The perils and payoffs of island-grown grapes

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It doesn’t get much more ideal than sun soaked grapes amidst salty breezes and rich island history. However, growing grapes off the mainland also brings some unusual challenges. Matt Kettmann, editor at the Santa Barbara Independent and Wine Enthusiast (where he reviews about 150 wines a week!), sampled a new Chardonnay made with grapes grown on Catalina Island.

Bison, an unusual vineyard neighbor. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Winemakers Geoff Rusack and Alison Wrigley Rusack were put to the test when they decided to grow grapes on their Catalina Island land. They fly labor in and grapes out, combat salty soil by building soil mounds and encounter island wildlife like yellow jackets, bison, island foxes and quail. But, their love of history keeps them going. Santa Cruz island was one of the biggest grape growers in the region in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Rusacks actually discovered old Zinfandel vines on Santa Cruz that they replanted on their Catalina land.

The island now grows grapes for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Zinfandel. You can find Rusack wine at their tasting room in Ballard Canyon.

Matt Kettmann catches up with us every Wednesday morning and afternoon on 88.7 FM in Santa Barbara. You can hear his past segments on food and wine here.