Lick the Plate: Celebrating five years of wine country at the beach

Lick the Plate: Celebrating five years of wine country at the beach
Owner Chris Van Alyea, left, and David Boylan celebrating five years of Solterra. Photo courtesy of Solterra

After many years of Licking the Plate I have developed a sense of the long-term viability of a new restaurant, many times upon walking through their doors. Such was the case five years ago when I came across Solterra Winery & Kitchen.

On first glance my initial thought was that it was very much like, “Wine country at the beach,” which was the headline that ran in my first The Coast News column on Solterra. The design and construction was such that it seemed like it had been there a while. That, combined with the barrel room that is so perfect for events, the restaurant and bar that open up on to Coast Highway 101 and the front and back patios, just exuded a warmth and sense of style all its own. There is always a steady stream of folks out and about on Coast Highway and that makes for great people watching.

Over the past five years it’s been my go-to spot to take out-of-town guests, impress clients, or just pop into while out on a bike ride for a glass of wine and a chat with the friendly staff. The kitchen has always been solid and the servers well-versed on pairing wine and food.

I’ve been lucky to get to know owner Chris Van Alyea through several radio interviews, columns and just hanging out. We share interests in fishing, music, wine and great food and when those are common interests, there is never a shortage of good conversation. What he has done with Solterra is very close to my idea of what a great restaurant should include and the fact that he combines that with winemaking makes it even better.

I caught up with Chris recently to get his take on five years under his belt with Solterra.

Lick the Plate:

When Solterra was just an idea in your mind, how did you settle on Leucadia as your location? 

Chris:

I truly think that Leucadia is one of the best communities anywhere. It has a great vibe with very friendly people and you can’t beat this location.

LTP:

Now celebrating five years in business, how have you seen coastal Leucadia change during that time?

Chris:

I think there have been a lot of great changes with an awesome selection of new restaurants and coffee shops. Leucadia is now a destination for people to go out for a night on the town.

LTP:

You must be stoked given the warm reception you received and that Solterra is more popular than ever. What do you attribute that to?

Chris:

That’s much-appreciated David. Our staff is quite welcoming and patrons feel like their part of the family. Our food has been pretty innovative and our wines have improved.

LTP:

What have some of the challenges been?

Chris:

Oh boy where do I start? As a new restaurateur there has been quite a big learning curve. From the winery’s standpoint it is challenging at times crushing 80 tons of fruit in an urban setting.

LTP:

If you were to describe the wine you make at Solterra in a nutshell how would that read? 

Chris:

We source from vineyards up 800 miles and are always searching for great vineyards. We produce wines in a “new world” style that expresses the ripe fruit characteristics in the wine.

LTP:

Your kitchen has evolved over the past few years as well. What’s good these days coming out of the Solterra kitchen? 

Chris:

The customer feedback lately has been our food might be the best we have had. Chef Bryan Rhodes is very talented and innovative with his cuisine.

LTP:

There are also some servers and bartenders who have been around for a while. Any shout outs to your team? 

Chris:

They’re all great and many of them have been here since the beginning. All these people have been solid but I want to give a big shout out to General Manager Max, Cellar Master Paul and Chef Bryan.

LTP:

You have a new joint opening up in Carlsbad. Can we get a little teaser on what’s coming?

Chris:

We are opening a new tasting room called Costa Azul about two blocks south of the village. The main focus will be on wine tasting and education. We will also have a wood fired pizza oven.

LTP:

Any new developments at Solterra?   

Chris:

We recently were approved to distill on premise and we should have the distillery portion up and running in roughly eight months.

So if you have not been to Solterra Winery and Kitchen I would highly recommend it. If you Google “Lick the Plate Solterra” a couple past columns will come up that go more in-depth on my experiences there.

Find Solterra at www.solterrawinery.com. Visit 934 N Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas or call (760) 230-2970.

Lick the Plate has interviewed over 700 chefs, restaurateurs, growers, brewers and culinary personalities over the past 10 years as a column in The Coast News and in Edible San Diego. He can be heard on KSON, FM94/9 and Sunny98.1. More at www.lick-the-plate.com

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