The Wandering Wino Blog

Catalina Island Wine

Catalina Casino1

Catalina island is about 25 miles off the coast of Los Angelas California, and is a frequent tourist attraction for many travelers. It's close to an hour travel time by boat, and can easily be a fun day trip. William Wrigley Jr of the chewing gum fame, purchased the 22 mile long, and 8 mile wide islands controling interest in 1919. In 1975, Philip Wrigley deeded 88% of the island to the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy which he helped create. A Wrigley family Arabian horse ranch, El Rancho Escondido was built in 1931. 

While many things may come to mind when hearing about Catalina, wine has not been one of them. Alison Wrigely Rusack, with her husband Geoff Rusack, own a small production winery in Santa Barbara's Ballayd Canyon producing highly accliamed wines. Wine Spectator recently recognized the Rusack Vineyards 2008 Syrah as #27 on the top 100 wines of 2011.

I bellieve it was sometime in 2007 when I read an article about the Rusacks planting a vineyard on Catalina Island. In a recent release from the Rusack winery, their dream began nearly 27 years ago, about 12 miles from Avalon while riding their horses together. 

It was nearly eight years ago they began to conduct extensive testing of the clay loam soils, climate, and appropriate research to determine which varietals best to plant. According to the winery, the vineyard experts concluded that with the exception of a lack of frost, the property has some of the finest Burgundian climates. Larry Finkle of Coastal Vineyard Care said, "Creating a vineyard on Catalina presented a host of challenges. However, the reward of growing grapes in what proved to be a world-class Burgundian cllimate and an absolutely unique terrior made the effort more than worth it." Rusacks winemaker John Falcone said, "After studing the historical temperatures at and near El Rancho Escondido, the climate appears similar to some of the best Burgundian growing regions in California." 

In 2007, they planted burgundian varietals, both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. When the Rusacks learned that in the late 1800's Zinfandel was planted on the nearby Santa Cruz island, they decided to add some of the surviving vines as their third varietal on one acre. 

The 2009 is their very first vintage. As they have had their fair share of challenges, not to mention the added difficulty of being on an island, the fruit of their labors can soon be enjoyed. In the Rusack's email to some interested wine club members, they detail and invite imbibers to what they call the "Isla Wine Circle" (pronounced ees-lah") wine club. With an ultra small production, allocation will be limited. Just 62 cases of Zinfandel, 265 Chardonnay cases, and 127 of Pinot Noir were produced in the 2009 vintage. All signs seem to point to solid wine according to Gary Fishman of "Walley's" wine store in Los Angelas whom said,  “Straight out of the starting gate these wines are superb! They offer up positive varietal nuances which truly set them apart from the ordinary." 

I just hope to get close to one of these wines in the coming days. The unique story, with amazing winemakers of Helen/John Falcone, Coastal Vineyard Care, just makes them incredibly intriguing wines and a seemingly winning combination.