Scott and Yasmin Taylor met for the first time at a mutual friend’s birthday party in San Francisco in 2016. He asked her out on nine consecutive dates. “He wanted to make sure no one else had a chance to take me out in between,” says Yasmin. His plan worked, and the two fell for each other—often leaving the city to spend weekends in Sonoma County touring vineyards, tasting wine, and falling in love along the way. A year after they met, Scott proposed to Yasmin in the Healdsburg Plaza, one of their favorite places. She said yes, and the search for the perfect wedding venue began. “We wanted to find a venue that would tell our story—a place that made our guests feel as if they were whisked away to Wine Country heaven,” says Yasmin. “It was important for us to offer our family and friends a weekend to celebrate our wedding, but also to make a vacation out of it.”
The couple chose Mountain House Estate in Cloverdale. “It was love at first sight.” The 40-acre property offered views of rolling hills and acres of native oak trees. “We had guests fly in from Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Nebraska, Nashville, Arizona, Chile and of course, the Bay Area,” she says. “We knew this is where we wanted to say ‘I do’ surrounded by family and friends.” The couple married in June.
Couples travel from around the globe to Wine Country to exchange their vows and “I do’s” in the North Bay’s most beautiful backdrops. And, you likely won’t find your run-of-the-mill wedding venue, because it’s all about the details, the views and creating the most memorable day of a lifetime. According to the Sonoma County Clerk Recorder Assessor Department, 2,870 marriage licenses were purchased in Sonoma County in 2018, and 3,033 in 2017. Thousands of local couples plan their ceremonies in Wine Country. But the majority of couples travel from Texas, New York, Chicago and Boston. The demand for weddings hosted in the North Bay are at an all-time high, and the dream Wine Country wedding comes at a cost. Site fees range from $10,000 to $20,000. According to weddingwire.com, the average cost of a wedding in 2018 was $36,000 and in the North Bay, weddings have become a booming business. “We had a budget, and our three priorities were venue, photographer and food,” says Yasmin. “I knew everything else could be DIY and negotiated.”
Nestled just north of Sonoma County in Cloverdale is Mountain House Estate, 40 acres of endless landscapes and views fit for a celebration. Owner John Alden purchased the property, a fully licensed wedding venue and conference center that had never been completed, in 2012. “We’re a wedding venue, built as a wedding venue,” says Alden. “We bought it, completed the construction and hosted two weddings in 2016.” Last year, nearly 40 weddings were held on the property.
Couples have exclusive use of the private estate, and there are several options for every aspect of a wedding celebration—a pond, lawn, barn, patio, oak and redwood trees, even a great room and a bar. “We have multiple reception and ceremony locations, and the couple gets to use them all. We also have a great room that can be turned into a dance club in the evening, or you might choose to dance on the patio under the stars,” he says. Want to roast a pig? Alden can set that up, too. “We have an area that will accommodate six food trucks and an area for pig-on-a-spit,” he says. “We have a permit for all of this.”
Alden knows that an important factor when choosing a venue, is photo ops. “When people look for venues, one thing they have to look for is photo opportunities. We have a 1933 Ford truck with wine barrels, a wind mill, a 1937 Chevy truck with a 12-foot bed, which was originally used for plum hauling, an old military green 1941 Ford tractor perfect for unique photos,” he says.
The natural features on property such as huge boulders, grass area, flower and vegetable garden, vineyards and oak trees, add to the beauty and creative opportunities making a one-of-a-kind day. “In addition to the extraordinary natural aspects of the Estate, we have a 5,000-square-foot event center with a prep room on the second floor known as The Oasis,” says Alden. “It has four makeup stations, a full bathroom and private changing area, a fridge, steamer, iron, extra high rods for hanging dresses, a circular white couch, and a 3-sided mirror. Brides love it!”
Guests can also enjoy a full bar, as long as the couple brings it in. “We allow spirits,” he says. “We don’t have a liquor license, so we allow the couple to bring a host bar and bartenders. Some couples choose to have bars, such as Duke's in Healdsburg or caterers with liquor licenses, provide their experienced staff as well as the beer, wine, liquor and signature drinks. It’s a great guest experience when that happens.” The venue features a 21-foot redwood bar, equipped with a kegerator, wine fridge, and commercial bar sink. Let the reception begin!
When planning your dream Wine Country wedding, Marisa Ferrell, president and planner at So Eventful Planning and Design in Healdsburg, says there’s one bottom line: “You can’t afford not to hire a wedding planner.” Ferrell started the company in 2008, planning roughly 100-plus weddings annually, along with corporate and private events. “Hire a professional planner,” she says. “We have so many strong relationships with venues and vendors—we can go to bat for you and negotiate contracts to help you save money. We are the repeat customer.”
