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Wine country -- Catalina Island style

December 19, 2010 |  3:11 pm

A descendant of the Wrigley family has planted the island's first vineyard on the slopes above scalloped beaches on Catalina Island. Plans are to refurbish the entire ranch, adding a wine-tasting room with panoramic views and offering horse-drawn buggy rides to picnic areas in backcountry that is largely unknown to the public.

The hope is that the winery complex will offer an alternative experience on the island, which currently revolves around cruise ships that disgorge thousands of day-trippers who spend a few hours exploring boutiques and restaurants in Avalon, 17 miles east of the ranch, and then leave.

California's wealthy have often planted vineyards. What sets Alison Wrigley Rusack and Geoffrey Rusack apart is that they are doing it on an island about 22 miles offshore that has no history of wine making. Motivated and burdened by the Wrigley family legacy, the Rusacks face a double-edged marketing challenge: how to get a high-end product off the ground during tough economic times and avoid the trap of becoming just a novelty.

This year has been tough on the vineyard. Too little rain and an unusually cool summer were followed by a record heat wave and plagues of wasps that ruined a third of the grapes.

Read the full story here.

--Louis Sahagun