Don’t overlook Southern California on your travels around California’s diverse Zinfandel regions – and Santa Barbara’s Ballard Canyon AVA, in particular. There are a few unexpected Zinfandels waiting to be discovered among the oak-studded hills and valleys and islands (yes, islands) in a region now known primarily for Syrahs, Chardonnays and Pinot noirs.
Geoff and Alison Wrigley Rusack changed their law and television production careers and took over the old Ballard Canyon Winery in 1995 and set about replanting their 17 acres of vineyards in 2001. The new winery’s Syrah, Anacapa red blend, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc Pinot noir and Zinfandel have since gone on to win a tremendous following and great accolades under the direction of winemaker Steve Gerbac.
Around the same time, the Rusacks found – and were able to source from Santa Cruz Island – one of the eight Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara- cuttings of old Zinfandel vines that were once part of one of one of the largest vineyards and wineries in California. Prohibition doomed the winery and the vineyards were ripped out. Today Santa Cruz is one of the islands that is a protected park and habitat for its diverse native plants and wildlife.
Using the old vine stock, the Rusacks set about planting Zinfandel vines along with Pinot noir and Chardonnay on Alison’s family’s property – the old Rancho Escondido Arabian horse ranch on the neighboring, more famous island of Santa Catalina – making the island vineyard above the sparkling blue ocean one of the more unique sites in California. The farming and winemaking from such a location, 20 miles from the mainland, present a logistical challenge but the Rusacks have delicious proof in the bottle that it’s all worth it.
Rusack welcomes visitors by appointment to their winery located four miles from the villages of Solvang, and seated tastings are offered table-service style outdoors on their spacious terrace overlooking the Ballard Canyon vineyards. Among the Ballard Canyon Estate wine selections, Zinfandel fans should be on the lookout for the Rusack Ballard Canyon Estate Zinfandel made from the old Santa Catalina clone and inquire as to the availability of their rare Rusack Catalina Estate wines – including their Zinfandel – that are grown on Santa Catalina Island