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Wine Country Destination Weddings

As a professional photographer who spends a lot of time very happily shooting weddings, I have noticed that the couples I meet with are increasingly looking for wedding sites that will allow them to bring family and friends together for several days in a celebration that is also a chance to spend relaxed time in each others company. In the interests of professional curiosity, and just in case it might help someone to find the perfect wedding location, I set out to explore and report back on some of the best destination wedding sites that I have found.

For the bride and groom a destination wedding is an opportunity to not only invite friends and family to their celebration, but to turn it into a holiday for them as well – an especially nice way to acknowledge the time and possible expense of their travel. At its absolute best, a destination wedding is one that gathers people together in a wonderful location, and ideally lets everyone stay as a group for several days. This allows the guests to get to know each other and the bride and groom to relax and have plenty of time to be with their friends and families. Stress is kept to a minimum – always a good thing at any time – and no one is late or gets lost!  I love these weddings. The bride and groom never seem hassled about making sure they get time with all their guests. Their friends have a chance to lounge by a pool, get a massage, or go horseback riding. People can go off to explore the area, or do a little wine tasting. By the time the ceremony day arrives, the whole group is as easygoing as any couple could wish.  As a photographer I am then dealing with a rested, relaxed, well fed and friendly group of people – not to mention the fact that everyone looks better when they are having a wonderful time!

If you live in the Bay area you are fortunate in your choices. There are many wonderful locations that will allow your local guests a short drive and the out of town folks a reasonable trip from the airport. For those couples planning to come from some distance themselves, the destination wedding allows you to keep the challenges of long distance planning to an absolute minimum. One of the particular joys of a destination wedding is the fact that the bride and groom really only need to do a few things; decide who to invite and what to wear, hire a DJ or band, and find a photographer and someone to perform the ceremony.  When it comes to the details of table linens, flowers, dishes and silverware, you can be as involved – or not – as you would like. The three  sites I profile here all have professionals who are happy to work with you on your design ideas, or are just as willing to use their knowledge and experience to take on many of the details themselves! In ambiance, and attitude, these three sites are very different – for couples looking for three very different celebrations. I call them the resort, ranch, and manor weddings. Read on, and see which one appeals most to your sense of style.

Let’s start with the sexiest site, the cool and rather understated sophistication of the new Carneros Inn, a resort recently opened in the Napa Valley Carneros winegrowing region. You may need to change your expectations about what constitutes a wine country experience – we are not talking Tuscan mansion, or charming bed and breakfast here. The Carneros is an upscale resort property – think sleek rather than cozy – with dramatic views of the vineyards. The design is deliberately casual in one sense, reflecting the agricultural heritage of the region, but don’t be fooled, you are in a first class resort.

Wine Country Weddings - Carneros InnAlthough their web site says very little about weddings, the staff on site is enthusiastic and very accommodating regarding the potential needs of wedding clients. One of the nicest features of this location is the luxurious spa facility where the spa director has designed some extremely seductive packages to cater to the needs of the wedding party both before and on the day of the wedding. These options include a Wedding Marathon package that starts with breakfast in bed and includes everything from hair and makeup services to massage, champagne and healthy snacks for the bridesmaids!

The rooms at the Inn are designed with an eye to the tastes and needs of the sophisticated traveler. Each private cottage has its own patio garden looking out over the vineyards where you can relax and feel as far removed from everyday life as you could possibly desire. On the other hand, you can start a fire in the wood burning fireplace, curl up in bed, and watch DVD’s on your large-screen flat -panel TV, or take advantage of the high- speed data network connections in each room, and feel as plugged in as you could wish. This is definitely not one of the ‘no telephone, no TV” places – on the other hand…there’s nothing to say you have to answer the phone if it rings, especially if you happen to be indulging in the hedonistic experience of the heated alfresco shower and blood orange scented toiletries that come with every room – though there is an inside shower and tub too if you prefer! And indeed, The Carneros Inn was voted” best hotel to have sex “in America, by Esquire magazine as well as making the top 25 list of “most romantic hotels” in Travel and Leisure.

For your guests, the Inn offers the opportunity to relax by the pool and indulge in the spa services, as well as visit the many wineries and well known restaurants in the area. The resort has a first class concierge service to help you organize activities for your guests, or simply to point them in the right direction of whatever they are looking to explore. It is nice not to have to play travel agent for your guests, and to know that they are well occupied and happy as you get ready for your wedding.

There are several sites on the property – both indoors and out – where ceremonies can be held. The advantage of the outdoor sites would certainly be the views, but you should be aware of the fact that is can be quite windy and cold here, so it is wise to be prepared for that. The site will allow up to 200 guests at an outdoor wedding with a buffet meal, and 60 for an indoor ceremony and sit down meal. As with most sites in this area, all amplified music must end by ten pm. The Inn has 83 rooms, and can easily accommodate all your guests. They will consider a buyout of the property for your exclusive use depending on availability.

On the whole, the Carneros Inn is a marvelous wedding site. Your guests can visit the wine country, stay at a first class resort, and leave feeling thoroughly indulged. For the bride and groom in search of relaxation and sophisticated luxury, the site provides a setting for a wedding of casual elegance – with a little blood orange thrown in for spice!

Wine Country Weddings - Mayacamas RanchFor a completely different experience, drive up into the Mayacamas Mountains, on the borders of Napa and Sonoma counties, and be amazed by the stunning views on the way to the eighty acre Mayacamas Ranch. I admit it, even living in this area now for several years – I still had to pull over on the drive and just sit and marvel. This unique site offers the extraordinary opportunity for your guests to combine the pleasures of a visit to the wine country with a ranch vacation – complete with horseback riding, fishing, hiking, and marshmallow roasts. Quite an experience to give your guests, especially those who have never seen this part of the country before!

