There is no shortage of fantastic places to discover for food and beverages in San Diego County. Although we’ve only lived in the area for a short period of time, Solterra Winery and Kitchen in Leucadia, CA has become our favorite place to frequent for sipping on excellent wine and dining on fresh and delicious dishes.
One beautiful sunny Southern California afternoon, Tom and I were driving along South Coast Highway between San Diego and Oceanside when we noticed Solterra. Naturally, I asked Tom to stop for a wine tasting. Lucky for us, it was my favorite time of day: Happy Hour! We each had a glass of a full bodied red to sip with our snacks: Boquerones (pickled white anchovies) and a charcuterie platter. Dining at the bar, we enjoyed talking with the bar staff and learning about the wines. It’s always great to talk with staff that is so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about what they are serving.
After refueling, we strolled from the restaurant side of the establishment to the working winery. During our first visit mid-summer, the wine production area was quiet. It was beautifully quiet with barrels stacked in anticipation of future bottling. We couldn’t wait to see what “crush” season would bring.
Over the summer, Tom and I have returned several times to Solterra, our favorite place to drink wine. During our visits, we have come to know owner Christopher Van Alyea. Chris is a first generation winemaker. This surprised us considering the breadth of wine selection at Solterra is dizzying. And most importantly, it is delicious. Lucky for us, Chris produces a wide array of wines from reds to whites to sparkling. There’s always something available that suits our taste for the day!
It’s always interesting to see the inspiration of someone’s success. Chris comes from a family of grape growers. After graduating from college, Chris and his father went out to dinner where he tasted a Zinfandel. At that point, he was instantly stricken. Chris decided to dedicate his work to produce a wine as tasty as that Zinfandel. Instead of farming grapes as his family has done, Chris works with the fruit to make delicious wine.
In 2002, Chris released his first wine, a Merlot. It is a grape that thrives in the area and produces an amazing product. Unfortunately, a movie entitled “Sideways” was released, damaging the reputation of Merlot. Fast-forward several years. In 2013, Christopher opened Solterra Winery and Kitchen. Shortly after the opening, the writer of “Sideways” dined at the restaurant. Chris decided to serve him a blind tasting. The writer enjoyed the wine, but couldn’t figure out the varietal. Naturally, it was a Merlot!
In addition to tasty wine, Solterra has incredible food. Executive Chef Suzanne Williams was classically trained in French cookery at the CIA-Greystone. Amongst many accolades, Chef Suzanne won the Food Network’s “Chef Wanted, Mediterranean Madness”. The cuisine at Solterra is truly farm (and sea) to table. Chef Suzanne works with local farmers and fishermen to obtain the best product to serve. Some of the house specialties include octopus and seasonal salads featuring the freshest fruit, produce, and cheeses. We cannot think of another place in San Diego County where we can sip on delicious wine and dine on a delectable meal.
Fortuitously, we decided to stop by our favorite winery on the first day of “crush” season. 20 tons of Chardonnay and Zinfandel grapes were just delivered from Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley. Even more special, it was from Chris’ father’s farm (who also happened to be visiting). Gone was the quiet barrel room from summer. Now, the winery was working in full production mode with a multitude of people helping with this timely process that will continue all harvest season. During this special occasion, Tom and I sampled Christopher Cameron Vineyards 2013 and 2014 Chardonnay. This label is special in the wine is produced from grapes sourced from his father’s farm. Although the wines are from the same vines, it was interesting to taste the difference between the vintages. We are looking forward to seeing what the 2015 Chardonnay will taste like!
As with most wineries, Solterra offers a wine club. Tom and I are members and enjoy tastings when we are in the area. A huge advantage for Solterra wine club members is that the winery also has an amazing restaurant. Recently, we attended the club’s “Harvest Party”. Not only did we sample new wines, but the party was catered by its’ restaurant. Chef Suzanne fired up the grill and served an array of accompaniments to nosh on while sipping wine, listening to live music, and watching the wine production in full swing.
Solterra Winery and Kitchen is an amazing urban winery located blocks from the beautiful beaches of Leucadia and Encinitas. If you are in the area, stop by for some wine and stay for a meal. Solterra is a fantastic place that should not be missed!