Wine Country Wedding
One hell of a place to say 'I do' (From the Winter 2010 issue of SONOMA)
There are many paths to marital bliss. In Sonoma, the popular bike path may not be one of them.
Mickey Rooney, a man with more marrying experience than most, once offered the following pithy advice:
Most newly weds have slightly longer expectations when they say I do, and for anyone wedding in Wine Country, the preparations, ceremony, reception and after party will likely fill the entire day and much of the following night.
In these pages you'll find a wealth of resources to help you fill that day with laughter and love, happiness and peace and memories you can cherish for a lifetime.
People don't just marry in Sonoma. They get engaged here. They spend anniversaries here. The send vacation pictures home from here. It is the quintessential romance holiday. And if you have to ask why, just drive south on Highway 12 when the moon is fat and full. Stroll around the Plaza at sunrise. Walk the neighborhoods at midday. Smell the warm wind cresting the Mayacamus Mountains during harvest. Listen to the contented quiet that descends as night encroaches. You'll understand.
Even rough-edged types and curmudgeons agree: you can believe in the magic and see yourself living here. After the wedding.
You marry here, and you feel proprietary, almost possessive about Sonoma. It is the ideal combination of savvy and sensuous, a juxtaposition of the natural and the urbane, a place of rare beauty and grace. And it's contagious, this feeling. Sonoma's niche isn't the "look at me!" narcissism of Los Angeles or the blue-blooded intensity of San Francisco. It's not even the funkiness that permeates some other northern California towns. Sonoma's claim is to a perennial sense of delight. It is the decision to never take for granted the ethereal quality of its light, its mild Mediterranean temperatures, its quirky rain-only-in-the-winter, or its wine. It's one hell of a place to say 'I do.'
Wendy Peterson, Executive Director for Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, believes part of the charm of weddings here is that Sonoma really does have it all. "We're not flying in the ingredients from somewhere else. The food, flowers, photography, venues, staff...every detail can be satisfied locally. Changes in plans are accommodated on the spot, and the wedding experience becomes a totally Sonoma experience."
The recent trend toward "planned elopements," a diplomatic compromise between a wedding-palooza and an old-fashioned dash, is well served here. Though the current economy stubbornly maintains its high degree of unpleasantness, it is still possible to plan and enjoy a beautiful wedding in Sonoma. It's just a matter of scale. Ratcheting down to a few dozen people-from 200-may give families the wiggle room to fly the principals in, choose exquisite local food and wine, and indulge in Sonoma's unique small town sophistication. "Our Sonoma wedding was a great excuse not to deal with 'fringe' relatives, or give in to huge bills," states a new bride, obviously choosing anonymity. "We had the wedding we wanted with the people we loved the most."
Anne Appleman, owner of Anne Appleman Flowers and Plants, agrees. "Sonoma is the Switzerland of weddings." It may not be hometown for either side of the aisle. It's neutral territory, and what territory it is! "If you've been to the south of France or anywhere in Italy, you recognize Sonoma's quality of light and type of landscape as European. Look at Napa: it's all corridors. Now look at downtown Sonoma: squares. Easy to walk and visit, sit, mingle, and picnic. Our Plaza (often called the Square) is a park. Even the town's layout is welcoming." She, too, was engaged and married here, and relocated her San Francisco business, which largely served big corporations, to Sonoma fifteen years ago.
There's a discernible overlay of history in Sonoma. The widely known Mission San Francisco Solano, Jack London's famous stomping grounds just up the road, and recognizable family-name wineries reek of history. But beneath the textbook history, the natives know the everyday tales. Appleman's shop, for one, is located in the historic Pinni House, a 1906 stucco-over-stone cottage that pre-dates the great quake. On Thursdays and weekends, vintage cars sporting historically attired drivers motor all over town. Bear Flag Revolt re-enactors are an annual sight in the Plaza, and several walking, talking General Vallejo replicas prowl the town. Sonoma is home to houses originally shipped from Sweden and reassembled here in the mid-1850s. The area is soaked with living history; it frames a wedding party's enjoyment with a thousand true stories of love. The inhabitants mingle seamlessly with the visitors: everyone looks as if she or he could live here. Or wants to after the wedding.
Wendy Peterson, who was married here herself, believes that each person who weds in Sonoma finds an important connection for their new life. "Something touches them, connects them. I think about how we represent ourselves, and it's authentic. It's based in the real things that residents find here, and willingly share with others. Sonoma comes with permission to relax, let go, enjoy every step of the Overlook Trail, the tasting rooms, and every other second of the visit."
"People marry here because they want comfort, soul, and magic," says photographer 'Zanne Clark. "They experience not only their wedding but the quality of life. Brides are more involved in putting personal imprints on their weddings today. And Sonoma is responsive to that creativity and joy." Clark believes nuptial jitters fall away once the wedding party is in town. "Something happens when you make the turn at Infineon Raceway heading toward Sonoma. The environment lets you let go, local beauty connects and nurtures everyone. You feel like a piece of butter in a hot biscuit."
