Catalina Island, a popular summer vacation destination some 20 miles from Los Angeles, has its first vineyard: El Rancho Escondido. With a little luck, wine will be produced there in three years.
Geoff Rusack and Alison Wrigley Rusack, owners of Rusack, a small winery in Santa Barbara, are the proprietors. This spring they began planting their seven-acre Catalina vineyard with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, and it’s already taking shape. “The growth [of the infant vines] is fabulous,” says Geoff. “I just keep pinching myself.”
Zinfandel has a history on the Channel Islands. The grape was planted on Santa Cruz Island, north of Catalina, in the early 1900s, and produced there until Prohibition. El Rancho's Zin cuttings are from those old vines, according to Geoff, which adds a special twist to what is shaping up to be one of the more intriguing new viticultural ventures in California.
The vineyard is on a former Arabian horse ranch, on the west side of the island. It’s near the ocean, on land originally owned by Alison’s great grandfather, William Wrigley Jr., founder of the chewing gum company. Wrigley Jr. once had controlling interest in the company that owned Catalina Island, which is part of the Channel Islands, an archipelago stretching from Santa Barbara to Southern California. While Wrigley Jr. eventually deeded most of his property to the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy, which helps protects the island's natural resources, the family kept a few parcels for themselves.
Geoff says he's thought El Rancho would be a great vineyard site for years, but it wasn’t until 1999 that his vision began to take shape. He and Alison consulted with soil, climate and viticultural experts who agreed that fine grapes could be cultivated on the land. In 2010, the couple hopes to make their first wine.