I think every bride has hindsight. Oh, what I wish I knew before Chad and my big day three years ago! I work in events 24-7, but even I was a “victim” of getting caught up in the thick of all things bridal, and may have even stopped thinking clearly.
After I quit trying to check off the wedding preparation lists on websites and magazines, I remember clearly pausing to asking myself, “What is it that we both want? What are the traditions that are meaningful to us and which ones feel like we just need to check them off of a list because it’s what every other cookie-cutter wedding has?”
That was when Chad and I took all of the rules (well, almost all) and threw them out the window.
We knew we wanted to get married in a church, but didn’t know we’d run into a snag...our aunt is the lead pastor at The Church at Rancho Bernardo, a well-known and respected church in San Diego. We had issues finding a local venue that would let us use her as our officiant because she was (gasp) female! We finally found a church that didn’t have specific rules about officiants and was beautiful, historic and perfect.
Next we focused on a reception venue that was not only fabulous, but allowed us to apply our personal touch. We chose a private estate. As we focused on the reception theme, Chad and I decided to incorporate our love for happy hour into our special day. We wanted our guests to feel they could still go home and watch a movie, or even attend another event afterward. No, there weren’t drinks at the church; guests at our afternoon reception dined on mimosas and heavy appetizers.
Part of creating the relaxed feel we were going for was deciding not to use traditional seating at the reception. We used different size tables, so that people could sit at one briefly, then move if they felt inclined. We didn’t assign seating because we wanted our guests to mingle and feel comfortable. We tried very hard to limit the interruptions via microphone and didn’t really have a schedule of when to dance, or eat. Some guests were even able to attend the Fresno State game afterwards!
Think about your reception as an event to which you are inviting your friends and family that feels like an intimate party that you as a new couple are throwing. It truly shouldn’t be stressful. Unfortunately, our culture has created a standard of expectation when it comes to weddings that allows brides to easily get lost in details, and in doing so, can inadvertently leave out what’s really true to them.
Yes, your wedding day (and you) should be perfect and beautiful, but it should be a fabYOUlous day imbued with who you and your future husband really are. The first way to do this is to pick a venue that allows you to be you. Do you feel uncomfortable or pressured by the venue? Remember: they need you more than you need them. You are in the driver’s seat as you pick the vendors and services that will set the stage for the wedding that is perfect for you.
It’s not about being cheap or finding the least expensive place; instead your focus should be on finding a venue that allows you to spread your matrimonial wings and soar. You will want your personality stamped all over your wedding, and if you choose a venue that only uses certain vendors you are stuck between a rock and a Chiavari Chair. On the other hand, some brides LOVE the idea that everything is already chosen, so that all they have to do is show up. Either way, the objective is to get exactly what you want in a wedding and reception.
Researching wedding venues around the Central Valley allowed me to compile this list of locations that you may like to include in your own research.
Erna’s Elderberry House
48688 Victoria Ln, Oakhurst, CA 93644
Carina Stephens, Special Events Coordinator
Chateau du Sureau, set in the mountain town of Oakhurst, California, is a “fairytale” inn. This compound contains Er- na’s Elderberry House, Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant and spa, and is known for their authentic European hospitality. Their wedding venue is the Estate by the Elderberries, and true to its name, the grounds are covered in wild elderberries. It’s more for small, intimate weddings with a quaint romantic ambiance, but they have impeccable “Traditional White Glove Service.”
Your ceremony will include pre-wedding portrait photography, use of the Estate Gardens, the usual chairs, tables, linens, planning with our experienced coordinators, and a day-of event coordinator.
The reception includes damask white linen and platinum-rimmed chargers, Riedel crystal and flatware, bud vases with seasonal House flowers, a customized menu to your preferences, planning and day-of event coordination. Of course all food and beverages are provided exclusively by the world famous Erna’s Elderberry House Restaurant. After your gorgeous ceremony and reception, the bride and groom can stay in the manor house, Villa Sureau, nestled away in the forest.
“I am with brides from the first property visit, through all the detail planning, those worried emails, and last minute additions—I don’t leave the property until they do. This kind of one-on-one attention and planning makes us truly special." - Carina, an Erna’s employee.
Una Bella Giornata at Cardella Winery
41424 W. Panoche Rd. Mendota, CA 93640
Maria Davis, Event Coordinator
In Mendota, California, you can find Una Bella Giornata. This venue is a part of the Cardella Winery that has been open for six years, and its grounds are covered in hundreds of acres in vines, the website says, and all with “the ambiance of Italy.”
With your ceremony and reception at Cardella, your special day includes general linens, tables, tablecloths and napkins (standard poly additional fee applies for specialty linen), basic place set- ting, 20’ X 20’ dance floor, bar, propane heaters, a 4-bedroom bridal house plus groom room at Apricot Inn, all event setup and cleanup, event coordinator and staff, a shuttle to the local Best Western Apricot Inn, and a venue rental period from noon Friday to 10:00 a.m. Sunday.
“Una Bella Giornata by Cardella Winery is a quaint hidden gem found on the west side of San Joaquin Valley. You and your guests will be overwhelmed with the unique and exquisite beauty the vineyards provide with the Italian inspired cobblestone structures. Their event coordinator Maria does nothing short of making sure your wedding is taken care of in an organized and professional manner. She takes each wedding to heart, ensuring it is completed beyond expectations while reassuring the bride and groom of any nerves that may arise. She handles each situation with special care to execute a finish in an aesthetically pleasing, but timely manner. On top of that, her staff are determined in the work they do with a special eye for detail. Their sincere and gracious service will leave you, your wedding party and guests feeling part of the family.”
36140 Ave 9, Madera, CA 93636
Tali Whelan, Site Coordinator
Toca Winery was planted in 2012 in Madera, California. With its rolling hills and beautiful scenery, this winery is meant to mimic the famous vineyards in Napa. Toca features award-winning wines, a serene and beautiful setting, breathtaking views, and is conveniently located for out-of-town guests.
Toca gives you the ability to choose your own coordinator, caterer, DJ, florist, and other vendors from their preferred vendor list. They charge a $2,000 rental fee that includes the wedding day venue for six hours, tables and chairs supplied for up to 200 guests (additional fee for guest counts over 200), setup and clean up and one hour of rehearsal time prior to your wedding day (however, if you wish to have your rehearsal dinner at Toca Madera, there will be an additional rental fee).
In addition, the winery’s site coordinator will work with your private wedding planner to make sure things go smoothly. Also provided is a bridal changing area and restrooms, ceremony site, ample parking for guests, and event security.
“The terraced garden behind the winery was designed with weddings and special events in mind, to allow guests to better enjoy the beauty of the adjoining vineyard. The 7,000 square foot winery building, which was built on the vineyard property in 2014, includes a large tasting room with 23-foot high ceilings and a beautiful panoramic view of the vineyard from the bar area.”