Solterra Winery Features a Full Kitchen in a Beautiful Setting with Grapevines, Wine Barrels and Outdoor Dining
Written By: Travis West Sunshine & Wine at Gorgeous Solterra Winery in Encinitas
Photographed By: Josie Gonzales
The Expert: Chris Van Alyea
Credentials: Owner, Solterra Winery
There is something about drinking wine that separates it from other alcoholic beverages. Searching for the wine opener, grabbing that spotless wine glass and hearing the cork go, “pop!” You are opening more than a drink. You are releasing aromas, tastes, years of work, and most of all, relaxation. Few know this better than the owner of Solterra Winery, Chris Van Alyea. At Solterra Winery in Encinitas, everything is done on site—a surprising fact since the winery is located on a busy street in between shops and other stores. Solterra Winery includes a full restaurant, an outdoor seating area surrounded by grapevines and lit for guests to dine al fresco, and barrels … lots and lots of barrels.
Q: So why wine and not beer or whiskey?
Chris Van Alyea: My father purchased land in Sonoma County when I was 21. At that time, I was drinking a lot of beer at the University of Oregon and didn’t think too much about wine. After college I didn’t know what to do and when I was around 24 I tried a Zinfandel and was blown away by how great a wine could taste. Soon thereafter I started working with a distributor.
Q: Did you have to do a lot of studying to figure it all out?
CVA: It was primarily trial and error. The first time I made wine, I put the wine in large glass containers and it looked real murky because of the sheer volume. I spent a lot of time making it and after about five months of it being in the kitchen, I went to throw it away and decided to try it—and it was actually quite drinkable. I became completely hooked on the process at that moment!
Q: Were you born and raised in Southern California?
CVA: Northern. Marin County.
Q: What brought you here?
CVA: Traveling through and doing some surfing down in Baja, I just discovered I like this area a lot. I moved here about 14 years ago.
Q: Was your vision for Solterra what it turned out to be?
CVA: It actually turned into more of a restaurant than a wine tasting destination, which is fine. I was going to really keep it simple but it morphed into a full menu restaurant. The right combination of food and wine is incredible, so it has been great pairing my style of wines with our chef’s full flavored Mediterranean tapas. We also offer wine tasting, as our staff loves to educate our customers on the wines and process.
Q: That’s pretty impressive considering where you are. There aren’t acres and acres of grapes here.
CVA: Right. We are an urban winery, so we bring in the grapes from all over the state and Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico.
Q: Could you name a wine just by the taste, look and viscosity?
CVA: For the most part, yes. I have taken some sommelier classes and that helped with the final phase of blending because it can take days and days trying to figure out percentage-wise how to improve a wine, so it helps in that way.
Q: How long does it take to get the taste you are looking for?
CVA: Sometimes you know and then sometimes you keep tweaking the percentages until you find the right blend. I have spent four days just trying to figure out the blend on one wine!
Q: Well, look where it’s gotten you. You did something right.
CVA: Thank you. I have put a lot of time and effort into my wines and, of course, building this business.
Q: You got a new presser?
CVA: Yeah, it’s about a year old. It does about six times more than my old press did. It’s more efficient and better for white wine production because I can put more grapes in there.
Q: Tell me a little about the wine you named after your daughter.
CVA: The “Ainsley” is a Bordeaux blend and all those wines have gotten best of class, double gold or silver medals in competition. The wine spent 26 months in 50 percent new French oak barrels.
Q: Which wine or wines would you pair with a holiday dinner?
CVA: Holidays are a classic time for Pinot Noir or Grenache. When it comes to heavier meats, our Merlot or Nebbiolo tends to be a great pairing. We have a delicious white blend called La Surena that has great spice that would also be great for this time of year.
Q: How do you know what goes well with what dish?
CVA: That’s a good question. A lot of it is past experience of just knowing what works well. Obviously there is a general guideline, but what you look for is that the wine elevates the dish and the whole experience. You just don’t want either the wine or the food to overpower the other.
Q: What’s your favorite wine?
CVA: It varies. For white wine, I like my new Rhône blend and then for reds I like our new reserve Pinot Noir.
Q: How much wine would you say you consume in a week?
CVA: Actually not all that much. It’s funny, people see me with a beer and ask, “Hey, why aren’t you drinking wine?” Sometimes I have to taste barrels at 10 in the morning and some days it’s really the last thing I would want to drink in the evening.
Q: What are your future plans?
CVA: We will be opening another winery and distillery in Carlsbad in about 18 months. The winery is going to be more focused on wine tasting. Our plan for the distillery is to distill brandy and rum!
Q: What is it about places like Napa that make wine great?
CVA: It’s mostly about planting the right grape in the right area by looking at soil, climate, growing season, etc.
Q: I noticed there are a lot of awards on the walls.
CVA: We’ve gotten three best of classes awards along with many gold medals. Best of class means it was the best wine out of the 100 or so wines in the competition.
Q: What areas are you hoping to improve?
CVA: More experimentation with yeast and barrels. I also need to keep searching for great vineyards to purchase fruit from. We buy fruit from all over California so I need to get to tasting and exploring more of the Sierra Foothills along with the Central Coast.
Q: Barrels play that big of a role?
CVA: Most definitely. We purchase American, French and Hungarian new oak barrels. Each brings a distinct flavor profile.
Q: Do you hold private events?
CVA: We’ve hosted wedding rehearsal dinners, business and corporate events. It’s an awesome venue. It’s a unique space because you are surrounded by all these barrels and wine equipment.
Q: How long have you been here?
CVA: About two and a half years.
Q: What is a day like for you?
CVA: During harvest it’s 12-16 hours a day here usually, but I honestly love it even though it is a lot of hard work.
Q: Where did the name Solterra come from?
CVA: Solterra means “sun” and “earth” in Latin and those are the two most important elements in wine production.
That SD Soil: San Diego has the potential to grow some of the best Syrah or Viognier. It’s all based on soil, climate and growing season.
’Tis the Season: In the Northern Hemisphere, harvesting season for grape wines is August through October. Whites are generally harvested first as reds are harvested throughout
Barrels of Fun: The type of barrel used in the winemaking process is nearly as important as the grape itself. Oak barrels infuse the wine with tannin and flavor from the toasted wood. North American oak lends hints of vanilla and has stronger oak tones while French oak allows greater varietal expression.
Solterra Winery & Kitchen
934 N Coast Hwy 101
Encinitas, CA 92024
760.230.2970 | www.solterrawinery.com
G R A P E /// Escape. Solterra Winery & Kitchen in Encinitas is Making Great Wine in a Beautiful Location.