This rustic California wine town is a prime destination for food lovers
After he closed his two-Michelin-starred restaurant, Cyrus, a Healdsburg, Calif., restaurant in 2012, chef Douglas Kane took a decade to explore his dream location for his new restaurant.
Ken finally arrived last year at a former plum packing plant overlooking vineyards where the Russian River flows through the Alexander Valley. These vineyards aren’t located in Healdsburg, the unofficial home of Sonoma County restaurants, but they are eight miles north in the blink of an eye and Geyserville will miss them.
“Geyserville is real wine country: the growers come out at 5 a.m.,” the 52-year-old chef said of what attracted him to the city. “Everyone knows each other’s names; there’s an annual tractor parade.” The new release from Cyrus puts Geyserville on the itineraries of more travelers, who enjoy the town’s bustling bar and chic restaurants, and a home goods store that feels like a flea market enhanced, intimate, and tucked into the landscape. Wineries.
The entire town may be just two blocks of Wild West-like storefronts, but its charm takes an entire weekend to discover. Here are some of the highlights.
Tour the kitchen for a 15-course feast
In Japan, no culinary experience is more revered than kaiseki, the formal multi-course meal that showcases seasonality with dishes presented elegantly but without pretension. At Cyrus, Mr. Kane, who has visited Japan several times, presents his version of kaiseki through a Californian lens, a paean to local agriculture (although some ingredients come from far-flung regions). The presentation dazzles to a whisper.
The meal unfolds in various locations throughout Cyrus’ 8,000-square-foot space. It starts with champagne and snacks that play on different aspects of taste: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. Guests gather (there’s four seating for 12 four evenings a week) in the leather-draped lounge or outside among the olive trees, where the Mayacamas Mountains and surrounding vineyards sparkle on the surface of the reflecting pool.
For the next courses, the group moves to a moodily lit area adjacent to the open kitchen, where diners are invited to wander into the kitchen where courses such as steamed abalone with shio koji corn consommé are prepared. While diners courting chefs in the dining kitchen is nothing new, inviting middle service to interact with them is.
More delicious dishes are served in the dining room, where floor-to-ceiling windows provide central views. Among the dishes: seared scallops tossed in dashi matsutake-mushroom; A slice of beef, cooked with sauce and then fried with plancha; Honey-glazed goat’s milk Chocopan bread alongside custard with puffed barley, nasturtium flowers and mustard. The meal culminates in a cocoon-like room with a mouthful of black sesame and dark chocolate and a parting gift: boxed chocolate that strikes the five palates once again.
Fifteen courses is a lot. But Mr. Kane’s umami- and acid-driven approach (meaning he uses less dairy and carbs) translates into a lighter meal. (Cost: $295 without pairing; additional $280 for wine pairings or $140 for non-alcoholic pairings.)
Downtown is straight out of the Wild West
You can get a feel for Geyserville as soon as you step off the 101 Freeway exit ramp and encounter a field of large sculptures by different artists – a 25-foot steel horse in mid-gallop, a towering man made of wine barrels and a galvanized steel trout with blue eyes – in an abandoned lot Previously, thanks to a collaboration between the Geyserville Community Foundation and landowner, Price Jones. The sculpture garden is constantly changing, and sometimes includes installations of local students’ artwork; Most of the pieces are for sale.
Although Geyserville is stretched between two exits on Highway 101, the actual town is quite small: it’s a major drawback with a collection of family-run businesses operating out of buildings that directly overlook “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
There’s Gin’gilli’s Vintage Home, a 1930s Ford dealership turned flea market with 45 vendors selling everything from vintage tools and kitchen utensils to vintage toys and adorable handbags made from Pendleton blankets. (A booth featuring classic patchwork and studded Levi’s provides some fashion novelty.)
Bosworth & Son had occupied the building since 1904, first as a mortuary, then as a wagon paint shop, and finally as a general store selling feed, and later hardware. Now, it’s turned into a cowboy hat and western clothing store that also doubles as a museum. In 2018, the current owner, Gretchen Krebs Bosworth, 51, combined four generations’ worth of family photos and memorabilia with community-donated relics to tell the story of the town’s evolution. On display: Dozens of 19th-century photographs showing the town’s early settlers in covered wagons, log cabins, and old kitchen implements like the “divider” from the days when crops were primarily apricots and plums rather than grapes.
Neapolitan sass and glass horns
Geyserville restaurants are 21st century in design and flavours. Corner Project, which houses the former parts department of a Lampson Ford dealership, serves craft beer and a simple menu of dishes like tacos and sandwiches made using locally sourced meats and produce ($12.50 to $20). On tap are dark and light beers, ales, pilsners, and ales, as well as ciders and hard seltzers with quirky names like Surly Temple.
