“Future perfect” is a tense in the English language that refers to something happening in the future, as in, “I will have finished this article by the time you read it.” To actor-turned-winemaker Sunny Doench, it’s the perfect grammatical lens for understanding wine.
“When I’m in the vineyard at bud break, I am totally gobsmacked by the fact that it will be wine,” said Doench, who launched her Future Perfect wines in May of this year. “It will become a grape that I will harvest and make into wine and then people can have their own future perfect with their experience of the grape. That’s my nod to the trajectory of the grape, from the vine to the bottle to people’s memories.”
Originally from Ohio, Doench moved to Los Angeles more than two decades ago to pursue on-screen dreams, starring in all sorts of productions, from the first and last seasons of Beverly Hills 90210 to more than 20 indie films. “I’ve been lucky enough to make a living,” she explained. “I’ve been doing this for quite a while.”
Wine caught her fancy along the way, prompting her to get Level 2 certification from WSET, or the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. When her husband, a private pilot, started flying for a family in Santa Barbara, they stayed for extended periods in an Airstream near Los Olivos. About four years ago, when he suggested they move there permanently, she instantly approved.
“Our nervous systems were hardwired by the stress of driving in Los Angeles,” said Doench. “I was so happy to move to wine country.”
They bought a small farm with goats and chickens just a couple of blocks from the center of Los Olivos, and Doench began working for Jessica Gasca at Story of Soil. For more than three years, Gasca taught her all the facets of the wine business, from checking out vineyards and making wine to running tasting rooms and wine clubs. Doench then befriended Amy Christine and Peter Hunken, owners of Holus Bolus and The Joy Fantastic Vineyard, and they encouraged her to officially start a brand and open a tasting room.
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“They really took me under their wings and were so encouraging for Future Perfect. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for those two,” said Doench, who said Christine kept pestering her to open a tasting room. “She said it every day until I believed her.”
Eventually, Doench found an open space and got the keys on January 1, but it took another five months to get permits and everything else in order. “Right before month five, I thought I would have to close the door,” she said. “It was heartbreaking and sort of terrifying.”
But she opened on Memorial Day weekend, right around her birthday. “It was just magical,” recalled Doench, who took over the former home of Toretti Family Vineyard, down San Marcos Avenue on the bottom floor of a quaint Craftsman. These days, Doench is almost always inside herself, but her husband also helps when he’s not away flying. “He’s such an angel,” she said.
They pour a lineup of acid-driven, lower-alcohol wines, including sauvignon blanc, rosé, sparking rosé, grenache, pinot noir, syrah, and tempranillo — some of which are already sold out — with releases of riesling and cabernet franc to come. Especially rare are the single-vineyard bottlings of pinot and syrah from The Joy Fantastic Vineyard, from which Christine and Hunken almost never sell fruit.
The wines are packaged in colorful, flashy labels featuring a bright rainbow arcing across a sun, whose color changes depending on what’s inside. There are metallic, holographic stars on the sun for the sparkling wine, for instance, and a black speckled sun on the Sta. Rita Hills syrah.
“The logo is meant to be whimsical and not too precious,” said Doench. “At the end of the day, it’s not too hard to make wine. My job is to get the best farmed fruit, and then it’s a big practice of patience. So the label is not pretentious.”
She’s still fired up about each step of the process and gets so excited that other winemakers are known to laugh at her kindly. “I feel about winemaking the way I feel about filmmaking — it feels like I won the lottery,” she said. “I can’t sleep. I’m so happy to go to picks and be at the winery all day and race to the tasting room, even though I get very little sleep. It’s so awesome.”
2933 San Marcos Ave., Ste. 101, Los Olivos; (805) 697-7162; futureperfectwine.com