Venue Scouting Tips from Mandy at Little Maison

In full disclosure, I am a city girl at heart.  I have lived in and around New York City my entire life and have always imaged a chic wedding under the bright lights of the Big Apple.  However, several years ago I fell in love with Northern California.  When I got engaged this past March I started to dream of an intimate destination wine country wedding.   The dream became a reality when my fiance and I planned a four day trip to scour the hills of Sonoma County, California for the perfect venue.   We both fancied the idea of picturesque views with a small circle of family and friends, but had no idea the wine-country-specific questions to ask as we hunted for a venue.  This selection of venue scouting tips will have even the most disorganized couple breezing through meetings like seasoned event experts.

When envisioning the big day, does it include day light?  If so, be sure to ask each venue what the earliest start time possible is.  Many venues host private events after their business hours; it is important to clarify before falling in love with the venue.  Bonus Tip:  Be mindful of daylight savings time.  A dream of sunshine during cocktail hour can easily turn dark if you don’t double check the date!

At the wedding, will there be a ceremony, dancing, seated dinner, cocktails or all of the above?  Decide on a preferred wedding format before any meetings.  If rainy or cold weather could be an issue, be sure to plan for the worst case scenario and ask where every part of your celebration will be held.  Bonus Tip:  Many locations offer ‘tenting’ as an option for bad weather, be sure to understand the cost associated with this back up plan.

Whether your wine country wedding is a destination event or not, you’ll want to envision how guests will see your big day, literally.  What will the view be like for guests during the ceremony?  This simple question can be reinterpreted for many points during planning.   Bonus Tip:  If the venue has a fabulous view that is not part of the included location of the wedding, be sure to ask if photography is allowed there; it’ll make for a picture to remember!

Due to the nature of wine business, most properties are open to the public daily for tastings.  Be sure to clearly map out the location of the ceremony and/or reception and note where the public is or isn’t allowed.  Bonus Tip:  There are many private estates available for folks who prefer ultimate privacy.  Of course, most wineries offer exclusivity once closed to the public if an evening event is on your agenda.

It’s easy to get swept away in conversation and miss key points on what’s included in the price and what is not.  Be sure to request a bullet point list of what is in the quoted rate or even a sample contract.  Event planners, transportation and specific caterers are often ‘extras’ that are sometimes required.  Bonus Tip:  At decision making time, create a spreadsheet with all cost estimates for each venue.  A tally at the end of each venue might make the decision crystal clear!

The phrase, location is key, is well known for good reason. The surrounding area of a venue can be just as important as the venue itself.  Pinpoint ample and affordable lodging and restaurants for your guests within fifteen minutes from each venue of interest.   Happy guests are key!  Bonus Tip:  Go the extra mile and plan welcome drinks, a wine tour or day after brunch.  It will create a community feeling and keep guests talking about the wedding for years to come!

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For The Grown Ups: Halloween Cocktails

Ghost in the Graveyard

Serves 1

  • 2 ounces black vodka
  • 2 ounces creme de cacao or coffee-flavored liqueur
  • 1 scoop vanilla ice cream
  • Pinch of finely grated nutmeg, for garnish

In a glass, combine vodka and creme de cacao, and set aside. Place a scoop of ice cream in a highball glass, and slowly pour vodka mixture over ice cream. Garnish with nutmeg; serve immediately.

Screwed-Up Screwdriver

Serves 1

  • 1/4 cup ice
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed tangerine juice
  • 1 1/2 ounces black vodka
  • 1 black licorice twist, for serving

Place ice in a tall glass. Pour juice into glass. Pour vodka over the back of a cocktail spoon into glass so it sits on top of juice and creates a layer of black. Slice 1/4 inch off each end of licorice, and use as a straw. Serve immediately.

Berry Scary Martini

Serves 1

  • 1 cup ice
  • 1 ounce black vodka
  • 2 ounces cherry juice
  • Fresh raspberries and blueberries, for garnish

Combine ice, vodka, and cherry juice in a cocktail shaker; shake vigorously. Pour into a martini glass. Thread raspberries and blueberries onto a cocktail skewer, and place in drink. Serve immediately.


Drink recipes courtesy of Martha Stewart Living.
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Wine Country Engagement: Alli & Greg

Alli and Greg’s parents had been friends for more than 30 years and when Alli and Greg started working at the same accounting firm, their parents repeatedly told them to keep an eye out for the other. “After two months we were scheduled on a job together,” the couple explained, “and from there we started hanging out and have been together ever since.”

One Saturday morning Greg woke up at the crack of dawn, almost literally, claiming that he couldn’t sleep. Leaving Alli asleep in bed, Greg left to his parent’s house to pick up the ring he had bought for Alli and then drove to her parent’s house. “According to my mother, he was shaking so bad and was so nervous that when he entered the house he never said anything, he just held out the ring,” the couple laughed. Alli’s parents, of course, said yes.

Greg proposed to Alli that morning in bed. “I know he said some wonderfully sweet stuff but for the life of me I can’t remember it,” Alli explained. The couple spent the rest of the day celebrating with their families.

Alli and Greg’s engagement photo shoot took place on Alli’s family ranch. “We are both casual and we wanted the shoot to feel like us. We love to play games and there have been many family occasions spent in the backyard playing crochet,” they explained. Alli and Greg explained that the photo shoot was playful, just like them, and that there weren’t many props. “We thought that the trees and the land spoke for itself!”

Photography by Matt Edge

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