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Glorious Wine Country Venues

Author: Maria Woods
March, 2017 Issue

In the North Bay, there are many wineries and restaurants, world-class resorts, country clubs and hotels, but those aren’t the only venues for your perfect wedding or business event. The area is an eclectic, quirky mix of foodies and artists; humanitarians and nature lovers; and more. Whatever your own desire and imagination can dream up, there is an ideal spot in the North Bay to help you bring that vision to reality. Here's a sampling of great local event venues, which prove it:

The CIA at Copia

The much-anticipated CIA at Copia, the newest branch of The Culinary Institute of America, recently opened and is already garnering accolades and buzz as a wonderful destination in downtown Napa. The 80,000-square-foot building is also a promising new venue for weddings and other events, offering all sorts of interesting spaces. Currently, the first wedding scheduled to take place at CIA at Copia is in September, but space is ready and available now, so that might change soon.

The venue was once the food and wine museum started by the late Robert and Margrit Mondavi. The center went into bankruptcy in 2008 and was then acquired in 2015 by the CIA, which also owns the Greystone branch in St. Helena. The focus of CIA at Copia has changed from a museum experience to a more hands-on approach to educating the culinary community, as well as the general public, about food and wine. The building itself has been renovated to feel more open and inclusive. Museum exhibit walls now boast large windows with views of Napa and the river. The restaurant has been extended to open it up more and tie it in with the outdoor patio. What’s more, the gates to the garden have been removed, so now anyone can walk in and enjoy the grounds instead of having to pay a $12.50 museum admission as they did before.

"CIA at Copia is the ideal location for any type of event involving food and wine, whether it’s a picturesquewedding in the amphitheater, a cocktail reception in the Atrium, an industry conference, or a team-building program," says Anne Girvin, the center's marketing and communications manager.

The light-filled, modern atrium, located on the first floor in the center of the building, is available for evening receptions, and can accommodate groups of up to 800 guests in a standing reception, or 350 for a seated dinner.  The mezzanine on the second floor can host an event of up to 300 people. The balcony that overlooks the Copia gardens can fit 80 seated and 120 standing.

There are three private dining rooms available for dining events, meetings, wine tastings, or receptions. The dining room attached to the restaurant seats 12 and is perfect for an intimate dinner or meeting. The two private dining rooms on the other side of the restaurant each seat 20, but can be combined to seat 40 or more. These dining rooms are ideal for rehearsal dinners, brunches, receptions and meetings.

Additionally, there are a variety of spaces for rent, including conference rooms, meeting rooms, two theaters, the gardens and the atrium. There’s a demonstration kitchen in the Napa Valley Vintners Theater that CIA staff envision can be used for company team-building experiences, among other innovative ideas. But the crown jewel (especially suitable for weddings) is the gorgeous outdoor, terraced amphitheater (capacity of 480) situated on a grassy lawn, amid expansive gardens with a view of the Napa River.

The Key Room

Weddings are all about love and creating heartwarming memories with family and friends. The Key Room takes it one step farther. The venue is known for its extraordinary food and friendly, professional catering staff. Aside from providing an excellent meal and superior service, The Key Room also helps you share the love. Proceeds go to Homeward Bound of Marin, the county’s largest non-profit serving the homeless population. The agency operates a culinary training program, with some of the students and graduates joining the catering team for The Key Room, while being led by a professional staff. The training helps them find jobs and get back on their feet. Plus, revenue from catering at The Key Room goes back to help more people in need through Homeward Bound. “It’s a win-win for everyone,” says Viki Card, Key Room coordinator.

The good feelings reverberate throughout the program, and it seems as if everyone goes above and beyond expectations, making an event at The Key Room an exceptional experience. For example, if you want some creative insights into how to make your event stand out, talk to Card. She has been in the culinary community for many years, knows nearly every chef on the planet, and has a reputation for pulling together a multitude of ideas to form a unique experience. If you have a theme in mind, she can come up with the perfect menu and décor to pull it all together. “Right now we’re working on an Indian wedding,” Card says. “We’re getting a traditional elevated seat in here for the couple and we’ve created a great menu. We’re now working on other details. It’s exciting, and I love it. I’m always learning something new.”