For the couple on a tight budget, her advice: less is more. “We have so much natural beauty and scenery, you don’t need much to bring in over the top details.” Planning a wedding all depends on what the client is looking for, she explains. During the process, Ferrell meets with clients for every wedding need, including planning, location searches and picking the perfect venue. “We can be hands-on as soon as the couple would like. The process could take 9 to 12 months, or be as soon as two months.”
One of the most popular demands in planning weddings is having hard alcohol at their event/wedding. “There are only a handful of wineries in Sonoma County that allow the service of hard alcohol,” says Ferrell. “The benefit of hiring a wedding planner is that we know where all these hidden gems are located.”
So Eventful also plans multi-cultural events, which take place over several days. “We recently had a four-day wedding,” she says. “It took place at different venues from Kunde Winery, to Carneros Resort, to Yountville. The client did a traditional Indian ceremony as well as an American ceremony, including four different dresses: one traditional white, one traditional Indian attire and a cocktail dress, and an Indian wedding dress called a ‘Saree.’”Most of Ferrell’s clients come from outside Sonoma and Napa counties—New York, Texas and Chicago—and they don’t always realize that Napa and Sonoma County aren’t as close as they seem.
“We have all the connections and make the process smooth for them,” she says. “Unless you’ve got a lot of experience in planning weddings, you can’t predict unexpected expenses. Planning a once-in-a-lifetime event includes hours of unglamorous work behind the scenes.” From budgeting, to vision, to giving guests the “wow” factor, So Eventful can turn a Wine Country wedding dream into reality.
On a winter afternoon at Calistoga Ranch in Napa Valley, a couple from Germany is set to elope on the deck overlooking Lake Lommel. Set for 10 guests, the intimate, private ceremony in the afternoon is accompanied by fog-covered mountains and a dewy meadow floor, white candles, fresh cut flowers and green foliage.
Calistoga Ranch, an Auberge Resort in a private canyon, arranges weddings for up to 150 guests, with access to their three sites on property: the vineyard, Lommel lawn and wine cave. “Generally, when couples think of Wine Country, they think of the outdoors,” says Janina Pineiro, wedding and special event sales manager for Calistoga Ranch. “We are rustic chic, incorporating organic outdoor elements at a luxury experience.” And at Calistoga Ranch, couples fall for the views, and the opportunity to dine with wedding guests in the vineyards under the stars.
“Couples can customize their experience and have ceremony in the vineyard, dinner on the Lommel lawn, and dancing in the wine cave. Or, the ceremony can be held in the wine cave with dinner on the lawn and dancing in the vineyard,” she says. “We use all three locations for each wedding. During a resort buyout, our couples have the flexibility to design their wedding throughout the entire resort,” she says. “One couple had synchronized swimmers, and another couple had the pool covered with plexiglass for dancing above it.”
Couples generally spend two nights in one of Calistoga Ranch’s 50 freestanding lodges, equipped with trellis patios, outdoor fireplaces, outdoor spa showers, and hot tubs, all under a canopy of oak trees. At Calistoga Ranch, all Saturdays from April to October are already committed, with a total of 50 weddings already booked for 2019. Pineiro’s passion for providing an experience like no other for newlyweds and their guest’s shows in her attention to detail, starting from the moment the couples inquire.
“I love listening to the couple’s whole story and incorporating those details into their special day,” she says. “I’ll even customize a welcome gift for the couple, depending on their likes once I get a feel for them.” Pineiro recently gifted customized aprons to an engaged couple set to wed at the resort. Given their passion for cooking, it made for the perfect gift. “My specialty is experiential,” she says, and she makes sure the entire process from start to finish is magical and memorable.
Her favorite part of the process is centered on the culinary aspect. “Food is a love language,” says Pineiro. “I call it their culinary story. It often translates to how [the couple] met. Many of our couples get engaged in Napa and end up wanting to come back for their wedding.” She explains that dinner is usually focused around an elevated food and wine pairing, additionally highlighting the bride and groom through speeches. Dinner is often private and secluded, and customized from three to five courses. “Our executive culinary team team is always executing on location in the desired dining venue at Calistoga Ranch.” And of course, there’s an abundance of Napa Valley wine. With full bar packages available, guests can sip signature craft cocktails along with the Auberge Resort Collection wine label.
In the summertime, when the lavender is in bloom and the Wild Oak grapes decorate the vineyard, St. Francis Winery and Vineyards in Santa Rosa provides a fairytale setting for nuptials. “When it comes down to it, brides are going to splurge on the venue. It’s what guests will remember most,” says Katie Phillips, events manager for the winery.
The winery is located in the heart of Sonoma Valley, famous for their award-winning Zinfandels, culinary program and unbeatable views. “We’re best known for our panoramic views of the vineyards leading to the Mayacamas Mountains, which paints a perfect backdrop to a dream wedding,” says Phillips. After couples are pronounced husband and wife, the winery’s famous bell tower, also on every label of St. Francis wine, is rung up to 10 times.
