When the Rice Family moved in 1989 from Santa Barbara to a peaceful 55-acre Santa Ynez ranch to grow wine grapes, little did they know that they would be stewards to one of the first certified organic vineyard estates in Santa Barbara County. Fred and Linda, along with son Bion, and daughters 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 microclimate 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. “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.” Over two decades later, Sunstone still devotes its entire estate to organic Bordeaux and Rhone varietal grape growing, meeting all California Certified Organic Farmer (C.C.O.F.) standards.
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, Sunstone now has 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 courtyard and tasting room.
The winery architecture recalls rustic homes and barns in the Provencal countryside, and the relaxed ambiance in the tasting room includes a kitchen complete with wood-burning oven. Over 5,000 square feet of stone barrel-aging caves are built into the hillside. Winemaker dinners and other special events are held in the tasting room, caves, and courtyard year-round.
When Linda and Fred began to build the 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. Originally conceived as a private home, the 8,500 square foot Villa now serves as an extension of the Sunstone Winery lifestyle by providing a culinary center to entertain guests.
On a trip to France, Fred and Linda discovered reclamation yards containing architectural remains of buildings in towns and humble villages in various regions of France, including Marseille and Provence, 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 Queen Victoria’s lavender factory, a prison cell door from Normandy constructed during Napoleon’s reign, and a thousand-year old limestone kitchen sink were all incorporated into their dream building. Walking through the Villa is an opportunity to see and touch pieces of history.
The Villa has five suites, each with private entrances and a view of the Santa Ynez mountains and 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 house from which to watch the four seasons that will become even more beautiful with age, a living piece of history.
The visionary and family matriarch, 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 Villa, Winery and Vineyards are now a monument to Fred and Linda’s passions and dedication to family, friends and the environment.
Bion now oversees the vineyard, winery and villa operation with respect for his parent’s original vision, and a commitment to future growth and sustainability. He 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.”