The Coast News Group
Taste of Wine

The two sides of Catalina Island

The Catalina Express speedboat from San Pedro to Two Harbors, Catalina Island, drew up to the dock. I gazed around at the surroundings on this first-time visit for the next few days and couldn’t help think I was in a virtually undiscovered paradise, just 12 miles from Avalon, the bustling, tourist-driven Catalina hot spot, which is like many of the beach communities of Southern California. 
I was there with Sonoma-based Winery Pedroncelli and their Southern California manager Mark Abraham to present a signature magnum to Banning House Lodge Bed and Breakfast in celebration of their 100th anniversary.
Kate Panzer is the innkeeper and couldn’t be happier. “It’s an ideal, timeless place to work and live, with guests who become friends and return year after year,” she said with a big smile. “Here, buffalo really do roam, brought here years ago for western movies (we met 3 of them on the road). Many were transported to South Dakota, but 100 still live close by.”
I learned that the chewing gum magnates the Wrigley Family purchased the property and the island in 1918 and family companies still operate the various enterprises that attract boaters and tourists. 
Banner House has stunning views of Catalina Harbor on the mainland side, and Isthmus Cove and 4th of July Cove on the Pacific Ocean side. The three have moorings and anchorages for about 700 boats. The lodge also has a busy wine bar featuring the sought-after Pedroncelli brand and other California style wines. Check out
Yes, Catalina Island does have its own vineyard. In what’s known as El Rancho Escondido, not far from Two Harbors, the first vines were planted in 2007 by Geoff and Allison Rusack. Three varietals were harvested in 2009: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Allison is from the Wrigley family and both established themselves as wine makers back in 1995 in the Santa Ynez Valley north of Santa Barbara. Rusack Wines are small-batch, handcrafted wines of premium quality. They have a tasting room in Solvang, where you can try the wines from Catalina Island. See more at
The new Gallo: Not your father’s wine
Ernest and Julio Gallo, the brothers from Modesto who helped changed the wine world, have passed on. Their Gallo family successors have vowed to bring the brand into the next decade of the 21st century focused on the young hip community with their Bear Flag Brand.
I spoke of this inflection point with Shannon Soria Palmer at the recent La Jolla Art and Wine Festival. The labels are all from a magical world of strange creatures; whatever they think will float your collective boat. 
 Bear Flag, which is a takeoff on California’s state flag, pushes a “super secret formula” that is really a potpourri-blend of grapes.
For instance, the Bright White Blend is Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer.  The Dark Red Blend is a combo of Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot and Tempranillo.
 Woo Woo! Look for the graffiti style bottles in most supermarkets. Look for more at
Wine Bytes
— Meritage Wine Market in Encinitas hosts a Back to Napa Tasting Event from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 5. The cost is $20 per person. Check with Meritage for names, at (760) 479-2500.
— Bacchus Wine Market in the Gaslamp, downtown San Diego, has a High End Cabernet event from 4 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 5. Names being poured include Raymond, Rutherford and Bordeaux French wines. Cost is $35 each. Call (619) 236-0005 for details.
— Wine Loft in Carlsbad has a $10 Tuesday on Nov. 9 with the wines of BR Cohn from 5 to 7 p.m. They’ll also offer oils, dipping sauces and tapenades. More info is available at (760) 944-1412.
—  PAON Restaurant downtown Carlsbad presents a two-hour tasting and seminar on fortified and sparkling wines from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 9. Includes how to taste and compare and evaluation. RSVP at (760) 729-7377.
—   Dolce Pane E Vino in Rancho Santa Fe brings in Krupp Brothers and Stagecoach Wines from 5 to 8 p.m. Nov. 10 from 5 to 8pm. Cost of $25 includes paired appetizers. RSVP at (858) 832-1518.