by Christina Andrews
For decades, the Napa Valley has been one of the most sought-after destination wedding regions in the world. Though this legendary valley is best known for its exquisite wines, it is also home to incomparable scenery, magnificent venues, luxurious spas and accommodations, vigorous outdoor sports and a vast array of gourmet dining adventures. The region offers everything for a perfect Napa Valley wedding.
For as far as the eye can see, the valley floor is populated with vineyards, which are interspersed with regal winery estates, bucolic ranches, orchards, groves of exotic and native trees, culinary gardens bursting with every manner of vegetable and herb, olive trees, cacti and always a riot of flowering plants—an oasis of beauty and sensual experiences.
Rising up on both sides of the valley are distinctive mountain ranges on whose eastern slopes are quasi-desert chaparral vegetation: craggy live oak, cacti, manzanita and beautiful grasses. The western slopes are home to dense forests of coastal redwoods, and capping off the north end of the valley is the majestic Mount St. Helena, made famous in the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson. If ever you need an emotional boost, you have only to drive up the Napa Valley’s historic Silverado Trail and take in these views.
Napa Valley is also the culinary epicenter of the West Coast, with 12 Michelin-rated restaurants within its relatively small footprint. The Mediterranean-like climate and rich alluvial soil mean everything grows exceptionally well here, not just the grapes. Most restaurants of note have their own garden patches and close relationships with ranchers from whom they source premium meats. Close proximity to the coast also means ultra-fresh seafood is readily available. Add to that the Bay Area’s exceptional cheese and bread artisans, primo pastry chefs and cult chocolatiers and know that you will be wanting for nothing in the way of food and wine in this region. And the Culinary Institute of America has two campuses in this small county: one in Downtown Napa and the other up-valley in St. Helena. There are no shortages of talented chefs, waitstaff and sommeliers to help create the perfect Napa Valley wedding.
For those of you who have yet to venture out to the Napa Valley, the thought of hosting an intimate event far from home may seem daunting. It’s difficult enough planning a wedding in an area in which you are familiar, right? So how does one go about doing it properly from a distance and in this region in particular? Know this: Hospitality is the #1 business in the Napa Valley, and it’s at the heart of all they do.
Event professionals in the region are experts at taking care of all the details—from where to stay and eat to arranging group wine tours and hot-air balloon rides to helping you find just the right venue, catering, minister and florist. You, your family and all of your guests will find yourselves pampered from start to finish, regardless of where you stay, dine or which activities you choose to explore.
When to Host a Wedding
Being outdoors, in nature, is an important component of any event in the Napa Valley, so it’s necessary to take into consideration the weather and temperature. Northern California has little to no rain between late April and mid-October, so venues in the region consider these months to be “high season.” The months in between are less predictable as far as weather is concerned, plus days are shorter, which means you’ll want to bring your event indoors fairly early, should you plan an event during those months. Also consider there are no leaves on the grapevines between November and mid-March—a bad surprise for some when they arrive for their early spring weddings.
Resort or Winery
As you may have gathered, Napa Valley is first and foremost an agricultural region, with wine grapes dominating the lineup of crops. Early on, vintners in the region recognized the unique value of the climate and soils and set about protecting the valley for growing grapes. Ordinances were put into place to prevent overdevelopment, and this included restricting most wineries from hosting large social events. The goal was to keep the environment pristine for grapes and wine production.
For those of you who want a winery or vineyard setting for your wedding day, these ordinances mean only a handful of wineries in the region can actually host social events. But don’t be discouraged! Gorgeous vineyard and mountain views, gardens and stunning architecture abound everywhere, and the resorts, hotels, restaurants and dedicated event venues are surrounded by these visual assets. We promise: You will not want for “wine country” scenery.
Choosing a resort or winery setting for your wedding might not be a difficult decision, once you know the ins and outs of what is required and what’s included.
Resorts take care of most everything—the venue, basic furniture, standard linens and tabletop décor, catering, beverage service, guest accommodations, spa services and staffing. If guests are staying on the property, that also means you don’t have to pay for transportation to and from the venue. However, you will want to provide safe transportation for guests staying off-property post-event to ensure there are no DUIs or accidents. Napa Valley country roads are dark and winding, and with more than 400 wineries, law enforcement is always on the lookout.
