Tuesday, September 30, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Catalina Island: An escape to paradise

Catalina1

The big Catalina Express boat arrives in Avalon, the small town on Catalina Island. (Photo by George Medovoy)

By
From page B8 | January 04, 2014 |

It’s a little stretch of paradise off the coast of busy Los Angeles.

My first glimpse of the island came as the big Catalina Express vessel entered Avalon Bay and we passed the iconic casino building at the water’s edge.

The Catalina Casino, of course, was never planned for gambling; as its Italian name suggests, it’s a place where entertainment is offered, such as Jimmy Dorsey, Woody Herman and Harry James playing to crowds in the Big Band era.

Avalon itself is just one square mile in size with a population of 3,736 people, surrounded on one side by the clear blue waters of the bay and, on the other, by rugged hillsides with homes that offer spectacular ocean views and the distant, hazy California coastline.

Crescent Avenue, the town’s small, main artery filled with shops and cafes that hug Avalon Bay, can give the impression that you’re on some faraway island, yet you’re only about an hour away from the crowded freeways of Los Angeles.

William Wrigley Jr.’s name is synonymous with Catalina Island, which over the years he devoted so much loving attention to preserving.

Wrigley also built the imposing casino building, the largest circular theater in the world constructed without beams in 1929.

Of course, he also created a chewing gum empire and owned the Chicago Cubs baseball team, which he brought to Catalina Island for spring training.

Alison Wrigley Rusack, his great-granddaughter, noted that the Cubs were “cherished by my family up until they were sold in 1981 . . . everyone loved being a part of the Chicago Cubs.”

Once, when the Cubs were doing spring training here, a young radio sports announcer named Ronald Reagan had to rush to the mainland for a screen test, and Catalina Express co-founder Doug Bombard was the one who ferried him over there in his speedboat.

Alison said she would love to have known her great-grandfather “because he did so much and he had such personality.”

Wrigley’s wife, Ada, for whom the island’s Mt. Ada is named, built a memorial to her husband surrounded by a botanical garden, now managed by the Catalina Conservancy.

Catalina has figured prominently in the motion picture business for many years, going all the way back to the silent movie era with movies like “Treasure Island” in 1918. Because Hollywood used Catalina as a South Seas setting, it even planted palm trees at the isthmus near Two Harbors, and these trees are still seen today!

When sound came to film, Catalina continued to be a popular movie venue, with productions like “Mutiny on the Bounty” featuring Charles Laughton and Clarke Gable in 1935. The aerial scenes for “Pearl Harbor” were actually shot here.

Today, Catalina is opening up a new chapter in its storied history – this one connected to wine – thanks to Alison and her husband Geoff.

For the Rusacks, interest in wine goes back to 1983, when they went horseback riding on the island and Geoff remarked that the hills would be a great place to plant grapes.

They “didn’t know the slightest thing about running a vineyard and winery at that point,” Alison confided, but they purchased an old winery in 1992 and “knew we’d regret it if we didn’t try.”

Quite successful today, their Rusack Vineyards, located in California’s Santa Ynez Valley between the Danish-themed town of Solvang and the town of Los Olivos, is known primarily for “the incredible Rhone varietals that we’re able to grow in the Ballard Canyon area.”

Wines produced under the guidance of winemaker Steven Gerbac include Chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah, semillon dessert wine, petit syrah, petit verdot and Cabernet Franc.

With their strong family attachment to Catalina Island and their wine-making experience in the Santa Ynez Valley, the couple was inspired to plant grapes on the island.

Prior to Prohibition, vineyards and a winery had existed on Santa Cruz Island, which is part of California’s eight Channel Islands, including Catalina Island, stretching across the coastline from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara counties.

Seeking to “plant a little bit of . . . history,” Alison and Geoff contacted the Nature Conservancy and got permission to take cuttings from some of the surviving vines – zinfandel and mission — which “had escaped into the hills.”

With Gerbac as winemaker, they planted the zinfandel grapes along with pinot noir and Chardonnay in March 2007 at El Rancho Escondido, an old horse ranch in Catalina Island’s beautiful interior, about 45 minutes from Avalon. That was where Alison’s grandfather, Phillip K. Wrigley, raised Arabian horses.

