Made in Sonoma
Santa's Helper: Petaluma toymaker Gerry Kyne works wonders with wood.
Our annual guide to thinking globally and shopping locally
Edited by Gretchen Giles
THERE'S MALL-TROLLING, catalog-shopping, flea-marketing, garage-saling, and outlet-hopping. There are the 50 wooden pallets laden down behind the megastore with 500 cases of exactly the same zap gun/video game/sweater dress/hostess tray/golf-lover's-gift-for-dad. There are lines of impatient people digging the hard ends of credit cards into one another's shoulders at the checkout, and, finally, by month's end--there is that unwrapped heap of goods that bears a sharp resemblance to every other unwrapped heap of goods in America.
But there is a way to stop the merchandise madness. Think globally, and shop locally: Purchase original objects of gorgeousness, extravagance, thoughtfulness, utility, and one-of-a-kind-ness made by craftspeople and artisans who are based right here in Sonoma County.
With that local angle honing our seasonal search, we offer below our slice-of guide to some of the possibilities of purchasing items made in Sonoma (County); it would be impossible to catalog them all. Shopping scribes contributing to this article are Dylan Bennett, Gretchen Giles, Paula Harris, Daedalus Howell, Bruce Robinson, David Templeton, and Marina Wolf.
An innovator of musical instruments, Darryl DeVore offers a bevy of alternative melodic devices handcrafted in his rural Petaluma workshop-studio. (Experimental music enthusiasts remember his inclusion in Bart Hopkins' book and CD homage Gravikords, Whirlies and Pyrophones.)
"I bring these musical instruments to life, so each one is engendered with an individual voice that speaks," explains DeVore. "There is no mass production, each one is a one-of-a-kind and made on the premises."
Wind Wands, DeVore's invention, produce the buzzy bass of a light saber when sliced through the air or twirled. Constructed of sturdy wooden dowels, hand-carved adjustable bamboo bridge, and thick rubber-bands, Wind Wands can be had for $10 each.
Capture the holiday spirit with DeVore's Spirit Catchers, an advanced form of Wind Wand swirled from a string, with pitch variance achieved through speed, creating a drone like a didgeridoo but without the player's need to master circular breathing. Produced in a limited edition, Spirit Catchers can be caught for $15 apiece.
For the neo-primitive flautist, DeVore offers handmade reed-cane flutes for a song ($5), as well as "in-blown" and transverse bamboo flutes from $10 to $50.
Bootoos are tunable bamboo stamping tubes (hifalutin, musicologists identify them as "percussion aerophones") fashioned from finger-holed bamboo and waxed nylon-thread bands with "rasping strips" scored on their sides. They produce an affably colored pop when stuck on dense surfaces such as concrete, trees, or knees. Sold in pairs, they range from $10 to $20 depending on size.
DeVore also produces wooden-bowl hand-drums in a variety of sizes. Drums are made of goatskin heads encircled by vividly gradated woven Guatemalan bands, and range from $15 to $75 each.
"These materials speak to me," he says. "I have a dialogue with the future voice of the instrument."--D.H.
Sing along. Contact Darryl DeVore at 778-0729.
Rabbit Droppings: Trust a bunny to have come up with an aphrodisiac.
Why, it's almost a fact: Fourteen out of every 10 people love chocolate. It's the ultimate anti-depressant, a guaranteed aphrodisiac, a dark addiction, an earthly ambrosia.
"On a dark and rainy night, chocolate makes you feel really good," rhapsodizes Mark Lardner, the perky manager of Peter Rabbit's Chocolate Factory (who sounds as if he's been on a rampant quality-assurance binge at the assembly line). "Just yourself and a truffle is an evening for two! It's part of the holiday feeling of indulgence," he chortles.
Family-owned and locally operated for over a decade in Sonoma County, Peter Rabbit specializes in handmade chocolates, crafted the old-fashioned way with no preservatives, just local products like Clover-Stornetta butter and Lake County walnuts. This year's most popular gifts include truffles in mouthwatering flavors like raspberry, Irish cream, and double dark amaretto; and gingerbread-house kits featuring gingerbread from Santa Rosa's Lotus Bakery. These baked homes are ready to assemble and then to decorate with bags of Peter Rabbit candies, bien sûr.
