New Italian Wine and Specialty Food Shop Opens in Healdsburg

Ciao Bruto fills a gourmet gap with organic Italian wines and artisanal pantry provisions.

Ciao Bruto — an Italian phrase that translates to “Hello, Ugly!” — may be an unconventional name for a wine shop, but this new Healdsburg boutique is anything but typical.

Opened just off the plaza in late May, Ciao Bruto doesn’t offer a single wine from Sonoma County or even California. Instead, it spotlights organic and biodynamic wines from northern Italy’s Piedmont region. The shop also offers artisanal Italian specialty products, such as pasta, tinned seafood, and condiments.

The store’s name is not intended as an insult, explains Ciao Bruto co-owner Thomas DeBaise, but rather a tribute to the unapologetic rusticity of the Italian wines he loves.

“When you drink Italian wine it’s the exact opposite of French wine,” he says. “French wine is constant layers of refinement, but even with the most refined Italian wines, there’s always a hard edge. That’s the most charming part.”

Many of the stores products are produced on Italian winery estates. (Tina Caputo)
Many of the stores products are produced on Italian winery estates. (Tina Caputo)

Located next door to the Idlewild Wines tasting room, which specializes in California wines made with northern Italian grape varieties, Ciao Bruto is co-owned by Idlewild winemaker Sam Bilbro, along with DeBiase, who serves as the winery’s head of operations, and Courtney Humiston, Idlewild’s hospitality director and the former wine director at Petit Crenn in San Francisco.

The idea for Ciao Bruto grew from the trio’s deep appreciation for Italian wines and the enthusiastic demand for Idlewild’s Sunday educational tastings, which feature Italian selections that inspire Bilbro’s own winemaking. When the space next to the tasting room happened to come up for lease, it seemed like a nudge from fate, says DeBiase.

“This was something we were dreaming about doing for years before it actually happened,” he says. “We didn’t know if the shop was going to be here in Healdsburg or maybe in San Francisco, but it ended up being literally right next door.”

The shop currently carries about 250 wines and plans to double its offerings in the next couple of months. All selections are organic or biodynamic, primarily made in small quantities by winemakers who also grow their own grapes. Piedmont is the store’s main focus, but shoppers will also find selections from other Italian regions like Sicily, as well as hard-to-find Champagnes from France.

“Even though there are a lot of wineries here in Healdsburg, and we’re one of them at Idlewild, it’s kind of a wine desert,” says DeBiase. “If you want a bottle of Champagne, where do you go? You have to drive 15 miles minimum, or you go to Safeway and get whatever’s there. And for a lot of the food products, you have to go to San Francisco to get them. So there was a thirst for this and we wanted to fill the space.”

Ciao Bruto also brings in Italian artisanal food products grown and crafted on the same estates that produce many of the store’s wines, including Caravaglio capers, Il Censo pasta, and dried chickpeas from Paolo Bea. In the next month or so, once its new refrigerators arrive, the shop will begin offering grab-and-go Italian cheeses and cured meats.

While the store currently operates exclusively as a retail business, with no in-store tastings, DeBiase hopes to eventually add wine classes, pop-up dinners, and tastings with visiting Italian winemakers.

Open 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. 130 Plaza St., Healdsburg. 707-756-3918,