The soil at the ranch, Alison said, is actually better suited to growing Burgundy varietals of Chardonnay and pinot noir, rather than the warmer-climate zinfandel.

“But it’s made a wonderful zinfandel,” Alison said of the first harvest in 2009 under the Rusack Santa Catalina Island Vineyards label, “and it has a totally different type of taste than other zins . . . more earthy and less fruity.”

According to the winery’s tasting information, the Chardonnay, fermented and aged in French oak for 11 months, has caramel and mineral notes with citrus and apple flavors, while the pinot noir is fermented in “small, ¾-ton containers and gently transferred to French oak barrels, where it undergoes malolactic fermentation and aging for 12 months.”

The pinot noir has “distinct aromas and flavors of tobacco, along with earthy notes and a hint of cherry and raspberry.” The zinfandel, aged in American and French oak for 15 months, has “characteristics of black pepper with berry aromas and flavors.”

Everything about the new Catalina Island wines is quite unconventional, not the least of which is the way the grapes get to the Rusack winery in the Santa Ynez Valley: they’re harvested at night and flown to Santa Ynez Airport on the mainland!

Right now, Alison and Geoff also have plans for restoring the old horse ranch and “keeping all the wonderful historical elements.”

“It was built a long, long time ago,” she said, “and it hasn’t really ever been completely restored . . . ” Plans include having space for tasting rooms and wine storage, all the while keeping the “old, wonderful California feel,” like the historic stagecoaches her family owned.

“It’s just wild to see photos of these stagecoaches,” Alison remarked, “being pulled by six horses careening up and down these steep mountain roads. I can’t even imagine . . . ” One plan also in the works is to take people on carriage rides, though not into Avalon itself.

Alison and Geoff work closely with the Catalina Island Company to take things “to a new level” and bring back a new golden era, like the newly added zip line adventure and the biofuel Hummer tours, the Descanso Beach Club and the addition of new restaurants like Blue Water Avalon and Avalon Grill.

One of the best ways to sample the wonderful simplicity and romantic feel of the island is a leisurely walk down Crescent Avenue, which is exactly what we did after checking into the Casa Mariquita Hotel.

Passing through the Via Casino portal, we strolled near the newly upgraded Descanso Beach Club and arrived at the Casino, where the Santa Catalina Island Company gives a “Discover the Casino Tour.”

The imposing Casino has two wings, a museum, an overhanging balcony and a 25-foot lantern cupola above a tiled roof. It was actually the first theater designed for talking films, and engineers studied it to design the famous Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Movies are still shown in the Avalon Theatre on the Casino’s ground floor. The theater has the original 4-manual, 16-rank pipe organ, built by the Page Pipe Organ Company of Lima, Ohio, and is played every Friday and Saturday evening.

One of the most unexpected things you notice about the island is the scarcity of gasoline-powered automobiles, and for good reason: the idea is to keep the number of cars down to a bare minimum.

In fact, if a local wants to bring a car onto the island, there’s a 15-year waiting list, and if you do have a gas-powered car, well, the cost of filling up is a little over $7 a gallon at the island’s one gas station!

So how do most people get around here? By electric golf cart, that’s how.

Back along Crescent Avenue, we stopped at C C Gallagher, where we found a display of Rusack Santa Catalina Island Vineyards wine. The shop has hot espresso in the morning and a daytime menu including muffins, scones and croissants, a selection of “evilly decadent desserts,” wines, sandwiches, focaccia bread and 100 percent vegetarian soups, while the evening menu offers sushi, sake and beer.

On one of our days on the island, we enjoyed the happy hour at the Bluewater Seafood restaurant on Crescent Avenue. Our small plates were more than we expected in terms of size and featured tasty grilled fish tacos with garlic fries.

To get a peek at what lies along the hillsides of Catalina, we took the “Avalon Scenic Drive,” an hour-long bus tour given by the Catalina Island Company.

The company offers a wide range of other tours, too, including but not limited to golfing, a sundown isthmus cruise, a flying fish voyage and a tour to Two Harbors, the quaint village at the west end of the island with dining, swimming and shopping.

