Santa Catalina Island Vineyard
Geoffrey Claflin Rusack and Alison Wrigley Rusack (owners, Rusack Vineyards) have announced the launch of their Santa Catalina Island Vineyards project. According to the Rusacks, “These wines represent the culmination of a 27-year-old dream, and more than a few sleepless nights, for us.”
The Santa Catalina Island Vineyards portfolio includes a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It also features a Zinfandel that originated from a few hardy vines still alive on Catalina’s sister island of Santa Cruz.
Santa Barbara vintners launch first-ever Catalina wine
Gabe Saglie, Santa Barbara News-Press
News that Alison Wrigley and husband Geoff Rusack are about to launch their first-ever wines grown on Santa Catalina Island is fresh off the press.
After much buzz and speculation among vintners in the know, their debut release - an island-grown chardonnay, pinot noir and zinfendel from the 2009 vintage - is just months away (and has serious wine drinkers on a growing waiting list ready to pop the cork).
Island In a Bottle:
Rusack to release first Catalina wines
Gabe Saglie, Santa Barbara News-Press
The first Santa Catalina Island Vineyards vintage was 2009; a project made all the more thrilling by the unknowns. No-one has grown wine grapes here before; there's no past data to refer to; no past mistakes to learn from.
Mr Falcone has made the Catalina wines very much like the Rusack wines from Santa Ynez Valley; same facility, same barrels, same overall philosophy. His goal is to extract the genuine flavors the island imparts on the vines. "What does Catalina really taste like?" he says. And from what I can tell, the answer is, "Delicious and distinct".
Toasting a New Venture on Catalina
Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times
Alison and her husband, Geoffrey have planted the island's first vineyard on the slopes above scalloped beaches, near the ranch house. They plan to refurbish the entire ranch, adding a wine-tasting room with panoramic views and offering horse-drawn buggy rides to picnic areas in backcountry that is largely unknown to the public.
They envision the winery complex offering an alternative experience on the island, which currently revolves around cruise ships that disgorge thousands of day-trippers who spend a few hours exploring boutiques and restaurants in Avalon, 17 miles east of the ranch, and then leave.
California's wealthy have always planted vineyards. What sets the Rusacks' apart is that they are doing it on an island about 22 miles offshore that has no history of wine making. Both motivated and burdened by the Wrigley family legacy, they face a double-edged marketing challenge: how to get a high-end product off the ground during tough economic times and avoid the trap of becoming just a novelty.
Catalina Island - the First Harvest
'In the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday, Sept. 1, under the light of a nearby full moon, Catalina’s first grape harvest commenced at El Rancho Escondido. Due to an unanticipated and extensive heat wave that had hit the Island, sugars in the grapes had started to skyrocket, necessitating immediate picking. According to Rusack Vineyards’s winemaker John Falcone, conditions were getting “close to critical”. An early morning harvest was chosen to keep the grapes as cool as possible as they made their way from Catalina to the Santa Ynez Valley. Generators were placed in the vineyard to power work lights and some of the crew were equipped with individual headlamps. Row by row, the clusters were hand-harvested and carried in small buckets to the larger picking bins at the ends of the rows. In the next two days, vineyard contractor Stewart Rasmussen, his SAR team and members of the Rusack family harvested nearly all of the pinot noir, leaving one block (with a different sun exposure) to ripen more fully.
The grapes were then transported in half-ton bins to the Airport in the Sky where they were loaded – with razor thin margins – through the cargo door and snugly fit into the fuselage of Catalina Flying Boats Cessna Caravan. Via three separate flights, the grapes were airlifted to the Santa Ynez Airport for a quick pickup and processing at Rusack Vineyards Winery.'
Rusack Vineyards on Catalina Island
Ground Breaking Vine Planting at Catalina Island Vineyard
Catalina Islander, Volume 95, Issue 13
On March 16th, Geoff and Alison Rusack’s 25-year dream came a touch closer to reality with the ceremonial “first planting” of a Catalina Island Vineyard. Under a beautiful afternoon sun, some 60 vines were planted on three vineyard blocks that had previously been horse pastures at El Rancho Escondido. Most of the attendees of the ground breaking ceremony had played integral roles in the long process of the vineyard’s development, and each planted a vine and placed a metal tag on it that bore their name.
Prior to the planting, Geoff Rusack made a brief welcome and gave special thanks to Stewart Rasmussen of SAR Construction, who had overseen and constructed the vineyard blocks and had prepared the grounds for this first planting event. Alison Wrigley Rusack followed by saying how exciting it was to be part of a new chapter in the long and colorful history of El Rancho Escondido. The opening reception concluded with a moving blessing by Father Paul of Avalon’s St. Catherin of Alexandria church.
A brief ribbon cutting, by Alison, Geoff and their three sons, Hunter, Austin, and Parker took place. Geoff then introduced each of the guests and discussed his or her role in the vineyard’s development, as they were handed a vine to plant. Three varietals – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a special Zinfandel, propagated from some of the very few remaining vines on Santa Cruz Island – were planted on three of the four blocks that are now being completed by Stewart’s team. After each block was planted, Father Paul sprinkled the vines with holy water (noticeably adding a touch more water than usual to his own newly–planted vine).
Both the Wrigley and Rusack families have had, and continue to have, a deep love and respect for the environment. One of Alison’s and Geoff’s hopes is to demonstrate in a small way, how successful, organically correct, sustainable agricultural operation on private land can be pursued, when surrounded by a land preserve.
Geoff reminded everyone in attendance that this planting event – while very special and symbolic – is but another step in a long process that is still very much uncertain. If all goes well, the first small crop should be harvested in the fall of 2009.