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!