Recognized twice by OpenTable.com as the best restaurant in America, the winery’s non-traditional restaurant features a food and wine-pairing menu, adding a luxurious element to any rehearsal dinner. “We pride ourselves on our culinary programs that support the more intimate size nuptials, and we’re fortunate to have an in-house culinary team that caters to the premium, limited production wines that we make,” says Phillips.
Food-and-wine pairings are trending at the winery, and with Winemaker Katie Madigan’s port program, guests often splurge on a port-and-cigar bar during their reception. “Sonoma County is well known for its farm-to-table offerings and our brides want to share the entire Wine Country experience with their guests,” says Phillips. She also notes the trends on the rise, and the farewell to the trend of the past. “Weddings are becoming more about personalizing experiences over the cookie-cutter traditions from beginning to end that we’re all used too,” she says. “Our brides are walking down the aisle to hand-selected songs that are meaningful to them as opposed to the traditional wedding song, ‘Bridal Chorus.’ Cake is becoming a thing of the past, and we’re seeing gelato carts, ice cream stations, s’more’s stations and donut machines.”
After dinner, market lights strung throughout the property set the mood and light the reception. “At night, it feels like you’re in an exotic location,” says Phillips. “Our property is very intimate,” she says. “It’s easy for guests and people who don’t want to move around a lot. It’s all in one spot with beautiful views.” And you won’t see wine-sipping tourists peeping in on your big day because it’s completely private. “We’re private, and couples get exclusive use of the property on their wedding day,” says Phillips. “Some people want the privacy.”
Of all the stunning locations to say “I do” here in Wine Country, it’s difficult to make a poor decision with the beauty the North Bay offers. “Really do your research,” says Yasmin. “Make sure every vendor you’re using takes the time to get to know you as a couple and understands your vision.” Despite a 30-minute drive on a winding road to Mountain House Estate, guests were ecstatic to celebrate the Taylor’s wedding in Cloverdale’s majestic setting. “Our guests loved being able to leave the city and gaze across the golden hills filled with grapevines and enjoy the natural beauty of Sonoma County,” she says. “And last, just enjoy every single second. It’s the only time in our lives we get to have everyone we adore all in one room celebrating love and family.”
Bruce Riezenman, owner of Park Avenue Catering, has been catering weddings for 30 years. From plated dinners and buffet style, to family style and over the top dessert stations, Riezenman is the man behind today’s most fabulous food trends in Wine Country weddings.
“We’re seeing people moving away from traditional wedding cakes,” says Riezneman. “Sometimes, they’ll do small ceremony cakes for the cake cutting. It’s been a trend now for several years. It started with cakes and desserts on side next to the wedding cake.” But now, it’s the dessert buffets that are taking center stage. “Gelato stations, donut machines, extreme Sunday stations—generally, two-to-three desserts. People want their favorite stuff—whatever they’ve shared as a couple, or [sweets] that are nostalgic from their childhood.”
At Park Avenue, Riezenman and his team make their own gelatos and ice cream, and always enjoy incorporating local Sonoma County fresh fruits and berries into desserts and their small cobblers and fruit crisps. “We tend to do small portions, so guests can try a few of everything,” he says.
Another meal trend heating up the wedding scene is family-style meals and late-night snacks. “We’re seeing family-style meals more than anything now,” he says. “It’s the most popular (and has been for a while). People prefer to have meals shared and we’re seeing buffets less often. We’re also seeing a lot of late-night snacks—pizza, mac n’ cheese, sliders—for after dinner and after the cake.”
Weddingwire.com recently released their 2018 Newlywed Report on modern wedding journeys in the U.S., using data from the largest, most inclusive report with insight from nearly 18,000 newlyweds married in 2018. Here’s what they found:
40 percent of all engagements happen between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. While 52 percent are surprised by the ring, one in three showed photos of what they like.
Christmas Day is the most popular day of the year to pop the question, followed by Valentine’s Day and Christmas Eve.
Average cost of the ring: $5,000
86 percent of couples announce engagement on social media.
Average age of groom: 33
Average age of bride: 31
56 percent of newlywed couples plan to buy a home within two years.
70 percent of couples change their name to their partner’s surname.
One in four newlywed couples meet online.
54 percent dated less than two years.
All-in average wedding cost: $36,000
63 percent of grooms dress more casual than a tuxedo.
61 percent walk down the aisle to non-classical music.
59 percent of female-wedding parties wear different dresses.
Only 74 percent participate in father-daughter and/or mother-son dances.
45 percent of couples begin honeymoon one to two days after reception.
Only 70 percent of newlyweds change their last name.
1) New York City
3) San Francisco
4) Washington, D.C.
40 percent have unique musical choices during ceremony such as bagpipes or a cultural influence.
21 percent added a local element based in city where couple met or grew up.
18 percent include ceremonial customs related to race or religion.
17 percent hired special entertainment for guests (fortune teller, caricature).
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