This is indeed the no television no telephone destination, and a great place to have a wedding if you love the outdoors, want to be able to really hang out with your guests, and especially if there are children involved. The feeling is relaxed, comfortable, and thoroughly easygoing. The folks at the ranch are extremely helpful and experienced when it comes to weddings. One look at their web site will tell you that they know exactly what they are doing, as well as answer just about any questions you might have about how the whole process works.

Weddings here require that you book out all 25 of the ranch’s guest rooms – so you have exclusive use of the site. The place is entirely yours, and the staff is at your service, for the duration.  And - though you may decide to leave to do a little wine tasting or exploring, and the Ranch has a van to take you out to do so if you’d like – there is absolutely no reason to go anywhere if you don’t want to. On site there is swimming, canoeing, fishing, hiking, or – for the less ambitious – just a nice friendly game of croquet or horseshoes. For a fee you can also go horseback riding, or arrange for yoga or cooking classes.

The Ranch offers a variety of rooms, with accommodations for approximately fifty overnight guests. Their site will tell you that the rooms are a balance of the luxurious and the rustic – which is a very accurate description. There are secluded cottages, one room cabins, and ranch houses with multiple rooms. All are nicely furnished, and come equipped with spa quality toiletries, and quality linens.

For your ceremony site the nicest option is the Sunset Meadow, with a view of Mount St. Helena. After the wedding ceremony guests can enjoy cocktails by the pool and later move up to the lovely Sunrise Garden and deck for dinner. The deck can be tented if the season requires it. All music must be indoors and end by twelve pm. The Sunset Meadow is also a great place to have your rehearsal dinner. The ranch staff can organize a barbecue followed by S’mores around the campfire. With the tables set with the Ranch’s Provence print tablecloths and Chinese lanterns strung overhead, the site is magical.

The Ranch serves three meals a day, as well as a poolside option for lunch and a smoothie bar.  The staff will work with you on creating menus for the rehearsal dinner, wedding day, and whatever else you may need. There is plenty of on site expertise to help you with the selection of local florists and other vendors if you wish, and throughout the course of your stay the staff will make sure that everything runs smoothly. Weddings here are limited to a maximum of one hundred and fifty guests.

The rates here are extremely reasonable, and the level of experience and professionalism clearly make your wedding planning a pleasure.  The fact that you take over the entire property for your event provides a marvelous sense of privacy and exclusivity. The Mayacamas Ranch is a wonderful place to get married  for a couple who want to keep their guests close, provide lots of on site entertainment, as well as easy access to the wineries and restaurants of the region, and really turn their wedding into an event of several days that all their guests can relax into and enjoy. And hanging out around a campfire eating S’mores seems to me a wonderful way for everyone to get to know each other better.

If your idea of perfection would be a wedding at an elegant manor house, with beautifully sculptured gardens, and restaurant given Zagats highest overall rating for dining in Sonoma County, The Madrona Manor would be the ideal location.

Wine Country Weddings - Madrona ManorBuilt in 1881, this Victorian estate stands on eight acres of landscaped gardens in the hills above the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County. Madrona Manor offers the opportunity to experience the wine country from a stylish and gracious setting. Your guests will be able to relax in one of the Manors marvelously comfortable rooms, stroll through the lovely gardens, have a swim in the pool, and go off to explore the pleasures of nearby Healdsburg and the local wineries.

One of the enormous advantages to this particular site is the presence of two on site wedding coordinators. Their expertise makes the experience of wedding planning as hassle free as possible. The manor provides all linens, china, and silverware. The skilled staff will even go out into the properties extensive gardens and choose and arrange fresh flowers for the tables if you wish. Umbrellas, chairs, glassware – it is all seen to.  Of course, if you want to get involved with your own decorating or floral ideas you certainly can, but the staff here is more than willing to share with you the benefit of their extensive experience.

For outdoor ceremonies there is a lovely lawn, surrounded by flowers and greenery. Daytime weddings include a buffet and can accommodate up to 120 guests. Evening weddings feature a formal sit down meal on the terrace, and up to 80 guests. There is no dance music at evening weddings. During the colder months the Manor offers winter parlor weddings.

The cuisine is one of the great pleasures of your stay at the Madrona Manor. Chef Jesse Mallgren prepares New California Cuisine using the excellent local ingredients, as well as vegetables, herbs, and fruits from the Manors own organic gardens. The Madrona Manor offers the opportunity to give your guests a truly fine dining experience, and the staff here will be happy to work with you to create a wedding feast for your guests.

There are 23 rooms here, and you are welcome to rent them all, or just rent a few for the bridal party or family. There are several extravagantly designed suits that make wonderful spaces for the bride to get ready, with plenty of room for makeup artists and hair stylists to do their job as well as room for bridesmaids and family to join in and help. It should be noted that children under the age of twelve cannot stay at the hotel.

The Madrona Manor seems to me to be a perfect place to get married if you are looking for a site of great charm and stylish ambiance, and if you want to have a wedding that is more about relaxed elegance than wild party. A string quartet seems more appropriate here than a salsa band. A dance band or DJ are in fact only permitted during the day, and only inside. But there is no reason you can’t have a serenely elegant daytime wedding – take a siesta – and meet your guests in Healdsburg for an evening of more rowdy fun.

So, though your taste may run to an elegant manor house, wine country ranch, or luxury resort, all three of these unique sites would make for a marvelous wedding experience – for you and for your guests. These would be celebrations wonderfully free of much of the work of planning and organizing. Perhaps the best suggestion I can make would be to visit them all and have a look for yourself. After all, you have to make sure that you pick just the right place, and there is nothing wrong with having a lot of fun in the process!

Article submitted by Claire Lewis
 

Chelsea Garden Inn

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