The Sunstone Story

A TRUE FAMILY-RUN WINERY

When the Rice family moved in 1989 from Santa Barbara to a peaceful 52-acre Santa Ynez ranch to grow wine grapes, little did they know that they would be stewards to the first organic vineyard estate in Santa Barbara County.  Fred and Linda, along with their children, Bion, Ashley, and Brittany, originally chose the terraced site overlooking the Santa Ynez River for its ideal south-sloping exposure, its sandy, rocky soil, and a micro-climate that features early morning fog, warm, breezy afternoons, and cool evenings. It proved to be a fortuitous choice, as they soon discovered that it was a perfect spot for the growing of top-notch organic grapes and enjoying a wine country lifestyle.

“Our goal was to create a place where wine and food could be enjoyed in a picturesque atmosphere,” said Linda Rice. “There is a sincere camaraderie and a sense of sharing is so much a part of this lifestyle. All of our interests, from environmental preservation and organic growing, to the celebration of food, family, and friends came together here at Sunstone.”

A true visionary, Linda Rice sadly passed away in 2010, leaving a wonderful legacy to her children and winery visitors from around the world to experience for generations to come.  The Sunstone vineyard, winery, tasting room, as well as the Sunstone Villa, are now a monument to Fred and Linda’s passions and dedication to family, friends, and the environment.  Read “A Vintage Journey” to learn more about the early stages and development of Sunstone in Linda’s own words.

In 2019, the Sunstone family grew as we welcomed Teddy and Djamila Cabugos as new ownership, along with their young children, Theodore IV and Benicio.  “With Fred and Linda as our guiding North Star,” says Djamila, Sunstone CEO, “we are humbled by the opportunity to build upon Sunstone’s incredible foundation to continue to provide the idyllic place and superb wines to create unforgettable experiences.”  Today, two Rice family members are still involved in the business-Fred on the Board of Directors and Brittany as the Director of Winemaking.

Together, the Rice and Cabugos families are committed to ensuring the continuation of the original vision and commitment to organic grape growing and sustainable business practices.  “When our family planted the Sunstone vineyard in 1990, we knew that good wine started with caring for the land,” says Fred. “Over three decades later, we continue to nurture our organic vines to make delicious, world-class wines.”

AN ORGANIC ESTATE VINEYARD

Sunstone’s 28-acre vineyard was planted in 1990 to Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Viognier.  Since its planting, our vineyard has always been bio-sustainably farmed meeting the highest organic farming standards in viticulture.  It is believed that Sunstone is now the oldest, continuously organically grown vineyard in Santa Barbara County.

A DESTINATION WINERY

Named after the exposed sun-dappled shale and stones of the vineyard estate, Sunstone is the premiere destination winery on the California Central Coast,  Located just 35-minutes north of Santa Barbara, locals many times over have honored Sunstone by the Santa Barbara Independent reader poll as “Santa Barbara’s Favorite Red Wine” and “Best Santa Ynez Valley Tasting Room”.

The site of the winery tasting room was originally a horse barn, which was seriously damaged when an oak tree fell on it after heavy rains and winds.  Thanks to that storm, and the vision, collaborative design, and building skills of Fred and Linda Rice, Sunstone was built and opened in 1994.  A gorgeous destination winery, Sunstone is considered by many to be one of the most attractive tasting rooms in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Aromas of french lavender and rosemary greet visitors as they approach the winery’s inviting courtyards, expansive picnic grounds and tasting room-a beautiful place to experience beautiful wines.  The winery architecture recalls rustic homes and barns in the french provencial countryside, and the relaxed ambiance in the tasting room includes a kitchen complete with wood-burning oven, and 5,000 square feet of stone barrel-aging caves built into the hillside.  Winemaker dinners and other special events are held year-round in our tasting room, caves, and courtyards, as well as on our expansive lawn.

General Manager, Neil Redmond, recommends experiencing Sunstone wines at the picnic grounds or in the caves. “Tasting our wines is tasting the terroir of this special place,” he says. “When you arrive, you are surrounded by the soils and the vines that create our wines.  You can feel the temperate winds that sweep between the rows, creating the perfect climate for Bordeaux and Rhone varietal grapes.  Our goal is to capture the true essence of this special vineyard in your glass.”

