For Italophiles or anyone who loves good food and wine wrapped in laid back Northern California ambiance, spend a day in Geyserville––you’ll get an Italian fix, minus the long flight.
Northern Sonoma County was a haven for 19th century pre-diaspora Italian immigrants searching for a new home in America. They often found nothing but prejudice – until they hit California. In Sonoma County, they found a climate and landscape similar to home, where they could grow the same fruits and vegetables, and make wine.
Geyserville, a small town only two blocks long has Italy stamped all over it, from Francis Ford Coppola’s winery to eateries like Catelli’s, and hundred years old storefronts with a curiously European look.
Only ninety minutes from San Francisco, Geyserville is the place to go for a bit of Italy served with more than a touch of California wine country ambiance. And bonus, Geyserville is a place where you can enjoy wine country without attitude or over-the-top prices. Geyserville may not be as large as say, San Francisco’s famous North Beach Italian neighborhood, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in quality.
You won’t have to search very hard to find the Italian influence in Geyserville, most of the tasting rooms and restaurants are on the main street, Geyserville Avenue.
Where To Find Italian Food
House-cured meats, wood-fired Neopolitan style pizzas, and an extensive wine list make Diavola a favorite with both tourists and locals. Owner Dino Bugica, spent time in Italy perfecting the craft of butchery and cooking traditional rustic Italian fare.
Diavola is located in the Odd Fellows building which has retained the original hardwood floors and tin ceiling. I love the casual ambiance here and always sit at the bar if I’m on my own, plus there is usually no wait at the bar. Be sure to exit through the back door – you’ll feel as though you’ve wandered onto the film set for a scene in a typical Italian neighborhood.
Catelli’s is an institution in Geyserville. Originally opened in 1936 by Italian immigrants, the third generation now owns and operates the restaurant. It’s the place all the locals recommend as perfect for a romantic dinner.
Brother and sister duo Domenica and Nick, have kept the original family recipes alive, but have also added their modern spin to classic Italian fare. Domenica’s ravioli and red sauce are out of this world and easily one of the most popular items on the menu. The Food Network agrees and also recommends the meatball sliders. Vino options are 100% local.
Be sure to have a peek at the outdoor patio and garden surrounded by mature olive trees, The patio is circular, made of black and white marble, with an elegant and dramatic feel. Perfect for a family reunion or bridal party it will seat up to 150 people.
Wine tasting in Geyserville
The Ramazzotti family came to California in the 1950s and began farming wine grapes which were sold to other Italian families and winemakers.
In time, the big-name winemakers basically made it impossible for small producers to continue to farm without producing wine on a much bigger scale. So in 2002, Joe Ramazzotti made the decision to open a tasting room and sell his wines.
Good decision Joe! The tasting room walls are lined with ribbons won at various competitions. Joe Ramazzotti is well-known and respected in Sonoma County. I’ve been to Italy more than a few times and I’m more than familiar with Italian wines. Ramazzotti is producing good wines from Italian varietals and selling them at a reasonable price point.
Do try the Barbera, a classic Italian varietal from the Piedmont region of Italy. Barbera is a very food-friendly wine with good acidity. It makes a nice change from Chianti. I loved the Pinot Grigio, a classic Italian white wine varietal, that is popular in the United States, but often not very flavorful. Ramazzotti brings out the ripe fruit flavors of the Pinot Grigio grape but keeps enough acidity it doesn’t become cloying. Though the alcohol content is higher than usual, the wine is so well balanced you won’t notice. Try it with the ravioli from Catelli’s.
Sharing the tasting room with Ramazzotti is Mercury, owned by two brothers, one the winemaker, the other a jack of all trades and tasting room host, full of history and information about Geyserville. Grady loves talking to people and he loves his brother’s wine. Mercury is small, eclectic, and has a fun somewhat retro vibe.
Their unique wines are made from traditional varietals of the area like Zinfandel, for which Dry Creek is famous, and Cabernet Sauvignon, You’ll also find Mourvedre, and a rosé of Syrah.
This Italian family has been growing wine grapes in Sonoma County for over 50 years. Though they were not one of the first Italian families to arrive in the area, some of the vines in their Geyserville vineyards date back to 1886.
They strive to stay true to their Italian roots and produce wines sustainably. Be sure to try the Sangiovese and Italian varietal grown in Tuscany. The tasting room is on the main drag in Geyserville. In case you’re wondering, Trentadue means thirty-two in Italian.
Pedroncelli recently celebrated 90 years in Sonoma county. As you might expect, their history is very interesting. In 1927 the country was in the midst of prohibition, which caused a lot of winemakers to close up shop. But, it was legal to sell wine to friends and family for personal use only, as well as to the church. This is how Pedroncelli survived prohibition.
Pedroncelli makes wine from Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Sangiovese, an Italian varietal which most of us know as Chianti.
Another fun fact, the original 100-year-old Zinfandel vines are still producing. If you can’t make it to Northern California, you can find Pedroncelli family history at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. The old winery sign is part of the museum’s American food and wine history project.
Other things to do in Geyserville
A few other places you should check out that are unique to Geyserville…
Locals: A tasting room featuring wines from local winemakers, plus vintage clothes and collectibles. Locals offers tastings, bottles to go and they do have a wine club. Go and check out the local sense of humor.
Geyserville Gun Club: With a rustic and friendly atmosphere, the Gun Club is where everyone goes when they’re tired of wine and want a cocktail or beer and some live musical entertainment. In case you’re wondering, it’s called the Gun Club because there used to be a practice range in the basement of the building.
If your dream trip includes staying in a vineyard, the Geyserville Inn is the perfect choice. The Inn has recently undergone a 1.5 million dollar renovation which owner Dan Christensen says transformed the Inn from quaint to luxurious. I stayed at the Inn before the renovations and found it very comfortable and the location ideal. Many rooms have patios, balconies, and fireplaces, perfect on a chilly wine country night.
The upgrades, however, really are beautiful. The bathrooms are large and well lit (key in my book of life), and include lighted, anti-fog LED mirrors, and walk-in showers – this is a bit of luxury I truly appreciate.
The furnishings are modern and elegant in neutral tones which creates a very peaceful palette for the eyes. Standard amenities include WiFI, plush robes, ironing boards, fridge and maid service.
The Inn welcomes wedding parties throughout the year, and the grounds provide many excellent photo opportunities.
Next door to the Inn is the Geyserville Grille, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner on weekends. The Grille has also undergone renovations and includes a gorgeous bar and plenty of outdoor seating. This is one of the only options for breakfast in Geyserville.
Thank god the Italians came to California wine country and brought their food and wine with them. In Geyserville, you can immerse yourself in la dolce vita and you won’t need a passport. Have you been to Geyserville? Leave a comment!
Viva l’Italia! Viva Geyserville!