The population of Geyserville is 2,100 souls, give or take seasonal winery workers or the random off-the-grid types drawn to this bucolic northern Sonoma County burg. If you sneeze while driving into its downtown, you can miss the entire expanse of a dozen shops, the fire station and post office.
So when even a small change happens, suffice it to say, it’s a big deal.
Recently, Geyserville has been a hotbed of happenings, with its centerpiece restaurant closing last winter, only to be immediately replaced by the original restaurant that had occupied its space years ago. A new wine tasting room has opened, and not just any grape sampling space, but a hip destination that’s so friendly and fun that it’s worth the drive from anywhere.
Last fall, Geyserville staged its first-ever culinary festival, called Artisano, that hosted an impressive collection of Sonoma’s top chefs, vintners and artists and drew hundreds of guests to the emerald lawns of the Geyserville Inn.
And within a month or so, movie mogul Francis Ford Coppola will debut an important wine-country inspired restaurant at his important Geyserville winery.
Suffice it to say, if you haven’t been to Geyserville in a while, you owe yourself a visit this summer.
So Long Santi: In 2000, Taverna Santi opened on Geyserville’s main drag, as a stunning showcase of handmade, authentic Old World Italian cuisine celebrating seasonal, local ingredients. It was a tremendous hit, with visitors coming from far and wide for inventive dishes like house-made beef tripe braised with borlotti beans and garlic fettunta. Come the weekends, it was common to see limousines pulling up, unloading tourists with faces flushed from daylong winetastings, and carefully scrubbed pickup trucks delivering well-heeled locals. Yet on New Year’s 2009, Santi served its last supper, with Santi owner Doug Swett relocating his restaurant to Fountaingrove Village in Santa Rosa.
Come to Catelli’s: Yet by April, the original owners of the Santi building, the Catelli family from the property’s previous incarnation as Catelli’s The Rex, had opened a restaurant of their own in the historic 1902 structure. Called, simply, Catelli’s, the concept is healthy, locally-inspired Italian, with a “community-friendly price point,” according to owner Nicholas Catelli.
Santi fans will recognize the nostalgia from the oversized portrait of a bar scene that hung on the wall next to Santi’s host stand. It's an ancient shot of Catelli's the Rex where, dusty and sun-worn, wearing overalls and broad brimmed hats, cheerful drinkers hang at the bar and smile at the camera. The bartender serving them, long-retired and now in his 90s, remained a Santi regular and held court at a big, curved booth just inside the restaurant's weathered wooden doors.
Nicholas’ sister and business partner Domenica Catelli is executive chef, bringing back family classics including patriarch Richard Catelli’s signature ravioli and meat sauce, and their Nonni’s minestrone, a hearty vegetable soup stocked with cannellini, navy and garbanzo beans and finished with Parmesan.
You’ll also enjoy local lamb grilled and splayed over balsamic roasted grapes, Yukon gold mashed potatoes and roasted kale; or “Pasta of the Moment,” inspired by the season and from ingredients plucked out of the organic gardens banking the trellised patio in back of the restaurant.
The wine list emphasizes Alexander Valley, Dry Creek and Russian River appellations plus a nod to “a few family friends who make wines but have vineyards outside the area,” says Nicholas.
Mercury Wine: Can you bottle style? This tiny tasting room, which opened in late November, speaks hip with bare concrete floors and a barrel room framed by walls of floor-to-ceiling cubbyholes stocked with wine bottles interspersed among jars of jam and pickled vegetables. There are turntables spinning retro vinyl records, and impromptu dancing often breaks out among happy imbibers. It’s winsome wine, too, from Brad Beard, a former wine distributor in Arizona, and Jake Hawkes of Alexander Valley Hawkes Wines. Production is as low as 50 cases, in signatures like robust Bordeaux blends called the Sister, the Father, and the Messenger, plus three graceful Pinot Noirs from Sonoma Coast, Carneros and Anderson Valley. You’ll covet a red table wine in a 500-ml jug, sealed with a laboratory bottle cap and packed in a handmade 12-bottle wooden crate.
Why Else You Want to Get Going to Geyserville
Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria: Opened in July 2008 from former Santi chef Dino Bugica, it became an immediate destination for extraordinary Italian food. Diavola (which means "devil," as opposed to Santi’s “saint”) brims with the requisite components of charm: a rustic-chic bosom of scuffed hardwood floors, stark wood tables set with paper place mats, 100-year-old brick walls cut with archways and a gorgeous Virgin of Guadalupe statue above the bar that lights up in Christmas tree colors.
Chef Bugica hand-pulls pizza dough at a wood-burning oven topped with a growling, tusked pig sculpture. And just in case you don’t know that the space used to be a smokehouse, you can perch at the bar beneath a curving meat rack dangling with old meat hanging-hooks and handcrafted Diavola salumi.
For pizza, chew on a charred and golden, crisp and pillowy crust, decorated in housemade sausage, red onion and flurries of white pecorino cheese shavings, or juicy Lingurian clams and broccoli raab laced with parsley, tomato, pecorino, herbs and a wallop of sharp garlic. There’s antipasti, like red beet chunks sweetened with sheep's milk ricotta, or citrus-kissed squid tossed with curled shrimp, black-eyed peas, mushy-mild anchovies alla povera and buttery cannellini.
Rustic: July may be the lucky date that the public gets its first taste of Rustic, a new addition to the Francis Ford Coppola Winery just south of town. The restaurant, from movie-mogul Francis Ford Coppola himself, is sub-titled “Francis' Favorites,” because it will feature the filmmaker's favorite foods.
That means an Argentinean Parilla grill, Chicken Under a Brick, Mrs. Scorsese's Lemon Chicken and Polynesian Ribs, plus hamburgers and Neapolitan pizza.
Dinner and a movie? That would seem to be a given.
Santi, 2097 Stagecoach Road, Santa Rosa, 707-528-1549, santirestaurant.com.
Catelli's Restaurant, 21047 Geyserville Avenue, Geyserville, 707-857-3471, mycatellis.com.
Mercury Wine, 20120 Geyserville Avenue, Geyserville, 707-857-9870, mercurywine.com.
Diavola, 21021 Geyserville Avenue, Geyserville, 707-814-0111, diavolapizzeria.com.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery, 300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville, 707-857-1462, franciscoppolawinery.com.
Tip: It can be difficult to navigate Geyserville’s narrow main strip with too many visiting cars. A simple solution? On most weekend nights, you’ll see the public parking lots filled with limousines, catering to well-fed, well-imbibed customers. You be one, too, with Pure Luxury!