The Village of Yountville
The Estate Yountville
In the heart of the valley lies the village of Yountville. It is a prime location for wedding events as it is home to some of the top restaurants, resorts, spas and wedding venues in the region. Elegant hotels are tucked into quaint neighborhoods with parks, vineyards and flower gardens. One has a sense of being in a rustic countryside setting while simultaneously being surrounded by incredible luxury. It’s a fabulous combo and one that your guests will love. Within walking distance or a short bike ride, guests will find some of the region’s top wineries, as well as the legendary champagne house Domaine Chandon.
At the center of this village is The Estate Yountville. This campus of indoor and outdoor event venues, varied luxury accommodations and world-class spa services make The Estate a top draw for couples planning wine country nuptials.
The Estate also has ridiculously good catering with the staff to pull off a wedding dinner not unlike a meal at any of the Michelin-starred restaurants just down the street. It also offers top-drawer full-bar or wine/beer-only liquor options.
Event spaces at The Estate include 11 distinctive settings for a total of 55,600 square feet, as well as a spacious event center and beautifully terraced lawns and gardens, with expert staff attending to every event detail. The most spectacular spot for a wedding reception is “The Social,” a 4,000-square-foot Napa-chic farmhouse with high-pitched ceilings and sliding walls that open onto lush lawns and gardens. The property is also sprinkled with elegant water and fire features.
The Barrel Room
The Vineyard and Pavilion are especially popular for wedding ceremonies, though both locations are also excellent for an alfresco dinner on warmer evenings. And the property’s historic Barrel Room is ideal for a cool weather cocktail or dinner reception, and it is the perfect space for your dance reception any time of year.
One of the best features of the resort is its varied accommodations throughout the campus, all of them stylish and supremely comfortable. Your guests will feel truly pampered throughout their stay. There is nothing nicer than walking through a beautifully lit garden on the way back to your room at the end of the evening.
The Pavilion at The Estate Yountville
The Pavilion at The Estate Yountville
The Pavilion is hands down the best spot on The Estate for a perfect wine country wedding ceremony. The gardens and foliage are gorgeous year-round, and the wide-open space can easily accommodate groups of 300 to 400 guests. This event space is a short walk to the other areas of the property used for cocktail hour, dinner and dancing.
Another notable property in Yountville is the Bardessono Hotel & Spa. Bardessono’s subtle yet luxurious and private indoor and outdoor event spaces accommodate up to 120 guests. These versatile spaces can be expanded or divided to accommodate any number of vignettes. The juxtaposition of event venues is ideal for gatherings where there is a ceremony followed by a brunch, lunch or dinner reception.
Bardessono also offers world-class catering, with menus tailored to the personal tastes of each bride and groom. The resort takes great pride in offering only the freshest, locally sourced ingredients.
Throughout the property, verdant gardens cohabitate with moving water, creating a peaceful ambience both for Bardessono’s guest suites and for intimate wedding ceremonies and dinner events. Regardless of where one is on the property, there is always an inspiring backdrop.
Other Properties to Consider
Part of the exclusive Auberge Resorts Collection, Stanly Ranch is Napa Valley’s newest and most stylish event setting. Situated on the south end of the valley in the Carneros District, Stanly Ranch catches the daily “Carneros breeze,” as the ocean tide pulls into San Pablo Bay. This delicious, moist ocean air creates the perfect ambience for a late afternoon or early evening event, even at the height of summer. Days in this district are bright and sunny with lingering sunsets, as the property is at the tail end of the mountain range. The resort offers exquisite catering services, sensual accommodations and invigorating spa services. Your guests will be pampered to the utmost.
For those who live in the valley, Tre Posti is legendary! For decades this is where families have celebrated their milestone events. Tres Posti’s beautiful and traditional wine country setting is made all the better with the best catering in the valley, hands down. Its menu marries two of the world’s most renowned culinary regions: Tuscany and Napa Valley. Guests will enjoy amazing antipasti, elegant hors d’oeuvres, hearty pasta dishes, traditional Italian meats and cheeses, regional seafood and all manner of side dishes prepared with the freshest local vegetables and herbs—truly some of the best food this region has to offer! And Tre Posti’s sister restaurant, Tra Vigne, has the best wood-fired oven pizza and casual Italian fare in the region—perfect for your rehearsal dinner. If you want to rub elbows with some of the most famous vintners in the valley, you’ll find them at Tra Vigne on a Sunday, celebrating a birthday or just hanging out with friends.
