A New Wine For the Santa Barbara International Film Festival

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF), 2014 edition, has got Oprah and Leo and Marty, Hollywood A-listers so big they don't need last names. But that's nothing new for this typically star-studded event wisely nestled amidst awards season and a mere 90 inviting miles from L.A. This year, however, it has something it never had before -- dedicated wines -- that share one of cinema's founding names, Lumière. "It just occurred to me that this was a natural, wine and art are really much the same thing," says Bion Rice, CEO of Sunstone Estate Winery. "I look at winemaking as an art and not a craft. The way winemakers finish their wines is similar to how directors complete their films. It's a gut, instinctual process, blending together components to make something bigger."

Rice credits SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling with what he calls "the very poetic and brilliant" analogy about "how filmmakers use light and we use sunlight." Hence lumière, the French word for light and the name of pioneering filmmakers Auguste and Louis Lumière. Durling says the idea of a special blend for the festival was all Rice's, and "that was one reason we chose to partner with [Sunstone]. Also what's terrific about them, when they came to us about a sponsorship, it wasn't just, 'Here's the wine and a check, give us exposure and Platinum Passes,'" Durling recalls with a laugh. "It's long term -- Bion and his wife Anna want a true synergy, and we'll be working hand-in-hand."

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There will be both a Lumière Blanc and Lumière Rouge: only 28 cases total, all to be consumed at the festival. "We intend to pour it all off," Rice says, "at the VIP events, and perhaps some will be given to the guest actors, directors, and producers." As of press time the wine wasn't even bottled yet, so the exact percentages of the blends couldn't be provided. The white will include viognier and malvasia bianca; the red, cabernet franc, merlot, malbec, and petit verdot. The wines won't even be available at the Sunstone tasting room in Santa Ynez, for Rice claims, "I wanted to keep it something special for Roger's core group of fans and patrons."

The wine focus for the SBIFF isn't too surprising as one of its most appreciated sidebars is Screen Cuisine. "This year we will feature the world premiere of A Year in Champagne, the follow up to A Year in Burgundy that we screened at last year's festival," Durling relates. And the film focus for Rice isn't surprising either, as he informs, "I minored in film at San Diego State. Sunstone has donated to numerous charities over the year, but this year we decided to focus and pick one. Anna and I both love film, and we're honored to be part of the festival."

Sunstone itself has definitely re-trenched lately to become more artisanal. "We've gone from a larger winery to a boutique producer," Rice says. "We were making 20,000 cases in the 1990s, but we can only produce 5,000 off the estate. So now we're making mostly estate wines, with the whites sourced from vineyards closer to the ocean." (That is, from colder areas better for white grapes.) Rice also admits, "I've been in the industry since 1992, and finally felt ready to take the reins," as he now oversees wine production without any outside consultants (although those consultants have included stars like Blair Fox and Nick DeLuca). He sums up, "I'm really happy to be in the trenches assuring it's about quality over quantity." When it comes to the Lumière Cuvee Durling agrees, saying, "It tastes amazing."

About the Author

George Yatchisin writes about food, wine, and cocktails from Santa Barbara, where he lives with his amazing wife, dogs, chickens, and chinchillas.

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