Gift prices vary. An elaborate wicker-sleigh gift basket crammed with goodies costs $300, while a piece of licorice for a stocking stuffer will set you back a nickel.
Peter Rabbit's Chocolate Factory, 2489 Guerneville Road, Santa Rosa. 575-7110. Peter's goodies are also available in Blue Abbey Antiques and Ace Hardware in Santa Rosa, Kozlowski Farms in Forestville, Green Valley Farm in Sebastopol, and even at the UPS station at Santa Rosa Packaging!
Wood He Could
There's no way around it: Plastic toys--even really cool plastic toys--just don't clank and clunk together with the same satisfying musicality as toys made of wood. Give me the clickety-clack of a little wooden train over the zings, zaps, and computer-chipped wisecracks of a Buzz Lightyear any day. Gerry Kyne, a retired Petaluma auto mechanic, understands. Over the last few years, he's transformed his garage into a veritable Santa's workshop of delightfully old-fashioned, handcrafted, thoroughly wooden playthings: trains, planes, swords and shields, doll beds, doll chairs, doll tables, and doll-everything-else.
Reasonably priced--from small doll furniture pieces for $4, to $11 swords and $20 trains, up to hand-decorated doll wardrobes at $100--the toys are all made of bright, clear-coated pine wood and are deliberately intended to become family heirlooms.
"Someday," Kyne says, "the kids who get these toys will be handing them down to their own kids. That's the idea, anyway."--D.T.
Call 763-8893 for an appointment to view Kyne's Woodcrafts.
I Kiss Ibis
If Batman's Bat Cave had a section for mountain bikes, it would resemble the workshop at Ibis Cycles in Sebastopol. Six-ton machine tools rest on a hard gray floor; psychedelic rows of freshly painted bike frames hang from the rafters; and a platoon of skilled, youthful, cycling fanatics never stops moving. At Ibis they call it the "megafactory," because it's so small, a place where a few dozen employees manufacture a few thousand bicycles each year.
Ibis bikes are not cheap, but they're known as some of the very best machines you can ride. OK, so not everybody needs a $6,000 titanium Bow-Ti, an alpine two-wheeler so high-tech and sexy it got written up in GQ and International Design magazines. Ibis has orders for this radical ride simply to adorn the window displays of fashion boutiques in Milan, Italy.
"It's a ride like no other," asserts company founder Scot Nicol. "Full suspension, completely cutting edge, and lightweight at 23 pounds." Nicol credits his "big-brain" bike designer John Castellano, a former Hughes Aircraft engineer, as the intellectual father of the Bow-Ti.
Nicol says customers for the 100 Bow-Ti bicycles built last year range from obsessed working-class riders to wealthy professionals and even movies stars like Robin Williams.
Nonetheless, a more realistic choice for the mountain bike fans is the Ibis Mojo ($1,850), "the Stradivarius of mountain bikes," in the words of Healdsburg dentist and mountain-bike racer Roger Bartels.--D.B.
Ibis Cycles bikes are available at Dave's Bike Sport and at the Bike Peddler in Santa Rosa, and at Gianni Cyclery in Occidental.
A Life Less Ordinary
The Random Order store and workspace housed in Santa Rosa's Juilliard Park area provides the perfect pick-them-up for the discriminating gift givee. Featuring arty items, many of them made by artists whose studios ring the back of this former transmission shop, Random Order has everything from thickly painted whimsical furniture to T-shirts printed on-site by Steve Milton and Valerie Randall, to earrings, papier-mâché bowls, South African artifacts, small clay salt-and-pepper dishes with preciously small serving spoons, Pisces-shaped napkin rings, and circular paper ornaments adorned with faces bearing rhinestone-studded foreheads.
These off-the-beaten-path items, including journals blanked with handmade paper and a grinning metal crocodile whose ribs house CDs, are priced within the ordinary means of ordinary people but offer gift options that are decidedly out of the ordinary.--G.G.
Random Order, 312 South A St. 575-4135.
