by KATRIN WANBERG photographs by CORAL VON ZUMWALT
After a 20-year career in television—with stints on Loving, Guiding Light, and currently, General Hospital—and a recent first-time Daytime Emmy win for outstanding lead actress, Laura Wright is a success by any estimation. Throw in a 16-year marriage to her husband, John, two kids, a burgeoning boutique winery, and a menagerie of farm animals on their five-acre Ranchito de los Cerritos in Santa Ynez, and this plucky blonde takes things to a new level.
At the age of 20, while working at her dad’s gas station in Clinton, Maryland, Laura was approached to audition for one of her favorite soaps, Loving (later renamed The City). She landed the part, “And that was it,” she says. “My life changed.” In 2005, she got a call to head west to join the cast of General Hospital, so she and John—whom she has known since the age of 14, but “we kind of stumbled around each other for 10 years,” she says—along with their kids, Lauren, 10, and little John (nicknamed “L.J.”), 8, moved to California. “Our first year here, we came to Santa Ynez and just fell in love with the area,” says Laura. “This was the first house we looked at. It feels like home.”
Now, when Laura is not in Los Angeles filming, the Wrights while away dusty days by tending to their two goats, Stella and Spike; 12 chickens; four dogs; a couple of cats; a duck or two; and a flourishing landscape of grapevines, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, peppers, and more. After a few early mishaps (“now we know coyotes like chickens,” says John), the family has settled into life on the ranch.
A preservation architect by trade, John spent 20 years restoring 200-year-old farmhouses back east but says he didn’t want to “reinvent that” in California. Instead, he decided to start Standing Sun Wines. “When I saw the winery, I saw steel, wood, and all the things I’ve seen before,” he says. After working with a local winemaker to learn the ropes, John and Laura released 100 cases of Standing Sun in 2007. “We threw wine in a barrel to see what would happen,” says Laura. “It ended up being pretty good.” And apparently those who imbibed agreed—the Wrights have since upped the ante and now annually produce more than 2,000 cases of Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Petite Sirah, and Syrah in addition to their signature Rhône varietals. This year also marks the first season the family can harvest grapes from the vineyard they planted on their property three years ago. “The great thing about John is there’s nothing he can’t do,” says Laura. “I don’t think we had been here more than five minutes when he said, ‘I want a vineyard.’”
John chimes in: “Laura has a great fan base, and now people are buying [our product] because of the wine and not just a signed bottle.”
The family’s latest undertaking is their new tasting room, plunked in the center of their industrial winemaking facility. “We want you to see the good, the bad, and the ugly,” Laura says of the tasting room’s locale. “We’re winemakers now, and I have to say, we’ve had fantastic support in the valley.”
“We enjoy the realness of making wine—and it’s a mess,” says John. “We celebrate the process and not just the finished product.”