Jessica Selander’s reasons for starting Jøyus, a Seattle-based alcohol-free wine company, were simple. She doesn’t drink alcohol, having been sober for 17 years.
“Drinking is a huge part of our culture in the United States,” Selander says. “It’s something you do when you when you celebrate. It’s something you do with your friends. When you’re not drinking alcohol, it’s really challenging.”
While her friends were drinking wine, beer, or spirits, Selander would drink LaCroix sparkling water or Diet Coke. That would often lead to uncomfortable questions. So she moved on to cream soda.
“It kind of looks like something,” she explains. “When you are in a situation where you’re drinking something that looks like what everybody else is, those questions stop.”
Selander set out to create something to do just that, but she also set out to do something better. There is already a small selection of non-alcoholic wines available, but many of them are sweet and aren’t quite what Selander was looking for.
“What I really want to do is to give people the whole experience, something that really tasted as much as humanly possible like wine,” she says. “I also wanted to have it be in a wine bottle with a cork, the whole experience. People deserve that.”
Selander spent almost six years putting money away and thinking about the project. Then a few years back, she started actively talking to people about the idea. The response from many was unexpectedly chilly.
“There was this negative response from a lot of folks in the industry that seemed offended and angry at the idea,” she recalls. “I got a lot of condescending stuff too.”
Fast forward to the pandemic. She picked the idea back up.
“Maybe it’s a good thing it took this long because there’s been a really huge cultural shift,” Selander says. “People are thinking about drinking and alcohol consumption a little bit differently.”
For Jøyus, the wines are created by taking regular wine and removing the alcohol. This is a process that is commonly done when winemakers want to lower the overall alcohol level. Selander takes it a step further and takes the alcohol out.
Jøyus started out in 2021 making two sparkling wines, a white and a rosé, which are both tasty. “I wanted to start with the times you’re missing wine the most, and that’s the celebrations,” Selander says. The company has since added a still rosé and a Cabernet Sauvignon. (I have not tried these as of yet.)
Fruit for the wine comes from California. The business is otherwise Washington-based.
“The alcohol removal technology is in California, but we’re a Washington winery,” Selander says. “I live in Seattle. We pay taxes here. We warehouse here. Everything happens here.”
The sparkling wine retails for $25 and comes in a standard wine bottle, complete with cork and cage. While the cost might seem higher than some would expect for a wine without alcohol, the reasons are simple.
“You have to start with good wine, and now you’re not done,” Selander explains. “It’s more expensive to make this than it is to make regular wine because you have to do all these extra steps.”
Once Selander got the business off the ground, then came the hard part: explaining to people why she was doing it. At the heart of that story is her own sobriety.
“At first, I was not going to have that be part of the story,” she says. “Then I thought, ‘How can I do this company without telling people why I’m doing it?’ I had to get really comfortable with the idea of being more and more open about it.”
But what she found in that openness was community. As she told her story, people told theirs.
Some people don’t drink alcohol because they are sober. Some are pregnant. Others take medications that don’t allow them to drink alcohol or abstain for religious reasons. Selander also notes that about half of the people who drink non-alcoholic wine do drink alcoholic beverages occasionally.
Overall, one of Selander’s goals with Jøyus is to make the wine industry more accepting of the diversity of people who like to enjoy wine. “I would love to see the cultural norm shift to being more open and inclusive. I think one of the hard parts with not drinking is a lot of the reasons can be very personal.”
In the Seattle area, Jøyus wines can be found at Leschi Market, Metropolitan Market, and various other locations. Selander says the response thus far has been rewarding.
“It’s absolutely everything that I hoped and everything that I dreamed. People are just so ecstatic to find it.”
And those once-awkward get-togethers with friends?
“When I was hanging out with my lady friends and they’re all drinking sparkling wine and I’ve got the LaCroix, I felt like an outsider. When I have Jøyus, those feelings are gone.”