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Honestly, $1,000 is a lot of money for a bottle of wine

La Valencia's Sky Room offers lofty wines by the glass - By Mark Stuart, La Jolla Light

The reopening of La Valencia's distinguished Sky Room earlier this year brought with it a couple of newcomers to the La Jolla wine scene; one an innovator, the other an innovation.

Dustin Jones was about to close the doors on another business day at a Manhattan Beach cafe when a well-known television personality walked through the door with a friend and ordered a 1982 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. He obliged, but served his guests with a quizzical prejudice. When the celebrity asked him what he was thinking, Jones replied, "Honestly, $1,000 is a lot of money to pay for a bottle of wine." His customers responded by inviting Jones to sit down and enjoy the wine with them.

His reaction to this famed Bordeaux, what he calls his "light bulb moment," spurred his career as a wine professional. Nine years later, Jones holds one of the country's foremost positions in his profession as Sommelier and Wine Director at the La Valencia Hotel.

When he arrived at the hotel, Jones did his research and learned that La Jolla was thirsty for a high-end wine-by-the-glass program, so he brought in an open bottle preservation system called Le Verre de Vin (pronounced "luh ver do van"). The cooling feature of the system keeps each bottle at the ideal serving temperature while a vacuum and carbon dioxide pump keep both sparkling and still wines fresh for up to three weeks. A traditionally opened bottle that is simply re-corked oxidizes in just a few days. This extended drinkability window allows customers to choose from up to 36 different wines by the glass on any given evening.

"I want to (make) the hotel a wine destination," said Jones. He proves his point by offering what may be the most exciting premium wine opportunity in La Jolla. "I tell people that I will open any bottle in my cellar if the customer will commit to two glasses. Do you want a 1989 Petrus? No Problem!" Le Verre de Vin takes care of the rest. Jones will even pour less than a normal serving of a previously open bottle for a guest if possible.

Matching food with wine is Jones' passion and forte. The standard charge for wine pairings to compliment their daily prix fixe menu is $60. However, if a customer wants something extra special, simply let the server know. After a discussion of preference and budget, a custom-tailored pairing menu to compliment the evening fare will be produced specifically for the table.

One never knows exactly what wine treasure they may find when visiting the Sky Room. Due to the unique custom service and Le Verre de Vin, it is advisable to ask if there is an open bottle that does not show on their regular "by the glass" menu. Opportunities change by the hour so the only way to discover what is available is to visit in person.

La Valencia has won Wine Spectator awards for their wine program, but you won't see them hanging around the restaurant. "I am not in it for the awards," said Jones. "I want people to have great wine and a good time."

While world-class food and views make a visit to the Sky Room a good time, Dustin Jones and Le Verre de Vin make an evening atop La Valencia a memory for a lifetime.