Everything to Know About Having a California Wine Country Wedding

Updated 05/01/18

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There’s only one choice when it comes to a destination wedding for true oenophiles: California’s dreamily gorgeous Napa and Sonoma counties. The bucolic vineyard-lined region beyond San Francisco is acclaimed for not just vino, but world-class food, too, making it the ultimate venue for couples who value those most delicious aspects of their big days. There’s only one little problem: the counties are actually quite strict about where weddings can be held.

The fantasy may be saying “I do” amid an expansive vineyard, but in fact, many wineries aren’t able to get permitted to hold weddings, so the options are somewhat limited in Napa for the actual ceremony and reception. However, there are more than a few beautiful hotel options along with probably hundreds for the rehearsal or welcome dinner (wineries will happily do these; essentially a white dress can’t be spotted amid vines), which for a destination wedding can be equally as lavish or thoughtful since all the guests who’ve traveled will be attending. Additionally, since it’s California, the weather nearly year-round is lovely, with events happening that incorporate both indoor and outdoor space comfortably during all 12 months (that’s what heat lamps are for!).

In Napa’s quaint St. Helena there’s the new boutique stunner Las Alcobas Napa Valley, a five-star Luxury Collection hotel that has charm to spare in its original (but renovated, of course) 1907 digs, with a wraparound white porch, stained glass panels and original colonnades (it’s the perfect site for a cocktail reception post-ceremony). Beringer vines line the “backyard,” backdropped by the lawn and oftentimes misty-topped Spring Mountain, which most of the plush, soothing guest rooms face. Ceremonies can happen there or inside the Acacia Barn, where up to 125 can sit for dinner—there’s even a kitchen inside if you want to have an interactive live cooking demo for the first course. For an intimate affair, book a junior suite with a balcony large enough to hold 15 for a reception, and follow with an over-the-top dinner at Acacia House. Acclaimed chef Chris Cosentino is behind every wedding menu on the property.

Also in St. Helena: The Ink House, a private and hyper luxurious residential-style inn with four bedrooms, manicured gardens appropriate for intimate affairs, and a Bentley house car that would make for a gorgeous chauffeured escape vehicle. Because of its small size, it’s easy to take over for customizable events, and its staff has excellent connections in the food and wine worlds (think catering). Nearby, Two Birds, One Stone is a mouthwatering modern-rustic restaurant in the historic Freemark Abbey building with possibilities for weddings of 20 to 200, and probably the best Japanese-inflected dishes in California.

Auberge du Soleil—a beautiful terraced property with its own Michelin-starred eatery, the Restaurant—is also an option in Rutherford, perched on the side of a mountain and overlooking the entire valley floor. Features include a ceremony deck with panoramic views, a private indoor dining space, and a terrace that ensures there’s no shortage of epic vistas while guests and the couple enjoy top-notch bites and beverages (it's sister property, Calistoga Ranch, is also endlessly memorable).

In downtown Napa, the new Archer Napa with its Charlie Palmer Steak eatery is a prime choice for its ease and culinary program; the famed chef handles food and beverage for the entire hotel, including all event catering. They also have a bar open until 2 a.m. if needed, by demand, which is perfect for an after-party. With options including a semi-private dining room for 65 to a grand room—with high curved ceilings and a grapevine-esque chandelier—that can seat 200 at round tables, the pet-friendly property is part of downtown’s post-earthquake revitalization.

In keeping with sustainable efforts, they don’t use linens on tables, but instead, feature succulents (though couples can rent linens if they wish). The 183 guest rooms, each with a wine fridge, mean there are more than enough places to sleep, and the newlyweds can enjoy the redwood-emblazoned Archer king suite or Archer den (featuring photography of blooming mustard flowers) with their mustache and lips slippers.

For the rehearsal or welcome dinner, there’s nowhere more beautiful—or tasty—than Round Pond. If you don’t choose to arrange your event at the expansive winery-cum-olive farm, do yourselves a favor and book their farm-to-table brunch. For the main celebration, wine and hors d’oeuvres precede a five-course, wine-paired feast (they’re known for beautiful cabernets) in one of the many areas of the estate, even the vineyards.

As far as Sonoma, it’s scattered with gorgeous rustic barns, which is perhaps the most idyllic wine-country wedding vision. It’s also home to quirkier options, such as the Astro Motel in Santa Rosa, a hip and colorful 34-room motel that opened in 2018 after a remodel of a 1963 motor lodge. If midcentury modern is more your vibe, the Astro is a perfect choice, since it’s an ideal size for buyouts (rooms start at $160/night) and has a picturesque interior courtyard garden that’s wedding-ready.

More traditional venues include Buena Vista Winery, the oldest winery in all of California. Its 19th-century champagne cellars are worth a visit alone, but the restored stonework and fountain-studded grounds of the more than 150-year-old estate creates a flawless setting. Sonoma isn’t as strict, so you’ll find more wineries and outdoor spaces where anything goes. Healdsburg, an adorable town with incredible dining and drinking destinations, has a plethora of in-demand options, such as under a cork oak tree at Ru’s Farm—which books up rather quickly—or Chalk Hill, a massively large winery and estate that includes, among other attractions, the glass-walled Estate Pavilion and an elevated park with 500-year-old oaks. Hotel Healdsburg is another location where Charlie Palmer’s touch is on the food, and rehearsal dinners are possible at its eco-cool sister property, the H2 Hotel, right in town, under an undulating living green roof.

When it comes to other activities to keep guests busy, wine country is a no-brainer. There’s drinking wine, of course, and also eating—point your family or friends to some top options that include Duckhorn, Edge Hill Estate, the Charter Oak, and Outpost, which makes such good zinfandels that only 15 people per day (booked ahead) can taste them. With such beautiful mountains lining the valleys, there’s plentiful hiking and biking, as well as spa days for those who want the total opposite of activity. There are even hot air balloon rides. Because let’s be honest, it is mostly about indulgence in wine country.

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