THE WINES

As Director of Winemaking, Brittany Rice is dedicated to producing world-class Bordeaux and Rhone style wines, utilizing organically grown wine grapes from the estate vineyards, and grapes from other sustainable and organic vineyards. Sunstone is renowned for its Rhone varietals, including their Viognier and unique Syrah, both of which have been rated 90+ Points by Wine Enthusiast.

Highly acclaimed “Eros”, a Bordeaux-style blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, has earned Best of Class at the Los Angeles County Fair, and also received 90+ points in Wine Enthusiast. Most recently, in 2021, ten Sunstone wines received 90+ ratings from Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits.

THE sunstone VILLA

When Linda and Fred began to build the Sunstone Villa on the hillside above Sunstone Winery in 1999, they intended it to be an extension of the principles upon which they’d built their life together.  A private residence, the Villa is an 8,500 square foot old world architectural masterpiece where Sunstone owners invite Wine Club members to experience the Sunstone lifestyle in an intimate setting.

A builder by trade, Fred sent his family to vacation in the french provencial countryside in 1999, while he stayed behind to build the family home.  The couple originally intended the home to be of a Spanish Colonial architectural style, as common in the region.  That plan changed when Linda and the children made a wrong turn on a french country lane and stumbled upon the remains of demolitioned chateaus.  Linda phoned her husband and told him to stop building their Spanish Colonial home and to get on the next flight out-they were building a French chateau.

Traveling together in France, Fred and Linda discovered reclamation yards containing architectural remains of chateaus and antique furniture from various regions of France, including Aix Provence, Normandy, and Loire Valley, from which the artifacts were incorporated into the Villa.  Forty-five 40,000-pound containers arrived on the Santa Ynez hilltop just off Refugio Road from 2001-2003.

Reclaimed materials, such as French limestone, hand-formed roof tiles, a fireplace from the Bordeaux region of France, enormous hand-hewn pine beams from a Queen Victorian Era lavender factory which burned down in Avignon, a prison cell door from Normandy constructed during Napoleon’s reign, a wooden door from a french brothel, and a 3,000-year-old limestone kitchen sink were all incorporated into their dream home.  Walking through the Sunstone Villa is an opportunity to see and touch pieces of history.

The Villa has five master suites, each with private entrances and a view of the Santa Ynez mountains and the Sunstone vineyards.  A bit of moss is beginning to grow on the stone at the foot of the front door.  Nature is putting its own mark on the Villa, as was intended.  Fred and Linda Rice designed and built a home from which to watch the four seasons that will become even more beautiful with age, a living piece of history.

The Sunstone Villa is part of the Sunstone lifestyle and provides a private setting to entertain guests for intimate gatherings, winemaker dinners, and private culinary retreats.

THE BRAND

Many people ask how we came up with the name “Sunstone”, and what it means. It was inspired by the sun-dappled stones that came from the Santa Ynez Mountains and were eventually deposited here by the Santa Ynez River over the millennia. We used these stones and the sun exposed shale to accent the winery building and caves.

We soon discovered the name was cosmically meaningful when we were reminded of the famous “Sun Stone Calendar of the Five Eras”, a 24-ton sculpture carved by the ancient Aztecs.  There is also a type of mineral called “Iceland spar”, which is considered to be a medieval sunstone used to locate the sun in a completely overcast sky.  A theory exists that the sunstone had polarizing attributes and was used as a navigation instrument by seafarers in the Viking Age.

Our meaning for “Sunstone” fatefully manifested into the winery’s iconic keystone, positioned over the front entrance door to our tasting room, intended to symbolize and respect the symbiotic relationship between life and the sun.  Our 30+ year old vines capture the sun’s light energy, creating complex sugars in the grapes that yeasts naturally convert into wine.

FAMILY BUSINESS VALUES

Based on the Rice and Cabugos family values, Sunstone is an environmentally responsible company dedicated to organic grape growing, worker health, recycling and reusing whenever possible.  We are completely dedicated to excellence in grape-growing, winemaking, hospitality and a highly-ethical responsibility to the people we hire and serve.  The relationships we foster with our customers, employees, farmers, purveyors, contractors and community members is paramount. Everything we do contributes to these relationships.