Destination Wedding: Sonoma County
A wedding in wine country
By Phyllis Steinberg
The bride was from St. Louis. The groom was from Toronto. The bride and groom had jobs in San Francisco. Where was the wedding?
Not in St. Louis. Not in Toronto. Not in San Francisco. The bride and groom, Julie Selhorst and Mike Paul both 32, are part of a nationwide trend of young couples who decide to plan their own wedding.
“Young couples are getting married at an older age than in previous years. That's the biggest change we see in the catering business. Parents used to plan the whole wedding for their children. Now the children want to be involved in the planning of the wedding, right down to the selection of the menu to what type of music and what song is played as they walk down the aisle,” said Eric Kaufman, one of the owners of Executive Caterers, a catering company who has been in business for 30 years in South Florida.
This young couple decided wine country in the fall was the most beautiful season to be married and they traveled to Sonoma County, about an 90 minute ride from San Francisco, to do some research on the subject.
What they learned was there were more than 60 wineries in the area and many of them had banquet halls where they routinely held weddings.
They chose the Trentadue Winery in Geyserville, a short distance from the blossoming Sonoma town of Healdsburg, that is tucked between three lush valleys, in the heart of wine country, 65 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge on highway 101.
Since there was no hotel big enough to accommodate the more than 150 guests, the young couple went on a site inspection of the various lodgings in the area and nailed down the prices of each, obtaining special prices for guests attending the wedding.
Then, they did some sightseeing and compiled a list of activities for wedding guests to do while in the area.
And for the community savvy guests invited to the wedding, the couple set up a web site for guests listing all kinds of helpful information for those planning to attend.
The destination wedding plans for guests came when they received their invitation in the mail. The wedding invitation contained all the various types of lodging, activities in Sonoma County and directions to the winery.
The groom and his parents stayed at the Hotel Healdsburg, built in 2001, with rates from $305 for a deluxe king to $725 for a one-bedroom suite. The ultra modern 55-room hotel is built in the heart of Healdsburg in the town square. Everything about the hotel is understated. Even the entrance is quietly tucked away on the side in a courtyard.
One of the Hotel's biggest claims to fame is Charlie Palmer, Executive Chef, who opened the Dry Creek Kitchen Restaurant in the hotel.
Palmer is the executive chef and owner of Aureole, a Manhattan classic restaurant with a worldwide reputation. In fact, Zagat chose Aureole, as the number one restaurant in New York for American cuisine. Following his phenomenal success at Auerole in New York, Palmer opened Astra and Kitchen 22 and 82, Metrazur in the city and then opened Charlie Palmer Steak in Washington D.C. and Las Vegas.
The Dry Creek Kitchen focuses on great and simple foods highlighting Sonoma County's fresh ingredients with an ever-changing menu and in-depth wine list of exclusive Sonoma bottlings. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner and provides catering for Hotel Healdsburg's groups and events. I enjoyed my meal at the Dry Creek Kitchen, especially the Butternut Squash Soup.
Another type of eatery I enjoyed with modest prices was the Bear Republic Brewing Company, located just across the courtyard from the Hotel Healdsburg. The brewery has huge tasty salads, a complete menu of burgers, pastas and great beers plus a children's menu.
There were many other choices of lodging in Healdsburg as described in detail by the bride and groom. I chose the Camellia Inn, a Victorian Inn at 211 North Street, located about four blocks from the town square. The Camellia Inn, Bed and Breakfast, was built in 1869 and was purchased in 1981 by Ray and Del Lewand, left their native home in Los Angeles and gave up the freeways for a more secluded life in the country.
The Camellia Inn with its inlaid hardwood floors, graceful chandeliers and decorative friezes were simply papered and painted by the Lewands, retaining the character of the period in which the house was built. The Lewands used tones and shades of salmon, reminiscent of the camellias blooming below the tall windows. Continuing with the theme, each room is named for a variety of the camellia. All the furnishings are antiques, true to the era, with Oriental rugs throughout the home. There are nine rooms, all with private baths. I enjoyed my stay in the Tiffany room, which rents for $229 per night. The room had a Queen sized four poster bed, gas fireplace, wicker loveseat, and whirlpool tub for two. Also included in the price was a delicious buffet breakfast served from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.
While in Healdsburg, I strolled around the town square with a beautiful park in the center of the square. I visited the unique antique shops, boutique clothing stores and bakeries.
I also enjoyed a visit to the Healdsburg Museum which contains an impressive range of artifacts and documents related to northern Sonoma County history. Some outstanding examples are Pomo Indian basketry, 19th century weapons, tools, textiles and crafts.
Another fascinating point of interest is the Healdsburg Sonoma County Wine Library where there are more than 5,000 volumes, including rare and out of print works, some dating back to 500 years on the wine industry and the heritage of grape growing and winemaking in Northern California.
The drive in the countryside was a scenic one, with beautiful vineyards and wineries located everywhere I went. Wineries invite visitors in for a tasting and employees at the wineries are quite well-informed about the various varieties of wine.
There were also vineyard tours, wine seminars, picnics in the park and at wineries and seminars in food and wine parings for those who were interested in learning more about wine.
The Russian River meanders through Healdsburg and offers opportunities for boating and swimming. There is also a 9-hole, 60-acre municipal golf course, bicycles for rent and hot-air balloon rides.
Healdsburg is a turn-of-the century American town where wedding guests as well as vacationers can enjoy a delightful vacation away from the hustle and bustle of big city life.
Photos by Phyllis Steinberg