“It is a magical place,” Alison said of Catalina. “It’s hard to describe what it is. . . . It just has this beautiful, old historical natural feel to it where you can do exciting things like the zip line, you can do relaxing things and sit on the beach, or you can go and experience nature and learn about things or hike or bike.

“It’s a wonderful combination of things, and we’re working constantly with everybody – the conservancy and the island company – to make sure it stays that way.”

If you go . . .

• Catalina Express operates a fleet of high-speed vessels year-round to Avalon and Two Harbors from San Pedro, Long Beach and Dana Point. We departed from the Long Beach terminal and used the nearby parking.

On our spacious boat, we enjoyed airline-type seating in the Commodore Lounge, with upgraded leather-trimmed seats, overhead storage, priority boarding, large viewing windows and beverage-and-snack service.

For more information, visit www.catalinaexspress.com or call 800-481-3470.

• The 22-room Casa Mariquita Hotel offers comfortable lodging close to Crescent Avenue. Our cozy room came with a nice continental breakfast.

For more information, visit www.casamariquitacatalina.com or call 800-545-1192.

• For more information about the winery, visit www.catalinaislandvineyards.com.

• For more information about the Santa Catalina Island Company, visit www.visitcatalinaisland.com.

George Medovoy

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

Solano focuses on rail safety

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A3

 
Police search for missing man

By Glen Faison | From Page: A5 | Gallery

 
 
Measure A committee plans weekend precinct walk

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A5

Voters who have moved urged to check registration

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A5

 
Caltrans cancels nighttime Highway 37 closures

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A5

 
Fairfield police log: Sept. 27, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A12, 1 Comment

Suisun City police log: Sept. 28, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A12

 
Suisun City police log: Sept. 27, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A12

Fairfield police log: Sept. 28, 2014

By Glen Faison | From Page: A12, 1 Comment

 
.

US / World

5 more bodies found at Japan volcano; toll now 36

By The Associated Press | From Page: , 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Group: Wildlife populations down drastically

By The Associated Press | From Page: , 1 Comment

45 dogs dead, 48 alive after North Las Vegas fire

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Police link 2nd case to missing Va. student arrest

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Netanyahu: Hamas, Islamic State group share creed

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
Cancer doctor given 10 years for poisoning lover

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Afghan president sworn in, paving way for US pact

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Police ease tactics in Hong Kong protest standoff

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Study: Recessions can postpone motherhood forever

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
White House intruder got far past front door

By The Associated Press | From Page: , 1 Comment

Obama efforts to oust Assad pushed to back burner

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Islamic State closes in on Kurdish area of Syria

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Sacramento police seek suspect in dog’s drowning

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Shooing birds from Bay Bridge could cost millions

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Governor signs bills to help those in foster care

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Mountain View police ID gas victims as father, son

By The Associated Press | From Page:

.

Opinion

Editorial cartoons for Sept. 30, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page:

 
 
.

Living

Today in History: Sept. 30, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
I’m unhappy with Phil and playing ‘happy family.’ What should I do?

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page:

Community Calendar: Sept. 30, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page:

 
Horoscopes: Sept. 30, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B7

.

Entertainment

Amanda Bynes arrested for DUI in Los Angeles

By The Associated Press | From Page: , 2 Comments | Gallery

 
They did. They do. Clooney/Alamuddin wedding No. 2

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Football commands highest TV ad prices

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
TVGrid Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B8

 
.

Sports

Developer asks for more time for LA football plan

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Monday’s sports transactions

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Raiders fire coach Dennis Allen

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Prep boys soccer: VCS still looking for 1st win of season

By Daily Republic staff | From Page:

 
Charles sends Chiefs to 41-14 rout of Patriots

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Clippers return focus to team post-Sterling

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Giants have ample experience facing elimination

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Dover installs catch fence for 2015 NASCAR season

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Warriors happy to have core back, build on success

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

All-women sports show debuts with perfect timing

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Autopsy shows Chiefs LB Belcher had CTE damage

By The Associated Press | From Page:

AJ Hinch hired to manage Astros

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
Phil Mickelson saves best shot for his captain

By The Associated Press | From Page:

MLB batting average lowest since 1972 – before DH

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Wild, wild SEC West set for historic day

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Kershaw 1st to lead majors in ERA 4 straight years

