Rusack Vineyards

by Eric Anderson  

(excerpted from Vol. 10 No.3 Journal du Vin, March '02 & Vol.11 No.2, Journal du Vin, March 2003. …a compilation of tour and tasting visits (3/02, 3/03) to Rusack Vnyds in the Santa Ynez Valley.)

I first met winemaker John Falcone at a Santa Barbara Co Vintner's Assn (SBCVA) tasting during 2002. The Rusack wines he was pouring were quite nice; but, I was sorry to have missed out on a Cab blend named Anacapa. (Although the SYV is not know for Cab blends, some of them can be real finds.) John was the new winemaker at Rusack and he was quick to suggest that I visit the winery, where he'd be happy to not only pour me some of the Anacapa I'd missed, but also run me through the barrel samples of wines he'd recently produced.

That was easily inducement enough for me. But, after hearing about John's and owner Geoff Rusack's plans for a complete makeover of Rusack vineyards, I just had to pay a visit to see what was happening on the former Ballard Cyn Winery property.

Selected Tasting Notes:

...from barrel...

2002 Rusack Chardonnay - Goodchild Vnyd. This wine hasn't undergone any ML, and is quite tropical in its aromas and flavors, with pineapple, lemon grass,and a touch of lychee nut. Nice, very flavorful mouthfeel; silky, yet crisp on the palate. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Chardonnay - Bien Nacido Vnyd. Bigger on the mouthfeel, with a touch more tartness than the Goodchild Chard. Lots of body and presence, long finish. Tasty stuff! Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Chardonnay - Sierra Madre Vnyd. Recently completed ML, and the nose just drips with honey, caramel, and buttery apple nuances. Rich and full on the palate, with a nice crisp snap on the long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Chardonnay - Huber Vnyd. This vnyd is in the cooler Santa Rita Hills AVA, and the profile shows more clingy acid and ripe appley aroma and flavor, with a somewhat stemmy quality to the nose and mouth. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Pinot Noir - Sierra Madre Vnyd. Just pure fruit aromas, with a combination of bing and black cherry aromas and flavors, and an edgy young-vine quality to the mouthfeel. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Pinot Noir - Bien Nacido Vnyd. Quite ripe in the nose, with lots of black cherry, stems, touch of spice, and a little feral quality. Nice texture on the palate, with lots of dark cherry and spice flavors and long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Pinot Noir - Huber Vnyd. Fabulous; very plush and floral in the nose, with ripe and seductive scents. Initially full on the palate, the wine gives a big blast on the front end, levels out in the middle, and comes on strong through the finish. This will likely be part of a blend with the Sierra Madre and the Bien Nacido. Aroma/Taste: A-/B+

2002 Rusack Pinot Noir - Fiddlestix Vnyd, 667 clone. Rich, ripe and lush, with a nice stemmy/forest floor quality framing the aroma profile. Big and chewy in mouthfeel, with plenty of fleshy fruit and spice, and a nice long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Pinot Noir - Fiddlestix Vnyd, 113 clone. Very dense nose, with lots of dark fruit, touch of spice, and a hint of gamey quality. Lightly earthy on the palate, with strawberry and bing cherry flavors, and a slightly gripping finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Pinot Noir - Fiddlestix Vnyd, 4 clone. Slightly reduced, with a stemmy and earthy quality in nose and mouth. A Reserve bottling will probably be made from the Fiddlestix lots, and the final product ought to be something to behold. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Tempranillo. Very nice nose of dark cherry with a touch of coffee and spice. Delicious mouthfeel, plenty of dusty black cherry fruit, and gripping long finish. From a small 1-acre vnyd in Santa Ynez. 120 cases. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Syrah - Saarloos Vnyd. Rich, very smooth quality to nose and mouth. From a small steep very picturesque vnyd near Ballard Cyn Rd and Hwy 154. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Falcone Syrah - Falcone Vnyd. Nose exhibits a mass of dark fruit. Substantial mouthfeel, nice licorice accent to the black fruit, and a long dense finish. From John's own vnyd in Paso Robles, which was planted in 2000. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Falcone Cabernet Sauvignon - Falcone Vnyd. Just loaded with dark fruit, spice, and toasty qualities. Full on the palate, with a ripe cassis flavor, beautiful balance, and long finish. The wine was in a stainless steel barrel at the time of tasting. Will probably be blended in with the Falcone Syrah. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Syrah - Stolpman Vnyd. Clone 3. Very complex nose of dark berry, cocoa, caramel, and toast. Really nice! From a new section in the Stolpman Vnyd. Still undergoing ML, and will probably go into a blend of the Rusack Syrah lots. Aroma/Taste: B+/A-

2002 Rusack Sangiovese - Stolpman Vnyd. Nice spicy dried cherry aroma. Elegant and silky on the palate, the ripe fruit has near perfect balance, and a very long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/A-

Rusack winery currently occupies 40 acres on Ballard Cyn Rd (the old Ballard Cyn winery). In addition, Geoff has purchased another 300 acres across the street, close to his neighbor Tom Stolpman. Using the services of Jeff Newton and Larry Finkle of Coastal Vineyard Care Associates to site and plant these new vineyards seems further evidence of the commitment that Rusack is making.

View showing the removed front vnyd; and the intended expansion area across the street

John had worked with several wineries prior to Rusack, leaving Atlas Peak to take up roots here in June of 2001. As it turns out, he literally took up roots here. Because, under his direction, they've pulled up all of the previous vineyards and are completely replanting. It was startling to see all that bare land - in fact, because of all the dirt out in front, I missed the driveway to the tasting room, since it didn't look like a vineyard.

We started out in the attractive, slightly rustic tasting room, trying a few bottle samples of currently available wines. The room itself has been remodeled a few times, and has a nice adjacent patio area on one side, and windows to the barrel room on the other side.

Among the many barrel samples that John took us through, we were fortunate to be able to taste the very last of the old Syrah vines (due to leaf roll virus) that were next to the winery. Among the vineyards now being sourced are Stolpman, Lucas (about 4-5 yrs old), and Joseph (as in Kathy Joseph, Fiddlehead winery).

Rusack Winemaker, John Falcone

In 2003, I again ran into John at the SB Vintner's Assn tasting, and was able to taste through many of the bottled samples of the Pinots and Syrahs that I'd tasted from barrel. The results were very impressive. I was now looking forward to trying the '02 vintage from barrel, along with a special treat - some wines from John's own label. John has purchased about 11 acres up in the Templeton area, and has 8 acres under vine.

Rusack is currently sourcing fruit from several vnyds and AVAs - something that's likely to continue at least until the recently re-planted estate vnyds come back into production. Yet, even at that point, there may be a desire to continue obtaining fruit from some of the current sources - which is certainly fine with me. The barrel samples I tasted of wines made from Fiddlestix, Huber, and Stolpman fruit were all excellent, and I can see only great things coming from this winery in the future.

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