Rusack Vineyards is a Catalina Island vineyard with roots going back to the Wrigley family. Here is the best of exploring Catalina wines.
William Wrigley Jr. made his fortune in gum. Today, his great-granddaughter Alison Wrigley Rusack is making hers in grapes. She works to keep the family’s legacy on Catalina Island firmly in place in the 21st century. Wrigley Rusack and her husband Geoff are the owners of California’s only island wine growing enterprise, Rusack Vineyards, located in the Catalina Island interior on land that used to be her family’s horse ranch. This Catalina Island vineyard, filled with history, yields the grapes to make great wines.
Wrigley Family History in Catalina
The Wrigley family’s history has been intertwined with Catalina Island since William Wrigley Jr. purchased a controlling interest in the island through the Santa Catalina Island Company in 1919. He invested millions, turning Catalina into the “it” place to party for the Hollywood elite. It also became the unlikely spring training home for Wrigley’s Chicago Cubs.
In 1975, Philip Knight Wrigley deeded 88% of Catalina to the Catalina Island Conservancy, ensuring the island will forever have a natural, pristine environment. In 2021, Wrigley Rusack was promoted to Executive Chairman of the Board of the Santa Catalina Island Company, continuing her family’s legacy on Catalina.
Beginning of Rusack Vineyards
Wrigley Rusack, who worked for Disney, and her husband Geoff, a lawyer, first dreamed together about owning a winery on their second date. Wrigley Rusack’s father was a wine collector and his passion rubbed off on her. Geoff was also a collector. They unexpectedly got the chance to start their own vineyard in 1995 when they were trying to find a bigger home for their growing family.
“We were in the Santa Ynez Valley and were tasting at the Curtis Winery. Geoff asked if anything was for sale nearby to make conversation and Kate Firestone told us of a bankrupt winery,” explained Wrigley Rusack. “We weren’t looking to be in the wine business at that point. It was something we said we’d maybe do when we retired, but we thought if we didn’t take this unexpected opportunity we’d always wonder what if.”
After several years of renovations, Rusack Vineyards was born in Santa Ynez. The Rusacks learned the ins and outs of winemaking through trial by fire.
“At the time there were only about 15 wineries in the area and the other vintners taught us as we went along,” said Wrigley Rusack.
Rusack Vineyards Finds a Home in Catalina
As they gained knowledge and experience as winemakers, the idea of a Catalina winery sat in the back of their minds, but the timing wasn’t right until 2007.
“We were inspired that Santa Cruz Island, another of California’s Channel Islands, had a winery on it in the 1800s,” said Wrigley Rusack.
The winery had been successful until its vineyards were uprooted to make way for a sheep and cattle ranch in the 1930s.
Before committing to a winery on Catalina, the Rusacks commissioned a climate study that analyzed the climate, soil, and weather patterns on the island. They found out that Catalina wasn’t just an okay place to try and grow grapes; it was a great place with a climate and soil profile similar to that of Burgundy, France.
This unexpected news was perfect for the Rusack Vineyard expansion. In the hot Santa Ynez climate, wines like Syrah flourish, and with the cool, maritime climate of Catalina, the world of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay would open up.
Rusack Vineyard Gives a Nod to the Past
In a nod to the Channel Island’s first vineyard, the Rusack family went to Santa Cruz Island and actually located a vine that was still there from the old vineyard. It turned out it was a Zinfandel vine. Despite the fact that Zinfandel normally needs a hot climate to thrive, the Rusacks wanted to plant it on Catalina because they liked the historical link.
“Surprisingly, it’s done beautifully,” said Wrigley Rusack. “It has a totally different taste profile than a typical Zin. It’s more earthy and has more minerality and a lot less fruit.”
Rusack Vineyards Wines
Today Rusack Vineyards still has two locations and produces a variety of wines under the Rusack label, including those designated as Santa Catalina, Icon, and Boundless. While the Catalina property does not have a tasting room yet, the wines can be found on the wine lists of the Descanso Beach Club Restaurant and Steve’s Steakhouse on the island.
The Rusacks are continuing the family history in Catalina. All three of their sons are passionate about Catalina, and their middle son is learning the wine business to carry on Rusack Vineyards.
Stay at the Wrigley’s Mt Ada Mansion
Experience Catalina as William Wrigley Jr. did by staying at his former home, Mt Ada. Located high in the hills with a stunning view of Avalon Bay and the harbor, you’ll feel like you’re in the South of France or Italy’s Amalfi Coast.
The mansion boasts just six suites, including Wrigley’s former bedroom. Another, the Duke of Windsor suite, is named for the Duke who stayed at the mansion for several months in the 1920s. Many of the furnishings in Mt Ada are original.
Easily the most luxurious accommodations on Catalina, guests of Mt Ada enjoy included decadent breakfasts and lunch. There is also complimentary wine, beer, beverages, and snacks throughout the day.
Transfers to and from the ferry or heliport are included. Guests also have access to their own golf cart to explore Avalon during their stay. We also have another article that gives you more ideas for things to do when you explore Catalina Island.
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When You Visit Catalina Island
During your visit to Catalina Island, definitely find time to explore the island and its rich history. While you can’t yet sit down at a tasting room for Rusack Vineyards, you’ll definitely want to order a glass of their wine when you dine on the island. This Catalina Island Winery does a great job of creating fine wines and blending the local history and lore into every bottle. Be sure to check out Wander for more ideas of things to see when you visit California and more of our favorite wineries.