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
AP source: 7 umpires rotate at World Series

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Pagenaud joins Penske for 2015 IndyCar season

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Texas’ Strong tells Goodell colleges can do better

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Hornets await NBA investigation into Taylor

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Trout, Strasburg giving playoffs a fresh look

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
NC State coach: No. 1 Florida State faked injuries

By The Associated Press | From Page:

A’s Lester, Royals’ Shields in AL wild-card focus

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Raiders’ season spinning out of control

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

Harbaugh dismisses reports of 49ers discord

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
3-way race for NL MVP; Trout takes his turn in AL

By The Associated Press | From Page:

Stewart never considered retiring after Ward death

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

 
Twins fire manager Ron Gardenhire after 13 seasons

By The Associated Press | From Page:

.

Business

Bank of America paying $7.65M to resolve inquiry

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Microsoft to offer early look at next Windows

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

US stocks head lower, following drops overseas

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
US consumer spending up 0.5 percent in August

By The Associated Press | From Page: | Gallery

ATM fees keep climbing, survey says

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
.

Obituaries

.

Comics

Beetle Bailey Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Garfield Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

For Better or Worse Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
B.C. Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Sudoku Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Wizard of Id Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Dilbert Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Crossword Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Baby Blues Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Baldo Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Peanuts Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Sally Forth Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Cryptoquote Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Frank and Ernest Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Pickles Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Blondie Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Zits Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Get Fuzzy Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Bridge Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Rose is Rose Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Word Sleuth Sept 30

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
.

Discover Solano Fall/Winter 2014

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Sonoma County

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: DIS2

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Historic Downtown Winters

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS3

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Winters

By Barry Eberling | From Page: DIS3

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Napa County

By Barry Eberling | From Page: DIS20

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Yolo County

By Jess Sullivan | From Page: DIS23

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Western Railway Museum

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS23

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Benicia

By Barry Eberling | From Page: DIS29

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Downtown Benicia

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS31

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Benicia Fire Museum

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS31

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Benicia Plein Air Gallery

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS31

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Benicia Marina

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS32

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Dixon

By Barry Eberling | From Page: DIS33

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Fairfield

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: DIS35

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Solano Town Center

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS36

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Jelly Belly Candy Co.

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS36

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Fairfield Aquatics Complex

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS37

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tours

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS37

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Suisun Valley

By Barry Eberling | From Page: DIS39

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Glashoff’s Studio

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS40

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Manka’s Corner

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS41

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Wine Tasting

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS41

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Rio Vista

By Susan Winlow | From Page: DIS42

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Foster’s Bighorn Bar

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS43

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Suisun City

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: DIS45

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Rush Ranch

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS46

Discover Solano Fall 2014: The Suisun Wildlife Center

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS46

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Grizzly Island

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS46

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Vacaville Museum

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS47

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Downtown Vacaville

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS47

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Vacaville Premium Outlets

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS48

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Vacaville

By Susan Winlow | From Page: DIS49

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Nut Tree Plaza

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS50

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Vallejo

By Barry Eberling | From Page: DIS52

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Vallejo Symphony

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS53

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Mare Island Museum

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS53

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Children’s Wonderland

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS53

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Vallejo Baylink Ferry

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS54

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Empress Theatre

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS54

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS54

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Flyway Festival

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS54

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Bay Area Ridge Trail

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS54

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Solano County

By Barry Eberling | From Page: DIS55

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Solano County Golf Courses

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS56

Discover Solano Fall-Winter 2014 Calendar

By Glen Faison | From Page: DIS57

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Bale Grist Mill

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS59

Discover Solano Fall 2014: The Petrified Forest

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS59

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Winters Opera House

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS59

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Sterling Winery

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS59

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Safari West

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS59

Discover Solano Fall 2014: UC Davis Mondavi Center

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS59

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Calistoga Hot Springs

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS59

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Vintage Aircraft Company

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS60

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Casinos

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS60

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Scientopia Discovery Center

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS60

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Old Faithful Geyser

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS60

Discover Solano Fall 2014: The Sonoma Raceway

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS60

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Hot Air Ballooning

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS60

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Robert Louis Stevenson Park

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS60

Discover Solano Fall 2014: Sonoma Train Town

By Susan Hiland | From Page: DIS60