Other great resort properties worthy of a destination wedding include Solage and Auberge du Soleil (sister properties of Stanly Ranch), the Carneros Resort and the Four Seasons Calistoga.
Brix Restaurant is also a popular wedding venue, with incomparable food and bar plus a ceremony setting that abuts vineyards with mountain views. For those who like a country club setting with wine country flourishes, Silverado Resort is a good choice and is able to accommodate very large groups. Also of note: Both Culinary Institute of America campuses (Greystone and Copia) have top-notch facilities and, as one might imagine, amazing catering. Meritage Resort, an all-inclusive property, is tucked away on the south end of the valley and has a beautiful wine cave setting, as well as a ceremony area with bright vineyard views.
V. Sattui Winery
Wineries, while gorgeous settings, are limited when it comes to hosting weddings. In fact, there are only five wineries in the Napa Valley that are permitted to host weddings.
If you choose a winery to have your wedding celebration, it’s important to note that the burden of securing all event elements is on you and your event planner. That means you’ll be outsourcing everything, from the furniture, linens and tabletop décor to food and beverage, plus staffing, lighting, sound and more. It’s also important to note that event planners are required at all venues in this region. There are capable planners throughout the area, and your venue will know who can best meet your needs and adhere to their policies.
One winery to consider is V. Sattui Winery. With its beautiful florals, ancient live oak trees, expansive vineyards and old European-style architecture, the winery can accommodate up to 200 guests. V. Sattui typically hosts the wedding ceremony in its Lower Courtyard or on the Tower Lawn. Cocktail hour takes place on the venue’s back terrace and gardens, which overlook the vineyards. This area, with its sunset views, is also a perfect setting for post-wedding photos. Dinner can be held either in the Lower Courtyard or inside the Barrel Room. Dance receptions are held exclusively in the Barrel Room with the after-dinner bar in the Members Cellar.
The Charles Krug Winery dates to 1861 and the early days of winemaking in the region. The Manor Lawn and Carriage House exude Victorian elegance on a massive scale, making this property perfect for larger events.
Charles Krug Winery
At Charles Krug, you’ll enjoy a gorgeous arboretum of old-growth trees, vineyards and beautiful stoic architecture with the castle-like Culinary Institute of America in the distance (formerly the Christian Brothers Winery). Celebrating your nuptials at this exquisite venue will make you and your guests part of Napa Valley’s history!
Hans Fahden Vineyards offers a Monet-style garden setting ideal for smaller groups, while the legendary Beringer Winery has lush tree-embraced gardens surrounding historic buildings. Merryvale Vineyards, though lacking an outdoor setting, boasts the most amazing barrel room in the region and is fabulous for wedding receptions and rehearsal dinners. Your event planner can help you find a lovely church or vineyard setting nearby for the rest.
Every location has its specialties, quirks, great features and downsides—Napa Valley included. Rather than imagining you will bring your hometown expectations and aesthetic to the valley, imagine a more successful and enjoyable celebration that will result from “marrying” your dream elements with the region’s natural surroundings and assets.
In Napa Valley, wine is king. Because of this, liquor licenses fall into two categories: wine and beer only or full bar. Wineries can serve only wine and beer while resorts and restaurants can offer a full bar. We suggest asking yourself if you chose Napa Valley to enjoy the wine. If so, let go of the expectation that your event needs a full bar (even if you are at a resort).
Another planning consideration has to do with décor in an awe-inspiring outdoor setting. Most event designers will encourage you to choose natural elements that enhance and blend in with the vineyards, gardens and mountain views. The region’s florists, lighting designers and rental companies offer decorative elements that perfectly offset your venue’s special features. Trust them to help you find just the right components.
It’s also vital to consider issues like wind. Real candles (tapers, pillars or votives) will not stay lit. And tall, towering floral arrangements, whether during your outdoor wedding ceremony or at long tables in the vineyards, are a disaster waiting to happen. There is always a breeze in the Napa Valley, one that will scoop up your arrangements and drop them on their heads. Trust your florist to guide you on this.
And finally, trust the caterers, restaurants and resorts to help plan your menu. Napa Valley is truly a culinary epicenter of the world. You and your guests will miss out on the meal of a lifetime if you nitpick over the menu or expect to serve the same cuisine you might enjoy in Georgia or Chicago. Let go of your hometown expectations and be prepared to be amazed!
Welcome to the Napa Valley! We are confident that both you and your guests will leave feeling like you have had the time of your lives! And we know you will be back for more.