The open fire and the Mel Tormé music are up to you, but Green Valley Chestnut Farm can help get things roasting in the proper seasonal spirit. Their organically grown Colossal variety chestnuts are available by mail order anywhere in the country for just $3.95 per pound.
"It's interesting how many people want them, but can't find them," observes Karen Dabel, whose husband, Greg, is the chestnut nut.
The Dabels' unusual crop was suggested as an agricultural experiment by the county farm adviser, and after planting multiple varieties, they have settled on the ones that grow best amidst their even more numerous types of apple trees. The chestnut, by the way, is not really a nut, but an odd sort of overgrown grain. The natural sweetness chestnuts attain when cooked results from the conversion of starches to sugars. They're best while still hot, which only enhances their appeal after Jack Frost has been nipping at your nose. Now where's that turkey and some mistletoe ...? --B.R.
Green Valley Chestnut Ranch, 1150 Green Valley Road, Sebastopol. 800/214-2005.
Rich and Mellow: Healdsburg luthier Tom Ribbecke uses rare and ancient woods.
Photo by Janet Orsi
Guitars Made to Order
Jim Surles' red-brown eyes sparkle behind his thick red beard when he talks about why he makes custom guitars. "The biggest joy I have is not just building a guitar, but more in working with a musician to create a guitar with an amazing voice, and sharing in that. Ultimately, you can play one note and kill everybody if that note has a certain quality."
At his unmarked shop next to Zone Music in Cotati, Surles makes a couple dozen solid-body electric guitars each year in a few rooms that qualify as a tinker's fantasy: screwdrivers, clamps, drill bits, templates, precision power tools, and scraps of luscious woods like Brazilian rosewood, Honduran mahogany, and local walnut. He crafts guitars for regular folks and for professional musicians like Terry Haggerty of the Sons of Champlain, Garth Webber of Miles Davis fame, bassist Tony Saunders, and Steve Kimock of Zero.
As a luthier in Sonoma County, Surles is in good company. The area is rich in custom-guitar builders for simple reasons like the predictably low humidity and the presence of Luthier's Mercantile in Healdsburg. Todd Taggart, president of the guitar building supplies company, estimates 100 guitar makers and repair people work in here.
Surles' guitars run from $1,200 to $3,000, and while you can also buy a great guitar from a mass manufacturer for that price, the difference, Surles says, is the custom fit. "It's all to your liking, a certain neck shape, thickness, fret size, color. You pick it up and you're home."
The difference is the "intuitive attention to every detail," in the words of Sebastopol guitar maker Peter Dragge, who calls his craft "a luxury and a crusade."
Some of Sonoma County's luthiers, like Steve Klein, whom Dragge describes as the "archetypal innovative luthier of the century," clearly are not an obvious phone call for an inspired amateur guitar player with an unfulfilled dream. Klein makes about 14 guitars a year, costing $10,000 each, for stars like Joni Mitchell and Steve Miller. Many guitar makers, however, are much more affordable. So when it's time to treat yourself to the ultimate six-stringer, check out a custom job by your local luthier.--D.B.
A highly arbitrary list of Sonoma County guitar makers includes Peter Dragge of Sebastopol, acoustic guitars for studio guitarists (823-5370); Steve Klein of Sonoma, acoustic guitars (938-4639); John Knutson of Forestville, portable upright electric basses (887-2709); Richard Prenkart of Sebastopol, classic nylon-string guitars and flamenco guitars (829-6719); Tom Ribbecke of Healdsburg, acoustic guitars and electric arch-top jazz guitars (433-3778); and Jim Surles of Cotati, electric guitars and basses (664-8177).
Tall, lanky, and definitely heavy-metal, guitarist John Marshall has the most rocking day job in Sonoma County. The seemingly mellow guitar picker gets to play on an endless line of brand-new amplifiers as a quality-control dude for Mesa Engineering in Petaluma, home of the fat 'n' full sound of Mesa/Boogie vacuum-tube guitar amplifiers.
"It's not the best practice," concedes Marshall, "but it keeps your fingers loose." Secluded in a soundproofed room, this former equipment technician for the band Metallica riffs continuously on some of the world's finest amplifiers in what has to be one of the world's more unique assembly-line jobs.
