If you set out to create a tasting room that appears to be straight out of a Hollywood movie, you might do well to use Rustique Wines as a blueprint. The barn that houses the tasting room (opened during the pandemic, but more about that later) is all rustic wood and clever accents – a rusty wagon wheel here, an eagle roof topper there – with the rolling hills of the River Road corridor as its backdrop.
But Rustique doesn’t take its name from rust. It takes its name from Rusti Lee Silacci, the matriarch of the Silacci family and the Silacci Family Vineyard. She was a popular teacher in Salinas city schools for an astounding 28 years.
She died in 2019, after a long bout of ovarian cancer, at age 57. Rustique was to be her post-retirement project, where her husband, son and daughter would work on a venue to host all manner of events, along with making wine that could be served on any table.
Instead, that’s been left to her family: son Chad Silacci, a winemaker; daughter Sara Silacci, the event coordinator; and husband Robert “Soxie” Silacci, founder of Rustique Wines and whose Silacci Vineyard was first planted in 1998. Chad spoke to the Weekly about creating their new venture.
Weekly: How did Rustique come to life?
Chad Silacci: My dad was always in real estate, he still has his broker’s license and is still doing some stuff, but all of his friends were heavily involved in wine. He and my mom bought the property, and he was involved with a winery down the road, and with [winemaker] Gary Pisoni and a lot of local guys in the industry. This whole ranch was his dream, a fun thing he and my mom could do.
How was your mom involved?
It started as a family and friend label, something they would drink at dinners with friends. My mom’s goal was to retire from teaching and run the event side of the property. She started doing events out here, weddings and corporate parties. And as she was building that up, she kind of brought Rustique to the wholesale market, and you can buy it now at Star Market and The Cheese Shop in Carmel.
Both of my parents are big entertainers, super social, and they loved to host people here. That whole catering to the public and having a good time was where she naturally flowed. It was her happy spot.
How did you manage to open a tasting room during a pandemic?
My mom died in September 2019 and I was going to school at Washington State University, studying viticulture and oenology. That year I rebranded Rustique to make it more marketable. When I finished my education, I knew I was going to come home and open a tasting room anyway, but it opened sooner than I thought. I had a lot of support; Dennis Hoey at Odonata is a winemaker and he took over production this year. I graduated in December 2020, moved home at the end of March, started building a website and Instagram presence, and we had a soft opening on May 15.
Where do you hope to see Rustique in three to five years?
My dad has been doing a lot of work – getting permits, making sure we’re ADA compliant and working with the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to get the bonded winery and tasting room permit. I was going back and forth – should I get experience with other people? – but a lot of conversations pushed me to open.
As far as the wine side, in three to five years, I want to get a pretty good local following. As far as the property goes, we’d love to start making it into a whole event center. I don’t want to say too much in case some things don’t happen, but it would be cool to have a small amphitheater and a commercial kitchen and turn that event side one.
My mom’s still here, but in a different way. It feels good to have this open because it keeps her current and around. To see it come to life, it’s been emotional.