By Jannis Swerman
Bion Rice, CEO and director of winemaking at Sunstone Vineyards & Winery in Santa Ynez, has announced his resignation from the business, handing over control to his family and new investors effective from September 2019.
Since taking the helm of the winery in 2011, Rice repositioned the Sunstone brand, which attracted investors. The change in management comes with his calculated decision to focus on his Artiste wine brand as well as his new consulting firm, Cultivate Growth Advisors.
Sunstone Vineyards & Winery is a family-owned business established in 1992 by husband and wife team Fred and Linda Rice. In January 2011, after Linda’s death, in the midst of family crisis coupled with the severe effect of the economic recession on the business, eldest son Bion Rice stepped forward to assume the role of CEO.
Under his direction, Sunstone stabilized its business operations and laid the foundation for the company’s growth and future success. From 2011-15, the brand pivoted from the company’s historic wholesale distribution focus and transformed the business plan to an experiential direct-to-consumer focus at the estate.
The strategic move transitioned Sunstone’s business model toward destination experiences and private events, enhanced by Rice’s commitment to high-quality winemaking.
As CEO and director of winemaking at Sunstone, Rice was responsible for all aspects of winemaking, operations, marketing, sales, events, finance and accounting. He directed a team of some 30 employees with a strategy directed at consumers seeking immersive lifestyle experiences around wine and food in a Santa Ynez Valley vineyard setting.
By 2019, Sunstone had 40,000 visitors, 3,000 club members, and 9,000 cases sold — 100 percent direct to consumer — annually, with nearly $5 million in revenue and $1.5 million in earnings.
With his new firm Cultivate Growth Advisors, Rice offers his expertise as a CEO, winemaker and entrepreneur in the wine and spirits industry as a consultant to startups, turnarounds, M&A, investors and private equity groups. The combined team of Rice and wife and business partner Anna Rice will continue their leadership at Artiste Winery, expanding the wine program and exploring new directions with their wine club concept, tasting experiences, art genres and creative mediums.
“The decade ahead is going to bring exciting opportunities. I look forward to expanding my abilities and sharing my experience and capabilities to help people grow and prosper in their business and personal lives,” Rice said.