Mesa/Boogie's niche is vacuum-tube amps. The company never wavered from this fundamental technology as solid-state electronics became standard in the amplifier industry. Why? Simple: the character of the sound, that warm sonic texture only a tube can deliver. "Tube amps give a fatter spectrum of sound," explains a local road-tested musician. "The highs are crisp without the cutting edginess of solid state. The lows have a much broader dynamic range and a better response to the variation of attacks on the strings."
Entry-level amplifiers from Mesa/Boogie start at $400, and full-on, blasting, professional-level amplifiers at $1,600.
"Our stuff is really loud and really powerful," says Mesa/Boogie vice president Jim Ashow. Ashow firmly declines to recite the roster of rock stars playing his gear, choosing not to differentiate between big stars and lesser-known working musicians who rely equally on Mesa/Boogie products and service.
But the story tells itself. Framed photos celebrating a 25-year retrospective-edition amplifier feature the young Keith Richards, Peter Townshend, and Carlos Santana. Such a heady following is no accident. A complete quality-control tag requires 12 separate signatures. Testing includes "burning in" each set by leaving it on for few days. Then each tube gets a whack from a hammer handle to ensure its integrity. "We don't kid-glove it out the door," says Ashow. "On the road with a rock band it has to work every day."--D.B.
Mesa/Boogie amplifiers are available at Zone Music in Cotati. Mesa Engineering is located at 1317 Ross St., Petaluma. 778-6565.
You could call some disinterested 800-operator in a distant time zone to get a wreath of Sonoma County dried flowers, or you could make a local call directly to the source. That would be Bennett Valley Farms, which, despite the name, is located in a rustic valley just west of Forestville.
On five fertile acres along Green Valley Creek, Alan Siegle and Barbara Friedman grow garlic, larkspur, statice, yarrow, lavender, sage, and numerous other herbs and flowers, many of which are dried and incorporated into elegant wreaths and centerpieces. Friedman, who designs most of their creations, and Siegle began farming together as a hobby two decades ago while they were SSU students, and have been pleasantly surprised to see their business grow into what they proudly proclaim to be "the biggest UPS shipper in Forestville."
Their products are featured in such nationally distributed catalogs as L.L. Bean, Real Goods, White Flower Farm, and Calyx Carolla, but when the orders come in, they are drop-shipped directly from the farm. The goods are also sold through local gift shops and craft shows, and Friedman frequently teaches wreath-making workshops at the farm and other venues around the county. Bay leaf wreaths are a popular variation on her circular theme this time of year. On-site sales are not a big part of their business, Siegle says, but visitors are welcome all the same.--B.R.
Bennett Valley Farms, 6797 Giovanetti Road, Forestville, CA 95436. 887-9557.
Punx Not Dead at Mom's Head
Vivien Hillgrove originally described her herb farm, Mom's Head Gardens (named after the deceased Mom-the-cat), as "experimental punk farming," a remarkably apt phrase for this half-acre garden in rural southwest Santa Rosa that gets flooded every winter and is fertilized solely through the anarchistic efforts of free-range ducks, chickens, and a stunningly unkempt rabbit.
From spring until late fall, plants spring up happily wherever wind or water send their seeds, and paths weave through blowsy beds of herbs in all states of growth and decay, so that you can see exactly what you're getting from the small but comprehensively stocked nursery.
This year the nursery is closed for the winter more firmly than usual while Hillgrove fights some zoning ordinances that might prohibit tours of the garden. But the annual herbal craft sale, scheduled for Saturday-Sunday, Dec. 13-14, will go on as planned, and you don't want to miss the uniquely accessible spirit of Mom's Head at what Hillgrove is calling a "herbal rave," with locally made herbal crafts and products, along with perennials and seeds from the garden.
P.S.: Mom's Head urgently needs a holiday gift of its own, with leads to a retail space in Sonoma County and letters of community support.--M.W.
Mom's Head Gardens, 4153 Langner Ave., Santa Rosa. Call for sale location, since "we won't know where it will be 'til the last minute," says Hillgrove. 585-8575.
