Summer / Fall 2006
A chateau surrounded by vineyards, an old Victorian manor amid
formal gardens, Thomas Keller as your caterer. Your wine country
dream wedding awaits story
By Kimberly Olsen
A loaf of bread, a flask of wine, and thou is how the Persian
poet Omar Khayyam summed up
paradise. A thousand years later, many a romance still begins—or blossoms—over
a glass of
wine. So it seems fitting that many couples tie the knot right here in wine country.
With its rolling hills, ethereal gardens, and historic vineyards, you’d be hard-pressed
to find a more idyllic spot
to say “I do.”
“The scenic beauty of wine country and its vineyards offers
something that you cannot find anywhere else in the United States,”
says Robbin Montero of A Dream Wedding, who has planned wine
country nuptials for couples from as far away as London and Hong
Kong. “And our weather is spectacular, so the wedding season
lasts from April through October.”
Wine country weddings tend to be intimate and leisurely, with
most couples inviting fewer than a hundred guests. “A big trend
is spending a long weekend with just close friends and family,
and making the event very elegant,” Montero says. Staying for
an extended weekend gives guests time to explore the area—to
embark on a wine tour, hike the redwoods, take a hot air balloon
ride, or sample the area’s renowned restaurants.
If you plan to wed in wine country, you have a enjoyable task
ahead: choosing from among the area’s many distinctive venues.
You can exchange your vows at a winery with sweeping vineyard
views or in a fragrant garden at a Victorian inn. You can even
have dinner served in a cozy wine cave.
In addition to the breathtaking scenery, you will relish wine
country’s unparalleled culinary offerings. The region’s abundance
of fresh, local ingredients has inspired a gastronomic boom over
the past decade, giving rise to a high concentration of world-class
restaurants and specialty food purveyors, which means no matter
whether your reception is at a restaurant or catered in the vineyards,
the meal will be an affair to remember. “From the first time
I set foot in wine country, it was apparent that this was chef
heaven right here on earth,” says Larry Vito of Larry Vito Catering.
“The cornucopia of fresh, seasonal ingredients is a constant
source of inspiration.” Vito offers brides and grooms memorable
wine country dishes inspired by wine-friendly Mediterranean/French
In addition to caterers like Vito, many venues have their own
chefs, who create mouthwatering menus featuring local ingredients
that pair perfectly with California wines. “We have some of the
best chefs in the world here, because the wineries can afford
to hire them,” Montero says.
As for venues, one of the most breathtaking spots is Ledson
Winery & Vineyards in Sonoma, a Normandy-style winery that
looks like an old château, complete with turrets, cathedral-style
windows, and fountains. “One of my couples had a wedding at Ledson
that was just like a fairy tale, with the horse and buggy coming
up the big circular driveway,” Montero says. “It was like something
out of the movies.”
Another Sonoma favorite is Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery,
a 100-year-old family winery. Bridal couples can hold their ceremony
in the old family home overlooking the winery and vineyards,
and then have guests take the trolley car down to the barrel
room for the reception.
Most wineries are simply a location, so you pay a site fee to
use the winery and make arrangements for everything else yourself,
although some have a caterer and supply equipment. They require
that you serve their wines,
of course, and some couples spare no expense. “A Connecticut couple who is
getting married at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards [in Santa Rosa] is serving
their guests a four-course dinner with library wines,” Montero says. So let
the wine flow, but keep in mind that you’ll have to leave the hard liquor behind,
because state law prohibits wineries from serving it.
For more inclusive service, couples should consider directing
their sights toward an inn, estate, or bed and breakfast. Many
of these establishments will handle everything you and your guests
need, including sightseeing.
A favorite in Napa is The Carneros Inn, recognized by Travel & Leisure as
one of the 25 most romantic getaways in the world. “We have an
apple orchard for ceremonies that wraps right up against miles
of rolling hills,” says Brian Gipson, a spokesperson for the
inn. For large weddings, the inn plans to unveil two expansive
ballrooms in August.
Another enchanting spot is the new Vineyard Pavilion in Yountville,
where the couple can have a garden wedding catered by none other
than famed French Laundry chef Thomas Keller. A collaboration
among Keller, the Vintage Inn, and Villagio Inn and Spa, the
Vineyard Pavilion is a 16,000-square-foot outdoor venue with
two garden areas bordered by
evergreen elm and flowering magnolia trees.
Madrona Manor, in the hills of Healdsburg, is a Victorian-Gothic
inn and the perfect spot for an intimate affair. Family and friends
can stay in the manor, have a romantic ceremony in the expansive
gardens, and enjoy their reception dinner with ingredients from
the inn’s organic gardens.
The Vintners Inn and John Ash & Co. restaurant in Santa
Rosa pool their resources to offer a beautiful setting amid 90
acres of vineyards, manicured gardens, and flower-lined terraces.
For a pull-out-all-the-stops event, friends and family can take
over the Mayacamas Ranch for several days. An on-site coordinator
handles everything from the food to the wines while the bridal
party and guests enjoy the 80 sprawling, mountainous acres of
hiking trails, a lake, a pool, volleyball, canoeing, fishing,
and more. For an additional fee, the ranch can also arrange private
wine tastings, cooking demonstrations, and chauffeured tours.
With so many options, some couples simply can’t decide between
Napa and Sonoma. So they don’t. “I’m working with several couples
this year who will have the ceremony in one county and the reception
in the other, hopping right over the hill, so that’s fun,” Montero
Whether your wedding will be big or small, at a winery or elsewhere,
an experienced wedding planner can help you select the perfect
venue, line up the best vendors, and pull it all together, saving
precious time. (Couples who go it alone usually end up taking
five or six trips to the area, while
those who work with a planner can cut that number in half.) Most venues—wineries,
inns, and B&Bs—book well ahead, so in order to get your favorite venue
you may need to plan at least a year in advance. While weekends are obviously
popular, many sites offer discounts for midweek weddings.
Beginning your life together in such magical surroundings can
only portend good things. So on your big day, raise a toast to
your better half, knowing that, like a great bottle of California
wine, your partnership will only improve with the passage of