ENCINITAS — Award-winning surf filmmaker Taylor Steele, who’s had a significant impact on the surf community and its legends, said his latest venture — an Encinitas-based tequila and lifestyle brand called Solento — was inspired by his travels and experiences.
“I’ve been thinking about creating a tequila for a while,” Steele said in a phone interview. “I fell in love with tequila living in New York. The way that I drink it is sipping it and not spring break. The main reason that I enjoy it is the connection that I have with friends, it was just a way for me to slow down and just really connect with people around me.”
The idea behind Solento is drinking not to disconnect, but to slow down, and savor each moment with ourselves and the people in our lives.
Steele said that in crafting his selected brands for Solento, he spent three weeks exploring Jalisco, Mexico and learning the tequila process and what it took to make it. He said in his time there he found a really nice, organic tequila that was the best tequila he’d ever tried.
Solento has partnered with the award-winning distillery Tequila Las Americas in Amatitán, Jalisco, where the Montes family have been producing small batches of tequila for over 60 years. They practice a production process that respects the environment: harvesting sustainably maintained, organic, blue agave.
Solento includes three different types of tequilas — blanco, described as effortlessly smooth with subtle notes of citrus and vanilla; reposado, aged for nine months in American Oak Barrels with slightly sweet notes of caramel and citrus; and anejo, aged for 18 months in American Oak Barrels which gives it a smooth, buttery maple flavor with hints of oak.
Steele said that his evolution as a filmmaker, which began about three decades ago with the VHS release of “Momentum,” a 35-minute surf film he made in 1992, when he was just 17 years old, has led the way to Solento. He said he looks at it in chapters. The first chapter was about him just capturing performance and sort of taking a backseat to it all. The second chapter was about capturing the feeling of travel. The third chapter was about capturing connection and the way that we interact with each other.
“To somebody that doesn’t really know me they would think that starting a tequila company would be a far reach and a deviation from my skill set,” Steele said. “But this tequila is just continuing on with that last chapter of connection and really being present. So, to me it feels like it’s creating a world in that space and it feels very natural.”
Earlier this year, Steele was part of a group that won an Emmy at the 40th annual Sports Emmy Awards for “Momentum Generation,” a documentary directed by brothers Jeff and Michael Zimbalist and released last December on HBO. It is a behind-the-scenes look at how the original “Momentum” film came to be and the underlying relationships between Steele and his pro surfer pals including Kelly Slater, Shane Dorian, Ross Williams, the late Todd Chesser and Rob Machado, whom he has known since he was 12.
Steele said the project was a cathartic one.
“It opened up a lot of old wounds and just perspectives on our friendships that we didn’t really even know what the other were thinking,” he said. “When you’re friends with somebody for 30 years there’s a lot of things that happen and a lot of things that, just as guys, you don’t really talk about and so it was nice to finally talk about them.”
In his film career Steele, who grew up in North County and currently splits his time between Solana Beach and Brooklyn, New York, has directed and produced over 40 films. He’s recently been doing some National Geographic films, starting with “Save This Rhino” about the rhino poaching situation in South Africa. He said he’s about to start another one called “Save This Shark” that will feature Mick Fanning, an Australian surfer who in 2015 was attacked by a great white shark during a surf competition in South Africa.
With such a busy schedule — Steele says he travels probably two weeks out of every month — he is certainly a good example of someone who can benefit from the Solento motto to Take It Slow.
As he writes in a letter on the soon-to-come Solento website: “The idea of starting Solento came from hoping to impact people positively, offering a reminder that even in the most fast-paced of lives, we need to create space for celebrating the present.”
For information on where to find Solento tequila, visit solentotequila.com.
Tawny McCray is a native San Diegan and graduate of San Diego State University. She has known she wanted to be a journalist since writing for her Jr. High School newspaper in 1991. She has worked at The Star News in Chula Vista, The San Diego Union Tribune and ABC 10News San Diego. She has recently freelanced for Scripps Ranch News and The Poway Eagle and is a longtime freelancer with creators.com. She is working on authoring books with her twin sister, Nyla. She and her husband have two kids and live in South Park.