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A New Breed of Tasting Rooms

Banshee Wine redefines the Sonoma County wine experience—simply by making it cool

Noah Dorrance, Baron Ziegler and Steve Graf don’t look like your average winemakers. You’re more likely to mistake them for the mussed-hair members of a band. It almost makes sense, too: They can often be found playing vinyl records in their new tasting room in Healdsburg, California—or even dancing on the tabletops if the mood strikes. Banshee Wines has that kind of vibe.

Noah Dorrance, Baron Ziegler and Steve Graf; photo by Kelly Dorrance

With vineyards spanning across the western Sonoma coast to Russian River, Sebastopol Hills and Sonoma Mountain, the team wanted to create a space for people to experience their wine that’s become so beloved—selling everywhere from Per Se to Coi. Furnished by Noah’s wife Kelly Dorrance, along with Lisa Steinkamp, both designers, Banshee’s tasting room is a space with one-of-a-kind found objects, and it’s as cool as it is comfortable. Below, Noah tells us how they did it.

What’s the inspiration behind the aesthetic at Banshee?

One of the first ideas we latched on to was the concept of “eclectic living room of a friend with impeccable taste.” We created a vibe that is an idealized place of comfort, where people would actually enjoy wine with great music, comfy seating areas and interesting things to catch your eye.  Surprisingly, most tasting rooms don’t take that as the jumping-off point.  They can be frustratingly transactional and retreads of the same overplayed wine tropes: paintings of grapes, wine paraphernalia overload and kitschy bedazzled T-shirts.

Your tasting room is chic, but manages to be comfy. How do you make such eclectic design work so well together?

Natural materials are a big part of that.  There is distressed wood on both the floor and wall, and well-worn leather that makes the perfect foil for splashes of color.  We put emphasis on comfortable seating so that people will feel like they can hang out for an hour and listen to our vinyl collection. There’s a cushy old leather sofa, and our front window seat benches are loaded with little pillows. The mid-century modern Copenhagen chairs sit in front of a marble fireplace filled with candles—affectionately dubbed the honeymoon suite.

Photo by Kelly Dorrance

Photo by Kelly Dorrance

Where do you source your products?

Each product has different provenance and story.  The “El Pino Club” sign has become a signature piece of the tasting room.  We found it at the Alameda Flea Market, and it once belonged to an Italian restaurant in the Sierra Mountains.  “El Pino” can mean the pines or to “hacer el pino” means to “do a handstand” in Spanish.  We think both meanings have some relevance to our wines. The oversized skyscape painting is from a local Healdsburg artist and friend, Alex Harris.  And the community table running down the room was from a physics lab.  If you know where to look you’ll find “Physics ’78” and “Physics Sucks!” With a lot of buffing and rehab, we completely transformed the table from something that looked pedestrian into a much-commented-on anchor of the room.

Photo by Kelly Dorrance

Most items in the tasting room are for sale. How do you decide to replace what’s sold to make it work with the current design?

One of the unexpected benefits of selling things is that we’re always adding new things to the room.  Each new item brings something different so it’s a chance to reinvent a bit each time.  Overall, the core components provide an easy canvas on which to work.  Since it’s eclectic by design, experimentation is easy as long as it fits with our other aforementioned design goals.

Any particular items fly off the shelves?

Drinking-related items are particularly popular: old shot glasses, brass canteens and heavy old vintage beer steins.  And old concrete or cast iron animals seem to go pretty fast, too. We’re on our fourth floor lamp and we’ve only been open four months.

What kind of crowd does a space like this draw into the Banshee Wines Tasting Room?

It’s been really satisfying to see the diversity of the crowd so far.  We’ve had a lot of young people from the city: designers, artists, fashion people and techies.  Perhaps the best sign we hit a sweet spot has been the embrace of the local community that can be somewhat ambivalent about tasting rooms.  Because of our vibe and the fact we’re open until at least 7 p.m. each day, people have seen it less as a typical tasting room and more as a place to hang out and listen to tunes.  We get a lot of winemakers and other wine industry folks stopping by for a glass or bottle.

Banshee Tasting Room is located at 325 Center Street in Healdsburg, CA. Click here for more info.



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