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Vintage Vows

Vintage Vows
Melissa and Dave Emmert of Santa Cruz share an intoxicating kiss in a wine cellar. (Celeste Duran)

The Greek writer Euripides once wrote, “Where there is no wine there is no love,” and while that may be pushing it a bit, wine and celebration do go hand in hand. For many, it makes perfect sense to take it a step further by having a wine country wedding.

Los Angeles event planner Alyson Fox of Levine Fox Events couldn’t agree more. “Whenever anyone tells me they want to do a destination wedding, I always suggest the wine country,” she said.


But with hundreds of locales in Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Santa Ynez and Temecula — to name just a handful of California regions — how does one choose?

First, consider what you love, said Debbie Geller of Geller Events in Los Angeles. Are you serious foodies needing Michelin-starred restaurants, or are you more into outdoor activities? Second, consider the location. “The proximity to transportation and lodging plays a large factor in selecting the destination,” said Geller, noting that L.A. couples who don’t want to inconvenience guests might consider a spot closer to the city such as Temecula or Santa Ynez.


For brides and grooms looking for charm, romance and rustic elegance, Fox recommends Napa. “The region delivers all three with beautiful venues, fabulous food and great activities for out-of-town guests,” she said, adding that it’s such a short drive from San Francisco, guests can spend a day there before or after the wedding.

Though Napa and Sonoma might be considered the rock-star wine regions, others are quickly gaining popularity. The movie “Sideways” put Santa Ynez on the map, and since then, its popularity as a wedding destination has exploded, according to Laura Kath, media relations director at the Santa Ynez Valley Visitors Assn. “It’s less than a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, yet you feel like you’ve truly gotten away,” she said, adding that, “there’s no plane travel involved.”

Santa Ynez may be close to L.A., but Temecula is even closer — for both L.A. and San Diego couples; and Paso Robles is a great choice for those on the Central Coast.



Selecting a destination is just the beginning, though.  Within each region, there are countless venues to choose from, including resorts, B&Bs, vineyards, barns, barrel rooms, caves — even art galleries.

In Napa, Fox’s favorites are Meadowood and Auberge Du Soleil, two of the area’s luxury resorts. “They both have impeccable service and amenities,” she said, “and both venues can accommodate large weddings.”

It doesn’t hurt that both hotels boast Michelin-starred chefs in their kitchens, making them ideal for those seeking fine cuisine at their celebration. The Villagio Inn & Spa, voted Travel & Leisure’s Top 50 Resorts in U.S. & Canada, has become a wedding hot spot, along with Kenwood Hotel & Spa in Sonoma, Silverado Resort & Spa in Napa, and Calistoga Ranch in Calistoga, among many other inns and B&Bs.

Wineries — both commercial and private — are popular settings for weddings, according to Fox, noting that the rolling hills, vast herb gardens and vineyards make breathtaking backdrops for photos. She warned that not all wineries and vineyards allow weddings, though. “There are agricultural rules which forbid weddings at some of these facilities, so it’s important to do your homework,” she said, adding that noise ordinances should also be considered for outdoor weddings.

Barrel rooms and wine caves — such as the one at Calistoga Ranch — have become popular indoor venues not just for ambient reception dinners but for ceremonies as well. In Santa Ynez, couples can choose the historic Old Mission Santa Ynez, the legendary Alisal Ranch or even the Clairmont Lavender Farm for a unique wine country setting.

Theme and Décor

It’s hard to resist incorporating thematic elements into a wine country wedding, said Fox, noting that first and foremost, “you have to love wine.” Grapes and foliage mixed with floral elements can result in stunning centerpieces — or even the bridal bouquet.

For cocktail hour, Fox suggested a wine tasting, which can be fun and interactive. “A bottle of wine makes a great welcome gift or a favor,” she said. Wedding favors such as sterling bottle stoppers and wine charms can be found online. Both Pike and Fox have implemented the wine theme into their seating charts, naming reception tables after grapes such as Syrah, Shiraz and Merlot.


Customized wine labels with the bride’s and groom’s names make a memorable detail at the reception, and Fox noted that “there are even some lucky couples who belong to wine clubs who have had their own wine bottled for them.”  What could be more romantic than having your own vintage served at your wedding?

Burgundy, red and an even deeper purple are beautiful thematic colors, though according to Fox, “the wine country is so rustic and green, any color you bring in just pops.” In autumn, earth tones such as chocolate and rust are gorgeous, and accents of pumpkins, grapes and curly willow find their way into centerpieces and the bridal bouquet.

A wedding in the wine country is rustic and elegant, but to Fox, it’s more than that. “Whether there are 10 people or 300, it feels incredibly intimate,” she said. “It’s magical.”

—Jennifer Evans Gardner, Custom Publishing Writer