The 2,900 square foot, light and airy room features French doors that open up onto a large patio. There’s space for 175 people standing, or 120 dining. Of course, it’s not only wedding parties that can take advantage of The Key Room. All sorts of personal and business events are welcome. The venue is equipped with a full audiovisual system, including a large pull-down projection screen (8 x 6.5 feet) with wireless or hand-held microphones and Internet access.

Marin Art and Garden Center

The Marin Art and Garden Center is a beautiful, little spot with a fairy-tale-like aura that seems to whisper, “And they lived happily ever after.” Getting married at the Center is a local tradition, and the venue is consistently named as the best place for a wedding by area groups, media outlets and bloggers. However, the Center is also a good venue for anniversary celebrations, birthday parties, business meetings and more.

"What's really special about the center is that it features 11 acres of beautiful gardens," says Stacey Kamp, events manager.  "We're a nonprofit and our focus is horticulture, conservation and the arts. The garden is our main project, and it's breathtaking. You don't see a large, 11-acre garden like this every day."

 A great added bonus is that the center allows for parties to bring in their own alcohol, and they also have a variety of caterers on their approved list. In addition to the gardens, there are several indoor facilities (the largest accommodates 225 guests), which can be rented for weddings, banquets, business events and other celebrations. Discounts are given to nonprofits. Indoor venues come with tables and chairs, audiovisual equipment, an ice machine and more; Outdoor venues come with tables and chairs, outdoor heaters and market umbrellas.

Cornerstone Sonoma

Like the Marin Art and Garden Center, Sonoma County has its own popular, garden destination. Cornerstone Sonoma is home to Sunset’s Test Gardens, which include five distinct garden rooms and 10 small, walk-through gardens designed by various landscape architects, who have some unique ideas. Additional gardens can be found throughout the property, surrounding Sunset’s Outdoor Test Kitchen or bordering the custom wedding tent. The artistry and variety make for amazing photo ops. No matter where you point a camera, you’re going to get an interesting picture.

 Variety is the name of the game here, and the wedding and events venues mirror this ethos. Whether you’re dreaming of a wedding in a garden setting, a vineyard, or a rustic barn, you choose the atmosphere you want, and then rent the facility that fits the mood. For example, the garden setting features a lovely, white, custom-designed, 50-foot round Zephyr tent surrounded by roses, olive trees and seasonal perennials. While the barn setting consists of a charming 1,800-square-foot barn with large double sliding doors that open on all sides.

"The thing that really sets us apart is that there is such a large variety of backdrops, whether it be a vineyard or garden or art, that you can have for your wedding, all in one location," says Lindsay Darrimon, a sales manager with the property.  Each location has it's own "wow" factor, and each part of the wedding can take place in a different, unique space, while still being just a short stroll from each other. "Guests can go from the ceremony, which has its own look and feel, and then go to a whole different space for the reception, with it's own feel. And each time, there's this sense of surprise that runs through the group," Darrimon adds.

Along with the gardens, the center showcases gift shops, galleries, restaurants and tasting rooms. It is also the home of Sunset Magazine’s garden and test kitchen.

Napa Valley Wine Train

What could be more romantic than toasting to your future happiness as the view of some of the world’s best wineries pass by?

“From simple elopements to vow renewals, the Napa Valley Wine Train is one of the most distinctive destinations for wine country weddings available,” says Elizabeth Grillos, vice president of marketing for Noble House Hotels & Resorts. “Not only are we an incredibly unique venue, but we hold the customers experience as one of our highest priorities, understanding that this is a day that can never be repeated.”

The iconic Napa Valley Wine Train offers a unique and intimate experience for weddings as well as other types of events. The entire train can be rented out to accommodate over 300, while one railcar holds 60. A variety of wedding packages are available, including ones with their famous gourmet meals (144 guest maximum) or those with overnight stays at a partner bed and breakfast. Following the train ride, the McKinstry Street Station serves as the reception area with cafe facilities and a large dance floor.