Feat of Clay: Ceramicists Leslie Gattman and Gene Frank specialize in Judaica.
Little Tops That Spin
Collectible dreidels? You bet. In the four years that Gene Frank and Leslie Gattman have been making the specialized Hanukkah four-sided tops, the dreidels have become one of the hottest items in the 20-year history of their Ceramic Judaica business.
But the husband-and-wife team also produces a full line of traditional and ceremonial items, including Seder plates and Kiddush cups, as well as goblets, candleholders, and spice boxes. Most of their custom designs are hand-painted, and some are also hand-carved with delicate relief figures. Unique creations include the "Endangered Species Charity Box" and the kid-friendly Noah's ark menorah. "We try to include some content, so there's something more than just a nice design," Frank says. They ship the lion's share of the production from their home-based business to gift shops and loyal customers on the East Coast, but they do maintain a modest gallery area for on-site sales by appointment.--B.R.
Ceramic Judaica 7410 Poplar Ave., Forestville, CA 95436. 887-2833.
Twisted Mister: Bonsai expert Keith Pratt grows vineyards in the miniature.
Face it: You're not likely to ever own a vineyard, let alone give one to someone. But now it's possible to get a little piece of wine country for less than the price of a case of good wine. And you won't have to clear away anything to make room for it, except the corner of your desk.
Keith W. Pratt at Petite Vines in Healdsburg has been quietly training bonsai grape varietals for three years now; the fruits of his labor fit compactly into two medium-sized greenhouses at the unassuming complex just west of Healdsburg. But these gnarly little vines, which actually do produce a small amount of fruit, are hitting it big through catalog sales with the likes of Gump's, Smith and Hawken, and International Wine Accessories.
You can avoid the middleman and order direct, starting at a mere $60 for a standard bonsai, plus shipping and handling. Young bonsai might look a little stumpy to the unimaginative, but remember that these vines should last for generations, gaining in character as they age. Some of the pricier specimens, in fact, have so much character that they look ready to creak out of the pot and start singing, à la Little Shop of Horrors.
Some people seem to experience irrational anxiety when faced with the prospect of caring for a bonsai. Fear not, Pratt says, it's easy, especially since grapevines are accustomed to droughty conditions from time to time. And directions are included.--M.W.
Petite Vines, 766 Westside Road, Healdsburg. 433-6255.
Aloha, Sonoma County
Need a break from all that elegant wine country cuisine? How about something Hawaiian? Just pull out your copy of Mama Annie's Magic Maui Cookbook (Cleall Publishing, 1996) and turn to a favorite recipe--"No Ka Oi Pork Salad" or "Turkey Cutlets with Lychee Nuts" maybe, or perhaps "Makawao Meatballs."
The instructions are straightforward and easy to follow, and the ingredients are locally obtainable. "There are a few Asian types of things," acknowledges the author, a new arrival to Sonoma County who is better known as Andrea Cleall, "but there's nothing you can't get."
The author of three successful children's books before she set her word processor up next to the food processor, Cleall takes full credit for all the recipes, having developed them over 40 years of cooking for six kids. "I took a lot of the ones that I had liked enough to write down over the years," she says, "and just gave them an island twist, a kind of tropical feel." Cleall is also a quick study in the kitchen. Soon after unpacking in her new home near Sebastopol, she put together an apple pie that captured second prize at this year's Gravenstein Apple Fair.--B.R.
Magic Maui Cookbook is available at Copperfield's Books or directly from Cleall Publishing, 612 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol, CA 95472. 824-9976.
"This is our dream," says Annie Reis, co-owner of Dressmaker, a Bodega clothing shop that specializes in custom sizing and tailoring, as she gestures around her boutique. Housed in a old butcher shop, Dressmaker still has the original door to the walk-in freezer.
Dressmaker is also a dream for hard-to-fit women who have a tough time finding wearable, off-the-rack clothing.
Owners Reis and Yeunny Mears (who previously designed for the Pastorale clothing store in Freestone and Santa Rosa) provide one-on-one customer attention in their 6-month-old store. Their workshop-boutique is easy to spot with its two sewing machines in the front window and colorful fabric displays inside.
