GEYSERVILLE, Calif. — Tired of fighting the freeways, breathing dirty air, listening to the ear-splitting scream of sirens?
You're a candidate for a trip to the little hamlet of Geyserville, 73 miles north of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, population 550 (give or take a cheerful soul or two).
Besides all the peacefulness, Geyserville is home for a couple of innkeepers, Rosalie and Bob Hope, who have come up with a new twist to the bed-and-breakfast scene. Together with Shellie and Dick Dilworth, they do picnics for romantics.
Not just ordinary picnics, mind you, but picnics featuring a team of strawberry roan draft horses and an old-time stagecoach in which guests of the Hopes' two B&Bs travel in grand style along back roads and through the vineyards of this gentle valley with its ranches, farmhouses and a scattering of sheep that appear like tufts of cotton caught in the folds of rolling hills.
Stage-A-Picnic is the latest idea for generating attention for wine tours of the Alexander Valley. At the same time, picnickers can pick up a snootful when Stage-A-Picnic does pit stops for guests with a crush on the grape. Sip a Chardonnay or a Zinfandel. Then it's off to a table laden with the gourmet goodies of Rosalie Hope.
Out comes the crystal along with picnic baskets stuffed with artichoke salad, apple-cabbage cole slaw, knockwurst, Sonoma and weisswurst sausage, hot beer sausage, a pesto cheese, fresh-picked fruit, vegetables and a veal pudding sausage with apples, currants and pistachio nuts served with grilled onions. All this along with homemade chocolate cheesecake topped with garden-fresh strawberries.
The Dilworths arrive with their stagecoach to pick up guests precisely at 10 a.m. at Bob and Rosalie's B&Bs. When they aren't on a picnic run, the Dilworths tend a 400-acre farm whose stables are home to eight magnificent strawberry roans, a couple of which (Chub and Red) appeared in the old TV series "Little House on the Prairie." Another team once pulled the trolley at Disneyland.
It goes without saying that the Dilworths are heavily into horses. Particularly strawberry roans, which provide the horsepower for not one, but several old stages the Dilworths have picked up at auctions as far away as Texas.
On the picnic runs the stage fords creeks, rolls along country back roads and plows through vineyards whose leaves are scarlet with the melancholy moment of autumn.
Dick and Shellie's Geyserville Stage Line is headquartered in a wonderful old red barn that's surrounded by pastures and split-rail fences where ancient oaks spread their shade over hollyhocks and a garden profuse with other blooms.
During the 1800s, stages made regular runs to resorts near Geyserville, where city types soaked in steaming waters that boiled from natural springs. The focal point was the old Geysers Resort Hotel which, alas, went up not in steam but in smoke during a fire that left it a mere pile of ashes.
The revival of stage activity in Geyserville occurred when the Dilworths hitched up their teams to serve guests at a couple of imposing Victorians operated by the Hopes. It was a perfect partnership. The clincher is Rosalie Hope's widely touted talents in the kitchen.
A former schoolteacher (and former secretary to Sen. Alan Cranston), Rosalie performs in the kitchen like Baryshnikov performs on stage. Her breakfasts are the talk of the B&B circuit. The other morning she turned out a ham loaf containing ground pork, bread crumbs and tomatoes as well as ham. Other platters were piled with biscuits and creamed eggs in a Dijon Becagnel sauce, and there was a German plum cake with a shortbread crust that deserved a blue ribbon at the very least.
Guests who remain a week are served a different breakfast each day. Rosalie's other menus feature coffeecake filled with dates and nuts and topped with sugar and cinnamon, this along with a chili egg-puff casserole with a mild salsa, scrambled eggs with cottage cheese and chives, fresh pear pie, a sausage roll in a puff pastry and French toast dripping with Drambuie.
Rosalie keeps a log on guests so that those who return discover new surprises at the breakfast table. Frequently a guest will call ahead to request a favorite dish.
Although Rosalie is strictly into the B&B business, she will, in the case of a group or a family, prepare dinners as well.
The Hopes became innkeepers in 1974, first operating a B&B on the Russian River. In 1979 they made the move to Geyserville, buying a couple of weather-beaten Victorians facing one another across Geyserville Avenue.
After renovating the Queen Anne-style Bosworth House, the Hopes tackled the abandoned Merrill House. It was hidden behind a tangle of blackberry vines, its window shades drawn so that it appeared for all the world like a haunted house. The old frame was so spooky that onlookers got the idea Dracula could be floating around inside.