She sees this sort of surrender, this soul exhalation again and again. Regardless of whether a wedding is large or small, or whether the betrothed pair is arriving in town for the very first time. "You can be perfectly imperfect and it's OK. Everyone embraces the new sociology of family you keep hearing about. Strangers come into the 'magic circle' and feel the pull of the landscape, the weather, the people." And she'll vouch for the resourcefulness of the Sonoma professional. "You can find exactly what you want locally, in record time." Where else are you going to find a photographer who knows if fiddlehead ferns are in season, or has 20 yards of midnight blue taffeta in her trunk, or is one call away from a mountain of lavender the morning of the wedding?
Let's be frank: Sonoma can be pricey and it has its share of offshore royalty and Hollywood stars. Even a smallish gathering can swallow a budget. But with care and attention a perfect day can be had, without forcing mom and dad to refinance. Becaise there's nothing too complex or expensive for them; Sonoma certainly steps up for those dreams.
Among the most memorable venues available are wedding-in-the-winery-ruins. Naomi Doherty, who works in Hospitality and Events for Kunde Estate Winery, says the stone ruins of Dunfillan on the Kunde property are available for a few weddings every year. Surrounded by vineyards, mountain views and old oaks, the five-acre site was built in the late 1800s: the midsummer-night's dream venue includes historical buildings with enough interior integrity to transform into dramatic venues for the ceremony and dining, with dancing on the surrounding meadow. "The Kunde family has owned and farmed 1,850 acres in the Valley since 1904," says Doherty, "and we see a growing number asking for the ruins. We host weddings from two to 250."
Less well known are the old winery ruins just up the road at Annadel Estate, where 12-foot-high stone walls shaped by hand in 1886, are trellised with vines and roses, embracing a wedding space that virtually breaths Wine Country romance. Manicured lawns unfold to a garden with acres of heirloom roses.
But such loveliness aside, why would a couple choose to marry here when they've never even been here before? Because the Valley of the Moon has- for millennia- aroused an appetite for pleasure. And, according to Jim Shere, ordained minister, Ph.D., and author of "We Do: A Guide To Creating Your Own Wedding Ceremony," it provides a very complete kind of satisfaction. "For thousands of years, nature has been prolific here, and asks little effort from us to enjoy it. The beauty of the land, from the sensual tanned hills to our ordered vineyards, is famous worldwide. The festivities- music, food, and wine- have a centuries-old legacy, promising many years of pleasure to come. Just imagine the people who know they will return to celebrate anniversaries where they married- renewing not only their faith in the life they learn to share, but in a world of possibilities. This Valley of the Moon is not pedestrian; it is inspiring, reminding us of the fundamental fruitfulness of life."
Sonoma is also famously flexible and non-judgmental. You want a breakfast wedding on a Wednesday? No problem. Want a no-wine wedding in the middle of Wine Country? We won't hold it against you. The laid-back elegance comes with a wide-open mindset. It's a live and let live vibe here, hold the hauteur.
"My sister was married in Seattle," says a young woman leaning against the Bear Flag monument on the edge of the Plaza. "The stress, the nerves, the running around! She doesn't remember half of it. I wish they had come here. You're really in the moment here. It's not 'rural' but you don't feel hemmed in by stress and concrete and taxis."
Says Chris Oscar, a local realtor who, with his wife Claudia, talked St. Francis Winery into hosting the first wedding held there in 2001, Sonoma is "one of the only places in the world where people urge each other to go first at the four-way stop signs."
Jenise Kneeland, proprietor of Bancroft's Flowers and Gifts, sees an upswing in do-it-yourself entrepreneurial weddings, saying of customers, "We may never see them until they walk in. There might've been phone calls back and forth, but sometimes there's no contact. And we have couples who decided to do their own flowers then found it was a lot more complicated than they thought, so we work with them at whatever stage they need. They are sure of one thing: they're determined to marry in Sonoma." Kneeland estimates Bancroft's has supplied flowers for more than 4,300 weddings since 1923. And that's not counting your uncle who forgot the groomsmen's boutonnières or the last-minute flower-girl basket. "Or a big bundle of curly willow the day before the ceremony," Kneeland smiles.
We want you to know Sonoma. Not just the goodies packaged for tourist consumption, but what lies beneath: the soul of this place. People say they feel a deep sense of mindfullness here. They say a pervading graciousness makes them feel gracious as well. The decision to marry is among life's most portentous, its contract demands both flexibility and grace. To promise lifelong love in a valley like ours is to breathe in its goodness, to absorb the zeitgeist of the place. Not chi-chi, not pretentious. Simply God's country, among the best places on earth. And, as Chris Oscar says, "You don't call Sonoma. Sonoma calls you.
(From the Winter 2010 issue of SONOMA)