As a preservation architect on the East Coast, John Wright restored old farmhouses into comfortable homes. Upon coming to the West Coast with his wife — soap opera star Laura Wright, who left the New York–based Guiding Light series for General Hospital in Los Angeles — Wright discovered that restoration wasn’t in particular demand, but found some similarities in making wine.
“Wine is a creative process with design and construction,” explained Wright, who started making 100 cases of Santa Ynez Valley wine with Joey Tensley in 2007 and steadily grew to the 3,000 cases he makes today under the Standing Sun brand. “There’s steel and wood and glass, and you are taking a raw ingredient and turning it into a finished product.”
He did put his architecture skills to work by designing his facility at the end of Second Street in Buellton, where visitors to the tasting room can watch winemaking in action. “To me, the process is as important as the finished product,” said Wright, who makes mostly Rhône varietals and blends, as well as pinot noir and riesling. “When I go to a restaurant, I want to see the chef cooking, and I think a lot of people want to see the same things in action.”
By 2012, he still felt his new career “was lacking the rest of the picture,” so Wright sought synergy with the singer/songwriter community by submitting “Standing Sun” as the name of a band into the Outlaw Roadshow in Austin, Texas, held during South by Southwest. “I felt like, independently and creatively, I was doing the same thing,” said Wright, whose follow-up tweet cemented his role as the event’s wine sponsor. He invited the musicians he met to come play his winery between gigs in L.A. and the Bay Area.
Nearly 60 bands have played the winery since the Standing Sun Live series started in June 2012, and each concert also features a handful of food trucks and specially priced “Live” wines, making for a high-value $30 to $40 night when you include the $10 cover, all of which goes to the band. “The series is getting really great, nationally touring acts,” said Wright, who admittedly loses money on the project but sees it as a way to foster community and expose his brand. “We’re trying to bring a unique and eclectic group of singer/songwriters.”
That’s included the band honeyhoney, which played to about 100 people in between sold-out gigs at the Fillmore in S.F. and Fonda in L.A., and The Stone Foxes, who “played to 40 people like they were playing the Wembley Arena,” recalled Wright. “The people there got to see the absolute coolest show.” The biggest concert yet is coming up on September 27, when six bands will play the inaugural Harvest Blues Festival and Wright’s friend from college DJ BBQ will unleash his grilling-meets-performance art show that he calls “cater-tainment.”
Wright’s expanding vision goes beyond just music. He recently opened an art gallery next door and is cultivating an industrial-chic vibe in this tucked-away collection of tasting rooms (Cold Heaven, Crawford Family Wines) and other assorted manufacturers. Explained Wright, “I basically am trying to build my own Funk Zone of industrial, artistic, high-quality stuff.” The recipe is still warming up, but more and more people are coming to the table, which should spell cool things for this hidden corner of Buellton.
Standing Sun Winery (92 2nd St., Unit D, Buellton;  691-9413; standingsunwines.com) hosts Makua Rothman on September 13, Kathleen Sieck on September 20, the Harvest Blues Festival on September 27, and Joe Fletcher on October 2.