Sunday, July 5, 2009

Upper Sonoma County Getaways




A surprising number of tasting rooms, shops and places to wander and dine have popped up in tiny Geyserville, which is only two or three blocks long and just north of Healdsburg in Sonoma County. Most recently, Pete Opatz (above), formerly of Chateau St. Jean, opened the rustic and charming Route 128 tasting room in a section of a former auto dealership (across the street from the old General Store). He makes Bordeaux varietals in the tradition of southeastern France. His flagship is the delicious Pelu Rouge, made with Zinfandel, Syrah and Viognier. One of the older tasting rooms is Meeker Vineyards in a 100-year-old bank (the wine is stored in the old vault). The winery, owned by former Hollywood studio chief Charlie Meeker, is known for its hearty reds and the fun-loving atmosphere of the tasting room.
Two of the newer Geyserville tasting rooms offer an assortment of local Alexander Valley and Dry Creek wines as well as selections from farther afield. The sleek and handsome Terriors Artisan Wines, by winemaker Kerry Damskey who specializes in "high-elevation wine" from northern California, was built in a renovated old red-brick building that once housed a print shop. It showcases four different labels produced by Damskey.
The more low-key Locals was started seven years ago to present the wines of boutique wineries in one location. Owner Carolyn Lewis (right) is usually on hand to guide a wide variety of flights for tastings.
In a light-filled modern building next door is Geyser Arts Gallery, a stylish shop selling handmade crafts and artwork from regional artists.
The big buzz in town is the departure of Santi, everyone's favorite Italian restaurant in these parts. The restaurant is moving to Santa Rosa in October, and the beautiful space is scheduled to be filled with another, as yet-unnamed, restaurant. But the culinary scene here has been kept fresh with the opening of Diavola, a pizzeria that is packing diners in with thin, crackly crusted pies (top photo) topped with delicious local and seasonal ingredients. It's the handiwork of Santi's Dino Bugica, who spent seven years in Italy where he apprenticed with cooks and butchers (Diavola also specializes in Bugica's salami and sausages).
Geyserville even has its own coffehouse. Mornings find locals heading to the tiny Geyserville Mud for a cup of joe from Thanksgiving Coffee Company, which is the favorite coffee of upper Sonoma and Mendocino County residents.
To see a bit of the farm town that Geyserville has been for more than 100 years step into the 19th century General Store, where you can usually find a few old-timers shooting the breeze. Browse through the huge collection of hats (left), buy a saddle and grab a small brown bag to stock up on nails, which are sold by the pound, just as they were in the old days. Nice way to wrap up a Sonoma County weekend getaway.