Standing Sun Wines is a small producer in the Santa Barbara region of California. Based in Santa Ynez, the winery was founded by husband and wife team John and Laura Wright. John is a preservation architect, while Laura is an actress (she plays Carly Corinthos Jacks on “General Hospital”). When Laura’s job took them from New York to LA, it prompted a long-time desire to own and operate a winery particularly since “historic preservation” and “Los Angeles” are not words often heard in the same sentence. After training with winemaker Joey Tensley of Tensley Wines, the Wrights released their first 100 cases of Standing Sun wine in 2007.
This year, Standing Sun released 3,000 cases, with an emphasis on Rhone varieties (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Roussane and Viognier), along with Pinot Noir, working with a number of local Santa Ynez Valley vineyards to source the grapes. The 2012 Chardonnay ($24, Santa Rita Hills) is fermented and aged in neutral French oak for a light, fruit-driven crisp summery wine. The 2012 LE Blanc ($24 a blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne from the Tierra Alta Vineyards), also fermented and aged in neutral French oak is a medium bodied white with elegant structure and aroma. A light minerality provides a clean finish. The 2012 Grenache Rosé ($20 and the label’s most popular according to John Wright) is fermented half in steel barrels and half in neutral French oak. Good acidity balances out the fruity sweetness, and the palate provides summer cleansers like watermelon and strawberry. While the wines are mostly available through California shops, the website offers information on ordering nationwide or joining the label’s wine club. According to Wright, the next move is national delivery.
NY Drinks Examiner caught up with John Wright last fall on the phone to discuss the winery, America’s view of California outside Napa and Sonoma, and why Grenache just works:
NYDE: So, winemaking, huh?
JOHN WRIGHT: We moved from the New York area. I was a preservationist architect in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We moved for my wife’s job to LA, in the Santa Monica area. We’d had a weekend house in Buck’s County (PA) and wanted one like that here. When we found Santa Ynez, we liked the area and it was great for the kids. As a result we started hanging out with the local winemakers.
NYDE: Moving from preservationist to winemaker sounds like a jump, though.
JW: For me, coming from an architecture background, I immediately saw the familiar: pumps, hoses, forklifts, the wood and the glass. Winemaking spoke to me from a constructive sense. I helped Joey for a couple of harvests and really enjoyed the product. It’s basically building something; you’re putting together a finished product.
NYDE: You moved to winery “independence” pretty quickly, as these things go.
JW: 2007 was an experiment. We produced 100 cases of Syrah. Then 2008 was a syrah/grenache blend. We moved into our own space 2009, and took over another 4,000 square feet in 2011. Now we’re moving into being a decent-sized winery. This year we produced 3,000 cases. That’s basically 500 cases per year growth, even through a down market. We also do custom crush, so other winemakers can use the facility.
NYDE: It seems that Santa Barbara and Paso Robles regions especially are really discovering the potential for Rhone varieties.
JW: The varieties in the valley are definitely what spoke to me first. We fell in love with the valley’s Syrahs. Working with Joey, I followed suit, staying with the Rhone varieties. I fell in love with the Grenache grape itself and the regions in France where Grenache is more pronounced. For this region, it makes sense to us. We do a little Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but 80% of our wine is Rhone-influenced.
NYDE: Grenache is one of those still under-the-radar grapes that seems to be catching on.
JW: It’s quickly becoming one of our best sellers. We do a great blend (LE Blanc) that’s one of our best sellers, with 45% Grenache Blanc. I’m really enjoying the 2010 Grenache: it’s fairly fruit-forward, it’s got a great mouth feel right off the vine. It’s not too acidic, but has a good balance and is a nice, easy-drinking red.
NYDE: You see a bright future for Grenache in your area?
JW: Now that producers are bringing on a lot more Grenache, it just might become the Pinot Noir for the region! People will taste ours and ask, “who else is making this?”
NYDE: You produce a fairly unusual Grenache rosé.
JW: We had done a Pinot Noir rosé, but the grape is so expensive it doesn’t make sense to press it for a $20 rosé. The Grenache fruit, with its thinner skin and softer berry, lends itself really well to a rosé. It provides a little softness to overcome the astringency found in some rosés. I like to chill it down really cold, and it’s nice and clean and crisp. As it warms, it’s also soft and sweet. It’s a really interesting grape for rosé.
NYDE: What’s the process for your rosé?
JW: Everything about our winery is that we “add nothing and take nothing away,” and let the grape do a lot of the work. In a sense, we lucked out with our Pinot Noir and Grenache rosé pressings, that we got exactly the colors and flavors we wanted to get. The Grenache grapes come from the Camp Four Vineyard on the eastern side of Santa Ynez valley. It’s one of the hotter regions, a flat, rolling vineyard and pretty good sized. It gets a lot of heat, but it’s low lying, so gets the right amount of sun. For the rosé, we allow about 24 hours of skin contact to get a really nice color, without blending anything in. We’re lucky it’s that bright.
NYDE: Your wife is still working hard in the acting biz. How involved is she with the winery?
JW: Her job title is Chief Taster and Quality Control! She works on the blend, and helps monitor how much we’re going to grow and what we’re going to focus on. The winemaking is pretty much up to me, but she works with the marketing, social media, packaging and so many of the other details of the winery.
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FTC Disclaimer: The author sometimes receives product samples for review, which carry no cash value and cannot be re-sold, and sometimes attends press events such as lunches or cocktail parties, designed to promote a given product. The author is not paid by any alcohol manufacturer, retailer or distributor, or provided compensation apart from revenue from an assigning publishing company for editorial publication. Opinions are the author’s own. By the way, you should be 21 or older to read this page. Author received a review sample of Standing Sun 2010 Grenache Rosé, but no additional compensation for this article.