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Napa Sonoma Magazine
Summer / Fall 2006

Fairy-Tale Wedding

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 cuisine.

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 says.

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 time.

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