Destination: Geyserville

Old farm crossroads luring more tourists as locals rediscover its charms

Published: Saturday, August 1, 2009 at 3:00 a.m.
KENT PORTER / The Press Democrat
New high-end art galleries and wine tasting rooms have opened up next to century-old brick storefronts in downtown Geyserville.

 

 

Geyserville, the old farm center in northern Sonoma County, has spiffed up its image to capture more of the Wine Country tourist trade.

New and remodeled buildings with fine art galleries and premium tasting rooms have sprouted up on its main street, next to the dusty, century-old brick facades that lend Geyserville its charm.

Welcoming signs were put up last month touting Geyserville as “The Wine Capital of Sonoma County” and listing “wine tasting, lodging, restaurants, shopping, galleries and so much more.”

Some of that is Chamber of Commerce hyperbole. But there is no doubt Geyserville is getting noticed these days.

“It’s hitting its stride. It’s becoming a destination of its own,” said Cosette Trautman—Scheiber, co-owner of two bed-and-breakfast inns: Hope-Merrill House    , an Eastlake, stick-style Victorian, and the 1904 Hope-Bosworth House, an example of Queen Anne craftsman style.

“It’s the spillover from Healdsburg. It has to go somewhere. And Geyserville happened to be vacant,” said Harry Bosworth, 70, a lifelong resident who owns Bosworth & Son. His old-style hardware store has been in business since 1911.

Situated close to the Russian River in the heart of the Alexander Valley, Geyserville, with a population of about 2,000, is lapped by a sea of vineyards, redwoods and a mountain backdrop.

There are big-name wineries on the town’s peripheries, including Francis Ford Coppola’s new venture at the site of the former Chateau Souverain.

Highway 101 runs nearby, with Healdsburg six miles to the south. Visitors also arrive via Highway 128 and other scenic backroads.

“I think people like it because it’s kind of secluded,” said Heather O’Donnell, who’s worked for three years at the Meeker Vineyards tasting room in the center of Geyserville.

“Locals like it because it’s a quiet, cute little town. You know everybody,” she said.

The tasting room where she works is in an old bank building with ornately carved wooden pillars lining the teller windows. A 1903 vault stores the wine.

She noted that two more tasting rooms opened in the past year, bringing the total to four in a two-block stretch of Geyserville Avenue.

“Geyserville is expanding,” she said. “There’s a lot more traffic.”

“People are rediscovering it,” said Kristine Shirley, tasting room manager at Terroirs Artisan Wines, which occupies a renovated brick building with modern glass facade and airy interior.

Visitors can savor high-end wines as they ponder landscape paintings and other art.

“There’s not a sense of rush,” Shirley said. “There’s an opportunity to take the time to taste artisan wines and discover local artists.”

One of those artists, Sam Racina, opened his Terranean fine art galley down the street in 2008 after being in Healdsburg for a dozen years.

His original photo realism pieces sell for between $1,000 to $10,000, with prints selling for about a tenth of that.

Although art is a luxury and a challenge to sell in a tough economy, he said he turned a profit last year.

Racina said much of his business comes from people who come through Geyserville while on vacation, when they are more prone to making a purchase.

Still, he is surprised by how quickly art galleries have sprung up. “I didn’t know there were plans to have two other art galleries in town,” he said.

For a town the size of Geyserville to have three galleries and an art studio, he said, “is totally disproportionate, a quirky thing that just happened.”

He times his gallery hours to be on the same schedule as Santi’s, the next-door restaurant that has been on the culinary map for a decade or so, but plans to relocate to Santa Rosa.

While locals bemoan the loss of Santi, they speak highly of Diavola, the Italian deli and gourmet pizza place that opened a year ago in the spot formerly occupied by the Smokehouse restaurant.

“We seem to have more tourists now, especially on weekends. Weekends used to be kind of dead around here,” said Candy Cadd, a lifelong Alexander Valley resident who works at Bosworth & Son.

For now, residents seem happy to be getting more recognition from travel magazines and from Sonoma County residents discovering their own backyard.

But they also don’t want to be overrun, or have Geyserville lose its backroads charm.

“We don’t want to turn into Healdsburg,” said Trautman—Scheiber.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com