Mears designs all the clothing and creates her own patterns. Using high-quality natural fibers like silks, organic cotton, and 100 percent censel (a washable new fiber made from wood pulp and having the drape and texture of fine suede), Mears will custom-make garments within two weeks--and she won't charge extra for custom sizing.
Customers can call and order fabric swatches, and Mears will keep measurements on file for future reference. Prices range from $35 for a vest to $200 for a full outfit. In addition, Reis makes a line of custom jewelry using semiprecious stones, handmade glass, crystal, and sterling silver. Gift certificates are available.--P.H.
Dressmaker, 17175 Bodega Hwy., Bodega. Open seven days a week. 876-9877.
Oil Good Things
There are lotsa good olive oils out there now, but there's only one at the Santa Rosa Farmers' Market, which is where I got my first taste of V.G. Buck's oil and olive-based tapenades. It was a strange thing to be tasting at 9 a.m., but I gamely dipped a piece of bread in the green-gold liquid and popped it in my mouth.
Mmm-mm, good! After tasting the wonderful tapenades--more forceful, but equally delicious--I was hooked.
So are a lot of other people, according to Deborah Rogers, co-owner of the Kenwood-based company. "We get calls every day from people who tasted one of our products somewhere and want to know where to get more," she says.
Locals are in luck, as the award-winning oil and spreads (two golds and a silver medal at the 1997 Harvest Fair for the tapenades, and a silver medal for the oil) are available in many stores, as are the delicious balsamic vinegars, with prices ranging from $4.50 for delicate 5-oz. bottles to $19 for more substantial containers. Items can also be ordered directly (checks only at this point).
The Olive Press in Glen Ellen offers V.G. Buck tapenades in some of its gift boxes, but you can create the same effect for less by purchasing the bottles individually and wrapping them up yourself.--M.W.
V.G. Buck, P.O. Box 1037, Kenwood, CA 95452. 833-6548.
Shadows and Light
When Dave Locatell Jr., a popular bass player with numerous Sonoma County bands, was felled by a heart attack last summer while waiting to take the stage at Konocti Harbor, he left his 5-year-old son fatherless--but far from friendless.
An immediate outpouring of concern and support from other musicians led to a widely publicized benefit concert and memorabilia auction Nov. 2, and the creation of a special tribute tape, both of which are endowing a trust fund for the family.
Shadows on the Wall (Sounds Too Good to Be True Records) features six heartfelt original songs by Locatell's friends and musical colleagues, tracks that honor the man and his memory while expressing the artists' sense of loss.
Far from depressing, this outpouring of affection is sincere and uplifting, and leavened considerably by Buzzy Martin's scorching "Monday to Monday," a hard-rocking tribute expressed in terms that might have been used by Locatell's favorite little old band from Texas, ZZ Top.--B.R.
Shadows on the Wall is available for $10 at all Long's Drugs in Sonoma County and Novato through the end of the year.
Even four guesses may not be enough for you to identify the location of the county's largest concentration of budget jewelry outlets. Of course, it's tiny Graton, the west county hamlet that has been enjoying a modest renaissance in recent years. Within just a few blocks of one another, three independent shopkeepers offer a variety of imported and handmade jewelry on the premises.
Richard Wolf's Far Fetched Jewelry (3140 N. Edison; 829-1867) specializes in original designs, most of which are then manufactured in Mexico. At the Jewelry Factory Outlet (3137 Mueller Road; 823-7372), owner Larry Capelis says, "We sell jewelry hand-made here in Graton and around the Pacific Rim." And at the low-profile Two Gals with the Gift (3195 Gravenstein Hwy. N., at 2 Guys with a Big Truck; 824-9778), Chris Ricke has a wide selection of jewelry pieces, so customers can choose their own combinations on the spot.
All three shops sell their wares to major department stores--Nordstrom, Saks, Macy's, etc.--so you could easily pay much more for the same goods; maybe you've already done that. Conversely, you can save your pennies and make the scenic drive out to Graton to check out the options at the source. One guess should do it this time.--B.R
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From the Dec. 4-10, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
© Metro Publishing Inc.