We'll keep the intro short for this one because you'll want to just dive into the empathetic dedication and optimistic passion that is Jessica Selander, founder of Jøyus Wines. Both of her wines won medals at the 2021 San Francisco International Wine Competition—read on to learn about her journey to that achievement and more.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and what has been your professional path before Jøyus?
I’m Pacific Northwest born and raised. Currently raising my kids here in this beautiful area. I also lived some of my adult life in California. It’s where I met my spouse and where I spent a lot of my career previous to this one. Before starting Jøyus, I was a Creative Director in a very male-dominated industry. I’m grateful for the experience because it turned out to be very helpful here, too. The wine and beverage industry is also very male-dominated. I received some pretty interesting, and frankly condescending, comments when I first started working on Jøyus. But coming from my background—I didn’t let it get me down or discourage me. I know how to hold my own, to keep moving forward and to fight for my ideas. It’s mostly women that drink wine (percentage-wise), but it’s mostly men that make it. And I think because of that, there’s a disconnect.
What inspired you to create Jøyus?
I’ve been sober for over 16 years now, which means I’ve spent pretty much every adult life moment alcohol-free. I drank Martinelli’s when I got married, got a new job, for every New Year's Eve, or anything special. And I’m grateful it exists, but I felt like I was still at the kiddie table. I wanted wine. I loved wine and everything about it. The taste, the ritual, the celebration and togetherness. I just didn’t want the alcohol in it. I’ve done everything I can to make my wines taste like traditional wine (we have the industry awards to prove it!) and to make the entire experience the same for people. I give my wines the same love, care, and respect that are normally given to traditional wine. I provide an option that is sophisticated and premium because I want people who aren’t drinking alcohol—but still love wine—to have that same special experience. They deserve it.
You're one of the few sober founders behind a nonalcoholic brand. What do you think of that?
Jøyus is both woman and sober owned, which means we deeply understand the nonalcoholic wine drinker on a personal level. I know what it’s like to not be able to participate like everyone else because I’ve been there. I know how it feels and I know the pressure people put on you to drink. And over the years I’ve gotten all the invasive questions people ask about it. I understand not wanting to tell people you’re pregnant yet because it’s early or you’re worried. And I understand what it feels like to stare at a countertop filled with wine bottles on a girls' weekend while you’ve got a soda pop in your hand. It’s hard. It’s really hard. When I have my nonalcoholic wine, I’m drinking something that looks, tastes and smells like what everyone else is drinking, and I’m drinking mine out of the same glasses they are. That feeling of being different disappears. And for whatever reason the invasive questions don’t happen.
It also means I know the history of the nonalcoholic market. I didn’t come to this a couple of years ago; I’ve been living it for 16 years. I was originally not planning on being so face-forward or talking about my own sobriety. But I came to the conclusion that Jøyus couldn't exist without telling the story of why I created this brand and company. My being sober influences everything we do. It’s why it’s premium. It’s why we invest so much into every single detail. There’s a lot of ways to cut corners and costs with nonalcoholic products, but we believe people deserve to be treated in a certain way. It’s really about treating everyone equally. I’m sober, but we’re here to support everyone in their journey. Whether it's for a glass, a night, 9 months, or the rest of their lives, we’ve got their back. It also means I’m not here to sell a product, I’m here to change the way we think about drinking culturally. To open it up to everyone and to have everyone be able to participate in whatever way they feel comfortable.
And what's your take on the mix of sober people and drinkers in the NA space?
I think it’s absolutely fantastic. I was surprised in the beginning by how many people that drink alcohol on a regular basis also wanted something like this. But it makes sense. From health reasons, to the calories, to just not feeling like alcohol that day, it makes sense. And it’s how we can move towards more inclusive drinking culturally. People that want to drink alcohol, that’s fine. And people who don’t want to, also totally normal. And every variation in between. The goal is to include everyone.
Did you find support from the sober community when you first set out to create your brand?
So much support! These are my people. We get each other, we know each other and we know what a deep impact products like this can make in people’s lives. There are a lot of brands that are here from a wellness perspective, and that’s awesome. But if you go deeper-in, it really gets serious. And that’s something a lot of people swimming in these waters don’t understand. I’ve lost friends to alcoholism. Amazing, smart, talented people that aren’t here anymore. And inside of me I wonder—if they had access to something like this, if they had more support and acceptance culturally, would things be different? Would they still be here? I look at my two amazing, young kids who have alcoholism and addiction on both sides of their family and wonder what it will be like for them when they grow up. So it’s a much deeper mission driving me.
All of your wine has won awards, which is incredible. What was essential to your process to get to that achievement?
Long story short—we cared. Every single step we cared.
One of our core values at Jøyus is deep-listening. When developing our wines we did a lot of focus groups to really hear what people want. And we included everyone’s—people that had never tried nonalcoholic wine, people that drink them some of the time, and people that only drink nonalcoholic wines. We made sure to include wine experts and even had a sommelier participate, too. And we’ll always keep listening.
What do you see as the future of nonalcoholic wines and other beverages?
My goal and my hope is that it just becomes normal. I would love to go to an event and see a bottle of nonalcoholic anything already there. That it becomes part of the process and thinking when planning an event or having a party to pick up something nonalcoholic that’s not soda pop.
How did you come to the name "Jøyus"?
For many people alcohol is something used to celebrate—it’s a happy thing. But for the people for whom alcohol doesn’t work, it’s not happy. It’s not positive. By taking the alcohol out of the equation, we can bring that joy back into the experience. I believe that we’re meant to live life happy, joyous and free. And it’s really about the “us.” We’re meant to go through this life together. It’s about all of us treating each other well.
What has made you most proud on this journey of bringing Jøyus into the world?
Opening people’s minds to more inclusive drinking. It’s totally fine for people to drink alcohol, it’s also perfectly normal not to. Seeing Jøyus in a fridge case in a grocery store, seeing Jøyus next to regular alcohol wine is the best feeling. And it’s not because they’re my wines, it’s because it’s a nonalcoholic wine treated the same as regular wine. That changes minds and perspectives. It really helps normalize it. The first time I saw that, I was overjoyed.
Our motto at Boisson is seeing the Glass Half-Full. How do you think alcohol-free wines like Jøyus allow people to see the glass half-full?
At Jøyus we’re all about seeing the glass half-full too. Everyone goes through hardships; it’s a part of the human experience. Sometimes you’re in a situation where you can change things, but there’s also many times in life where you can’t. A lot of the time all we can do is change our perspective on a situation or look for things in our lives to be grateful for.