Where to wed?
In this Valley the answers are endless
The moment of matrimony, captured by wedding photographer Rebecca Gosselin.
So, you've made up your minds to entwine your hearts. Now the question is not the question, but where you choose to answer it. So where do you say your "I-do's"?
In this vineyard-draped valley, with chateaus and chalets, mansions and manses and at least one castle, not to mention ranches, ruins, a historic movie theater and a real Franciscan mission, the options are overwhelming and the choice can, and sometimes does, take months.
Outdoors or indoors? Church or chateau? On a hill, up a mountain, or down in the valley so low? From Tuscan wineries with sweeping vistas, to country garden settings, to the historic mission, Sonoma Valley's verdant vale is a candy store of nuptial sites. You could probably rent Ledson Castle and host a coronation there. Here are some of our favorites.
Against a pristine mosaic of hills and vineyards, lovers can tie the knot at Jack London's Beauty Ranch, among the romantic stone ruins of an old winery. The site accommodates up to 250 guests for a surprisingly affordable fee; keep in mind you'll pay more in rentals because you bring everything with you.
And as long as we're on the topic of ruins (they make us feel so young), Kunde Winery boasts a true diamond in the rubble-Dunfillan Winery. Eroding away in a secluded meadow under the knobby wings of ancient oak, its romantic remains have drawn celebrity superstars including Geena Davis.
If true love stands the test of time, there may not be a wedding spot so poignant as Sonoma Mission, a state historic landmark. Built by Spanish missionaries, the simple and stalwart adobe structure has weathered nearly two centuries on Sonoma Plaza's northeast corner. Up to 200 can attend the ceremony in the non-denominational chapel.
Who needs Normandy? For the blue-blooded duchess in you, the castle at Ledson Winery will pamper your royal personage-and up to 250 of your family and closest friends-with a ceremony of gothic grandeur. Arrive in a horse-drawn carriage, pose on the massive sweeping staircase, exchange vows on the front lawn or beneath ancient spreading oaks while the Mayacamas Mountains frame your memories.
For those who'd rather be sweating on the reception dance floor instead of sweating the details, Sonoma Secret Gardens (at the Sonoma Academy of Dance and Arts) offers an unbeatable package deal for its cozy, loose and lovely milieu: tranquil gardens for the ceremony, an indoor reception area, and, if you're so inclined-they'll arrange for a photographer, minister, a string musician or pianist, decorator and even a pre-wedding dance lesson.
Chateau St. Jean: Oui, oui. This ambrosial French-style winery boasts gardens bubbling with fountains and roses, vast green lawns, great wines and more joie de vivre than a Jacques Demy film. After a garden ceremony you can "retire to the terrace" Great Gatsby-style for sunset vineyard views and al fresco dining.
Can you fit all your guests into your minivan? The lovely GlenElly Inn & Cottages offers an elopement ceremony in their rose garden, complete with space for eight guests, a Scandinavian princess wedding cake and a friendly officiant who can even help customize your vows.
If you're serious about partying with your guests all weekend, the verdant Westerbeke Ranch can house 40 of your clan in clean and comfy redwood cabins. Exchange vows among leafy oaks and gardens as part of a comprehensive wedding package. Everything from linens, china, gourmet meals and waitstaff, to lodging and complimentary massage can be yours, tucked into one lump sum. Apparently they've been doing this for 20 years.
Nestled in Nunn's Canyon along a whispering creek, Relais du Soleil Guest Ranch is a turn-of-the-century romantic stone farmhouse and ranch with your name on it. While horses graze in the distance, you can "I Do" to your heart's content before doing the cha cha on an expansive wooden dancing deck. Bed down with your new ball 'n' chain in plush accommodations, with champagne upon your arrival.
For two exceptionally different ceremony sites, consider, on the one hand, Robert Ferguson Observatory at Sugarloaf State Park. So far, at least one starstruck couple has exchanged vows beneath the starry, starry sky and a 24-inch telescope. Cassiopeia anyone? Along with the observatory, you can rent the adjacent campground for one, two or fifty people.
At the other extreme of unusual is Infineon Raceway where, we're told, motor-minded brides and grooms can tie the knot within toasting distance of the NASCAR start-finish line (bring your own racing helmet and Nomex suit).