A Vintage Journey

A Vintage Journey
Rice Family Brunch in the Villa, 2007
Rice Family Brunch in the Villa, 2007

“A Vintage Journey”

Written in 1999 by Sunstone Founder, Linda Rice

A Friday day trip in September 1988, and a fortuitous turn on Refugio Road in Santa Ynez to locate a property, that we never found, started a fateful chain reaction of events which lead us down the sun colored path to the establishment of Sunstone Vineyards and Winery.

The moment we drove past the vineyards of Santa Ynez Winery and dropped into the river valley, we both knew we’d found what we were after — A beautiful location to grow grapes and continue raising our family. Fortunately, our impulsiveness was later vindicated by top-notch soils testing results for planting grapes.

On the second trip the following Monday, Fred drove by just as the “for sale” sign was being installed on the very piece of property that he went back to see. Immediately, we located the owner who happened to be the best friend of a former neighbor, and the deal was done. On our 52-acres we would grow about 25-acres of organic grapes for a vintner friend and enjoy country living with our family — or so we thought!

After watching our property evolve for three years from a neglected cattle & horse ranch into a beautiful grape-bearing vineyard, it took very little to convince us when our vintner friend suggested we crush the fruit from our first, tiny crop in 1992. We had expected to drop the young fruit that year. Instead, our entire family, grandpa and our vintner friend included, armed and dangerous with clippers and picking bins were assisted by a small group of professional pickers while our vineyard foreman delegated our marching orders.

On Thanksgiving 1993, we tasted our very first mouthful of buttery Viognier, which was accidentally planted in our vineyard, and we were hooked! No longer were we vineyard owners. We had become vintners!

Fred made all of our wines from the first year’s harvest at the Fess Parker Winery. Under the guidance of their winemaker, Fred diligently crushed and pressed the grapes, oversaw all the production, then assisted the bottling line. As the completion of the full vintage was in sight, it became obvious that 1,200 cases was more than we could drink ourselves and we realized that we needed to get serious about selling wine by building a winery with a tasting room.

Again, through divine intervention in the form of perhaps the most powerful storm of the century, with winds up to 100 miles per hour, toppled a mighty oak onto an old barn on the lower bench of the property. In his infinite wisdom, Fred deemed the location to be the best spot for a new winery. Not that the insurance reimbursement to rebuild swayed his opinion!

Layers of sunny-colored stone throughout the property provided us not only with the inspiration for the name, but also the building. It was important to us that the building should harmonize with the environment. So, a building was planned with the aid of our friend and architect, Robert Mehl, who captured what we were after with a simple, old-world Provencal design for the winery.

However, when it came to interior design or form versus function, Fred and I had completely different viewpoints. After many “compromises” Fred ended up with his caves and I got my old- world kitchen and courtyard. Now, in retrospect, we can’t imagine that we would have done it otherwise.

Anyway, we’re really not sure how much either of us truly contributed since, as you can tell from this brief history, Sunstone seems to have it’s own agenda, a synergy that beckons us to it’s bidding. We think the ancient Chumash must have blessed the property with very good Karma.

We feel so fortunate to have been “selected” to be the current guardians of this magical land. That it also produces world-class, ultra-premium wine is Sunstone’s gift to us. It has brought us so much happiness in a lifestyle surrounded by family and friends.

~ Linda