Sea Ranch Lodge

This is one of the most serene places imaginable. The lodge sits on the bluffs by the Pacific and the natural environment conveys a feeling of balance, stability, strength and infinite beauty. It’s the perfect ambiance for a wedding, but it’s also an inspirational atmosphere for corporate meetings, team-building retreats, incentive programs, and social gatherings. All the meeting facilities, the restaurant, as well as the private rooms, have spectacular ocean views. At night, the stars are dazzling. All lighting along the 10-mile stretch of Sea Ranch is low and downward facing, and there are no street lights, so the area’s night sky is spared of light pollution.

"This is a very beautiful area and the Lodge is a popular wedding destination," says Salvador Garcia, operations manager. "You have the ocean right there, and the's an extraordinary place. There's also a 100-plus-year-old barn on the property, and people like to use that as a backdrop as well. Plus guests have access to over 50 miles of trails throughout the Sea Ranch area."

 For an added touch of whimsy and magic for a wedding, travel north five miles on Highway 1 to the Sea Ranch Chapel. This incredibly unique, small space is a non-denominational sanctuary meant for meditation, prayer, and sacred observances. It was spearheaded by local

visionary architect and artist James Hubbell, who procured the help of area artisans and crafts people to create the structure. Every detail, from the hand carved wood to the stained glass designs, reflects the care with which this little chapel was made. The space can be reserved for weddings and other spiritual gatherings, but keep in mind that the room can only hold 20 people. For more information, call (707) 785-2444.

SOMO Village

SOMO Village is a wonderful place to hold an event, and a great community. The 175-acre live-work property in Rohnert Park features an outdoor courtyard, mountain views, redwood groves along with the farm-to-table restaurant, Sally Tomatoes, entertainment by SOMO Concerts, plus work spaces for lease.

Several areas within SOMO Village are available for events, including meeting rooms in the SOMO Village Event Center, Sally Tomatoes restaurant and outdoor space for up to 3,000 people. The locations offer full event and production services.

SOMO Village also serves the nonprofit community with special rates. Events are catered by Sally Tomatoes, which features a local organic menu with a full-service bar, and the 4,400-square-foot restaurant is open to the public on weekdays. Production services are offered by Second Octave Entertainment, a Sonoma County promoter, talent management and booking agency, based at SOMO Village.

“SOMO Village is a great wedding venue,” says Tina Montgomery, general manager. “It offers a central location in Sonoma County with views of the Sonoma Mountains and a beautiful setting amongst giant Redwood trees‑all working together to create the perfect ambience. Plus, we offer full service packages to make sure your wedding or event is memorable.”

The SOMO Event Center is solar powered and the community has been certified at the highest Platinum level by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design (LEED-ND). It’s also the first One Planet Community in North America. (For more information, see

Graton Resort & Casino

Wine Country is not known for its nightlife or party atmosphere. So, if you’re looking for a place where guests can enjoy the rolling vineyards by day, and then party by night, Graton Resort & Casino is the spot for you.

The venue, which can accommodate anywhere from 20 to 2,000 guests, offers a fun and lively vibe, plus the convenience of having everything you may need or want all in one place. There are dining options, a 200-room hotel, and a spa all on site. And, of course, there’s the casino with 3,000 slot machines, 144 table games, and a poker room.

To make life easy, take advantage of the resort’s team of event specialists who can take care of all the details from conception to planning to managing everything on the big day.

There’s more than 20,000 square feet of meeting space making the resort one of the main convention venues in the area. The main room can be used as one large area or it can be divided into seven individual breakout rooms. Three meeting rooms are located adjacent to the main room.

The North Bay offers a beautiful setting and a variety of wineries, restaurants and resorts that are the perfect backdrop for any event. Let your imagination run free and see your perfect event in your mind’s eye. There’s an event venue in the North Bay sure to match your vision. Just look around and you’ll find it.


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