Inside the city’s largest buildings, husband-and-wife team Sonia and Dino Bojeca, both 47, run Diavola, a trattoria-style pizzeria with Neapolitan sausage. Pizzas with toppings like pork belly and Sicilian meatballs ($22) are the restaurant’s calling card, but there are also homemade pastas ($25 to $26) and dishes like roasted chicken with seasonal beans and greens ($32) that nod to the decade in which Mr. Bojeca spent his time cooking in places like Forte dei Marmi and Pisa in Tuscany. The sass unfolds in the plant-covered courtyard where laundry (including naughty lingerie) hangs from a clothesline à la the alleys of Naples.
The couple also owns the bar and live music space next door, Geyserville Gun Club, named after the building’s former life as a shooting range. Cocktails like the mezcal-based She-Devil ($13) are good, but it’s the ambiance that impresses. A combination of taxidermy, blown-glass lighting, and salvaged walnut tables with gorgeous metalwork gives the place a Brooklyn lounge edge.
And along the same promenade, Catelli, an Italian staple for decades, serves classics like cheese ravioli ($23.50) and chicken Parmesan ($26). Nearby Fermata, which opened in 2022, has upped the city’s coffee game. The owners, Ellen Lin, 40, and Jefferson Drudge, 47, not only serve drinks and pastries made by baristas, but they also offer the goods of local makers and open their own space for live music.
Most of these businesses have copious flower bouquets on their countertops. Their origin? Pollinator Garden created by Mr. Jones from the Public Sculpture Garden. He hands them over to him for free.
Terroir with a taste of history
Wines from the tasting rooms in Geyserville probably won’t be available at the wine shop on the corner. Small, family-run operations mean bottles are mainly sold through wine clubs and local distribution. Unlike larger wineries, tastings at these vineyards are conducted by managers who are obsessed with oenology and tend to get so caught up in storytelling that they often forget about sales pitches. Which is of course part of the magic.
Pedroncelli Winery, which describes itself as “on the big end of small,” began supplying grapes to households in 1927. After Prohibition, it evolved into a premium brand with 14 varieties. Tastings include a tribute to the winery’s history, which includes the Pedroncelli family’s role in putting the Sonoma County appellation on the labels, and the hiring of Montse Reese as its first female winemaker in 2015. The tasting rooms are lined with family photos and feature redwood from the original 1940s vineyard cabinets On the walls and ceiling. Tastings start at $20.
The Mazzone family has been involved in grape growing and winemaking in Geyserville since 1897, when Giuseppe Mazzone, along with dozens of other Italians, immigrated to Sonoma to work in the Swiss-Italian colony. The Zialena winery is run by two of his grandchildren, siblings Lisa and Mark Mazzone. The elegant tasting room with metal and wood sides, where visitors taste Cabernet and Zinfandel, reflects the modernity they bring to the 120-acre vineyard. Tastings start at $30.
As a collective, the local tasting room offers an expansive experience where visitors can sample a variety of eight small wineries. Opened in 2002 as California’s first independent collective tasting room, it is now owned by Dick Handall, 82, and his daughter, Doralis Handall, 51, who make the vintage-ware-filled tasting room inside the Bosworth Building downtown so welcoming. -To our family, Phoebe. “We encourage visitors to discover lesser-known varietals not typically associated with California, such as Verdelho, Grenache Blanc and Graciano,” Ms. Handal said. Highlight: Winemakers are routinely on hand to pour and hang out with visitors. Tasting is free.
If the weather’s warm enough — this is California — head to Lake Sonoma, in the coastal foothills. A product of the construction of Warm Springs Dam in 1983, this recreational area, filled with live oak trees and rugged terrain, offers hiking, a 50-mile lagoon of shoreline, and a marina where sport boats, rafts, stand-up paddleboards and jet skis. Skis and kayaks can be rented by the hour.
Where to stay
There is one free 41-room hotel in town, the Geyserville Inn (rates start at $335). An alternative is the just-reopened Madrona Hotel in Healdsburg (about an eight-minute drive), owned by Jay Jeffers, a well-known San Francisco interior designer. Mr. Jeffers has masterfully transformed a Victorian mansion into a 24-room inn filled with patterned wallpaper, subtle lighting, luxurious textiles and a dynamic mix of artwork. The wrap-around veranda and pool area are the perfect place to enjoy the stunning scenery (rates start at $650).
To really engage with what locals call “Geyserville Grit,” you can reserve a stylish barn turned one-bedroom cottage on a private farm within walking distance of the Geyserville Shops. The farm and rental are part of a non-profit organization owned by animal rescue activist Danae Blythe Unti that uses all proceeds to house the goats, wild mares, and cows you’ll see roaming the property ($325 per night).
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