Rusack Santa Catalina Island Wine A Nice Surprise

RusackWe weren’t looking for great wine when we visited Avalon over the holiday. But, dang it, we found Rusack Santa Catalina Island Wine and were quite pleased.

Michael had heard that Rusack, a winery in the Ballard Canyon AVA, near Solvang, California, had a vineyard on Catalina Island. Catalina, for most of us here in sunny So. Cal., is this very rustic island off the coast of Los Angeles. The town of Avalon, located on the southeast end of the island, used to be quite the high-end party spot back in the early part of the 20th Century, mostly because the Wrigley family owned a good chunk of the island and had an estate there. The Wrigley’s as in the chewing gum and Wrigley Field in Chicago.

When Anne first visited Avalon in the late 1970s, it was a kitschy, rather endearing little tourist trap and beach town. Not exactly a haven for wine geeks and foodies. We went this past Saturday because we were looking for something different to do for the holiday and found a really good deal on the boat fare to and from the island. It’s still somewhat kitschy, but the food offerings have improved immensely. We went to the Bluewater Grill (which turns out to be a small chain here in Southern California) for lunch and enjoyed shrimp and scallops with papardelle and fried jumbo shrimp, both well made. And the wine list was respectable, though not overly exciting.

But we did track down the Rusack’s Catalina offerings at CC Gallgher: The Art of Creative Living, which were served to us by Betty Martinez, lead server, at the bar/store. Martinez was a total delight and very helpful, serving us generous tastes of the Rusack 2012 Santa Catalina Zinfandel and Chardonnay. Michael picked up some new oak in the nose and finish of the zin, which was very well balanced for 14.5 percent alcohol (which is a little on the high side for wine). Anne liked that it was fruity without being jammy. The chardonnay had the lovely crispness of a wine fermented without any oak, with mineral and apple notes in the flavor. Michael noted that it could use some food to go with it, but it was still very good by itself.

Alas, these are not cheap wines. The zin goes for $75 and the chard for $60. Worth it? Well, that depends. But they are very good. And Martinez was just as gracious and fun as she could be. Although, she thought we were joking when we invited her to dinner.

The bottom line is that good wine can be found just about anywhere these days. The trick is to be open to the possibilities. Kind of like Geoff Rusack and Alison Wrigley Rusack, owners of the winery. They wanted to plant vines on Catalina for the fun of it, according to their website. “Little did we know then that the classic, cool-climate conditions and clay loam soils that exist there would make it a world-class site for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.”

Out and About – Traxx Restaurant and Traxx Bar

CameraZOOM-20140501154747109One of the things we love is discovering really fun places that have great wines – especially places you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find them. Which is why Anne was so anxious to check out Traxx, at Los Angeles’ Union Station.

Now, Union Station, at 800 N. Alameda St., is already one of those gems even most Angelenos don’t know about – although we’ve all seen it hundreds of ┬átimes in films, television and commercials. It opened in 1939 and was built not only during the heyday of rail travel, but at a time when Los Angeles was just coming into its own as a major city in the U.S. The architecture is grand, with a mix of Hispanic mission style overlayed with an Art Deco sensibility. And it’s all been recently refurbished, thanks to the big 75th Anniversary celebration on May 3, National Train Day.

Traxx, which opened in 1997, took over the old restaurant, putting the bar part of the restaurant in what used to be the station’s telephone room – one of those nice places with phone booths where you could make a phone call while waiting for your train. Now, it’s a place where you can get a nice glass of wine while waiting for your train.

CameraZOOM-20140501154612605We both commute through Union Station regularly, Michael to get to his day job, and Anne to her errands for various clients. It took a bit of arm-twisting by Anne to get Michael into the bar after work one night recently. But in Michael’s defense, stopping for a drink means getting home to dinner and relaxation that much later. Not fun when you’re already pooped from a long day at work.

Still, it was one of those days, and the bar wasn’t too busy, although there were plenty of commuters kicking back for a drink before their trains left (there’s a pretty busy system of commuter trains to the further reaches of Southern California that come and go from Union Station). There were also a few tourists. The atmosphere was a tad on the noisy side and the bar has the inevitable television sets playing, but not blaring.

The wine list was very interesting, but sadly, we don’t remember what specifically we drank. We weren’t there to report on it, just to check it out before going home. It was only later that we thought about writing it up here. You can find a wine list posted here, but Anne didn’t recognize anything on it. Which means they change things up as the wines are released – and that’s a good thing. The important thing is that the white was served nicely chilled, and the service was prompt and polite. Wines by glass run between $9 and $16, and most of them were local to California, many from the Central Coast and Santa Ynez Valley.

Hours, menus and more information are here, at the restaurant website. If you’re in L.A., it is well worth checking out and pretty easy to get to, even if you don’t drive, since both the Red Line and Gold Lines are here, not to mention a host of buses. Contrary to popular belief, L.A. does have public transportation and it works pretty darned well. If you’re not in L.A., then the lesson is that fun places to drink wine are all around us. You just have to be willing to check them out. Even if it means getting home from work a little later.