the barrel’s remaining contents using a proprietary gas mixture. Small batch wines arrive regularly throughout the year. Grapes are sourced from growers in Napa and Sonoma, vinified by the winemaker, Alison Doran Green in Napa and shipped in barrels to LJ Crafted Wines in La Jolla. This novel system is used to refill, eco-friendly growlers, allowing customers to select re-fills from a dozen barrels of wine across a wide taste spectrum. Join the wine club for your best price on the growlers, but anyone can come in and buy their favorite.
Wines sell quickly so the wine rotation means new vintages are arriving all the time. Especially notable is their on premise crafted 2016 Petite Sirah, the 2013 Russian River Pinot, 2015 Windy Flats Zin, and the 2013 Soda Canyon Vineyard Cab.
This is one busy place. Try your first visit mid afternoon or early evening. If you’re lucky the owner will be there to share the “full story” behind how the winery came to be. It’s best explained by him, so I’ll let you discover that on your own. Be sure to also engage with Level 2 Somm Derek Bacciocco to expand your knowledge on everything wine. The guy is really a great example of what happens when you fall in love with the “story” of wine. He is smart, passionate and has soil samples and 3-D topography maps to share with you. Seriously.
Plan on enjoying yourself for 1-2 hours.
5621 La Jolla Blvd.
La Jolla, CA 92037
Open 7 days a week / http://www.ljcraftedwines.com/
Sun, Mon, Tues, Wed, Thurs: 3pm to 9pm
Fri, Sat: 12 noon to 10pm