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Wine country comes to Leucadia with Solterra Winery & Kitchen

David Boylan

Solterra proprietor Chris Van Alyea Photo courtesy Solterra
Solterra proprietor Chris Van Alyea. Photo courtesy Solterra

If there is one establishment that we look back on years from now, that changed the face of eating and drinking in Leucadia it's probably safe to say that is Solterra Winery & Kitchen. Solterra is a stunning work of architecture that combines contemporary design yet rustic warmth. There are 2 buildings on site, the tasting room that was built in 1957 which is 1600 square feet and the new 3400 square foot building which houses the winery. The concept was to respect the aesthetics of the original building but tie into it with a new and more modern building for winemaking and barrel storage. There is always the potential for pretension around wine but I didn't feel that, Solterra feels like it belongs in Leucadia.

If anyone had the wine pedigree to pull something like this it is the proprietor Chris Van Alyea. Chris attended the University of Oregon where he received a BA in Geography and Spanish. It was there where he grew an appreciation for great beer but it was his first glass of Zinfandel from a Dry Creek Winery a few years later that truly altered his life path. He soon thereafter went to work in wine sales with a large distributor, and more importantly it was around this time he started to produce his own small lots of wine from the family vineyard located in Sonoma County.

Since his first vintage in 1999 he has worked at wineries in Sonoma and San Diego counties and in 2002, he released the first vintage of a Christopher Cameron Vineyards wine and in 2006 developed the Costa Azul brand. His wines were produced in Sonoma County from 2002-2005 and began all of his winemaking in San Diego with the 2006 vintage.

I had a conversation with Chris shortly after Solterra opened about how this whole endeavor came to be.

LTP:
You grew up around wine in a vineyard in Sonoma. Did you know at an early age that this was a path that you wanted to take?

Chris:
Wish it were the case but truly my appreciation of wine really hit me after tasting a zinfandel from Dry creek when I was 25. My first batch that I made (chardonnay) turned out palatable and tasty and was completely hooked after that.

LTP:
What kind of food was you exposed to growing up?

Chris:
Mostly California cuisine. Love the concept of sharing plates - the concept seems absent in the US except in local sushi or Chinese restaurants but the Spanish have been dining like this for centuries.

LTP:
Solterra Winery opened 11 years after your first commercial vintage. What led you to Leucadia as its location?

Chris:
I moved to Encinitas 10 years ago and truly think that Leucadia is one of the coolest communities in the country. I really like the laid-back lifestyle and people that live here yet there is also an appreciation for quality without pretension.

LTP:
It’s a beautiful building, what was the inspiration behind it?

Chris:
I really wanted to retain the old feel of the original building that was built in 1957. We tied in the new building and it's more modern elements i.e. the roofline and stainless steel tanks. It was great working with Brian Church the architect as he designed the place with a lot of clean lines.

LTP:
Food is going to be a big draw at Solterra, and you have brought in a world class chef in Morgan Bunnell. What is his background?

Chris:
Chef Morgan Bunnell worked in five-star restaurants and opened what would become one of the top restaurants on the big Island of Hawaii. He was also voted top chef on the big Island by the readers in the local newspaper. One of his priorities is purchasing local produce and meats which was important to me

LTP:
Tell me a bit about the menu, is it a collaboration between you and chef Bunnell?

Chris:
I lived in Spain and really liked some of dishes which felt would be a good fit on the menu but Morgan also had a lot of input into the menu as well. A lot of my wines have complexity to them which compliment flavorful Spanish cuisine. The climate in Spain is very similar to here and we grow a lot of the same produce so it seemed like a good fit.

LTP:
Will you be having special wine events and dinners at Solterra?

Chris:
There will be wine dinners on occasion especially when wines are released and I will work closely with Chef Bunnell to develop menus that work with the wine.

Solterra Winery & Kitchen is located at 934 North Coast Hwy 101, Leucadia, CA 92024. www.solterrawinery.com for hours and menu.

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