Once we decided on Napa as our wedding destination, we immediately set out looking for a wedding reception venue. If you recall, we were also in the midst of major life changes – new city, new apartment, new jobs, new dog, new friends – so we wanted to secure a date then forget about wedding planning for a few months while we settled into our new life.
Naturally, we started our search online and solicited recommendations from friends and family. Luckily for us, there is no shortage of beautiful options in wine country which forced us to articulate our vision for wedding. Knowing we wanted to emulate a romantic European setting, we narrowed our search to venues with lush backdrops and outdoor spaces.
We then booked a quick trip to Napa, along with my Mom, to visit all of the venues. I wanted to make the most of our 48 hours so I booked our itinerary solid with viewings from 8am – 7pm both days. We covered a lot of ground and saw everything from wineries to resorts to independent venues.
One perk of wedding reception venue hunting in Napa? You get to taste test all the wine! Too bad I forgot to include time for meals in our busy itinerary, something Kevin and my mom weren’t too thrilled about…oops!
Outside of the food and alcohol, the venue is probably the next biggest chunk of your budget so it’s important to understand what you get for your money. Prior to our visit, I prepared the following list of wedding reception venue questions:
- What Saturday dates do you have available in September/November?
- Is Labor Day Sunday available? Is there a price difference? [Note: some gave us the Sunday rate but other venues charge extra for a holiday.]
- How many people does each space accommodate?
- What is the rental fee? Does it vary by space?
- What does the rental fee include? [E.g. tables, chairs, chargers, flatware, dinnerware, glassware, votives, candles, heat lamps, linens, lanterns, etc.]
- For the items included, is it possible to see them today and/or receive pictures of them via email?
- What is the deposit, when is it due and is it refundable?
- What time is the space available to us?
- Is it possible to extend beyond the start/end times for an additional fee?
- What is the cancellation policy?
- What is the weather contingency plan for outdoor spaces? [Some spaces may require a tent rental which can be a high, unexpected cost days before the wedding.]
- Can your venue accommodate our ceremony? Is there a separate space/cost for it?
- Can your venue accommodate our cocktail hour? Is there a separate space/cost for it?
- Is there a bridal suite or space for us to get ready?
- Are there decoration restrictions or guidelines? [E.g. Can we use real candles? Can we move existing decor to suit our wedding? When can our vendors get in to start setting up? Can we have a sparkler exit?]
- Do you have a space that can be utilized as a dance floor?
- Do you have a preferred list of vendors? Do we have the liberty to select our own or are we required to use your list?
- Do you offer in-house catering?
- If no, are there kitchen facilities available for catering to use?
- If yes, is it mandatory to use them or can we bring in our own?
- What is the food cost per person? Does that include tax, service fees and gratuity? Is there a food minimum?
- Does your caterer offer a menu tasting prior to selecting the food and alcohol? Is there a separate cost?
- Can we bring in cake from an outside baker? Is there a cake cutting fee?
- Are you licensed to serve hard alcohol?
- Can we bring in our own wine, beer or champagne? Is there a corkage fee?
- What is the alcohol cost per person? Does that include tax, service fees and gratuity? Is there an alcohol minimum?
- Are there additional fees for bar tenders/staff?
- Are there restrictions on what kind of music we have – DJ vs. Band? Is there a power source in all of the spaces?
- Are there restrictions on how guests get on/off the property? [E.g. Parking? Valet? Uber? Shuttles?]
- Where are the restrooms in relation to the spaces? How many stalls for men/women?
- Do you require or provide day of coordination?
- If provided, what services are included? Is there a separate cost?
- Do you require or provide security services?
- Do you require liability insurance?
- Do you offer overnight accommodations?
- If yes, do you offer a discount for a room block or multiple rooms?
- If no, what nearby accommodations do you recommend?
- Do we have exclusive use of the venue or is there potential for multiple events/weddings on the same day?
After much discussion and debate, we landed on our top two, in order: Chateau St. Jean and V. Sattui Winery. Ironically, the first two venues we visited during our trip. All things considered, the two venues were very different from each other but they had one thing in common that we loved – outdoor spaces with lush gardens and landscapes.
Outside of that, it came down to a few key details [bolded in list above for easy reference]. Rental fee, of course, but generally this was fairly comparable across the board (with a few outliers). Other considerations include the weather contingency plan, in-house catering and venue location in relation to the church/hotel blocks/airport.
In the end though, it was the event end time that became the deal breaker. Despite having my heart SET on Chateau St. Jean, they had a hard stop for all events at 10pm. Since we were having a destination wedding, we simply couldn’t fathom ending the party that early. We tried every angle to get around it, even suggesting a silent disco, but to no avail.
I believe everything turned out how it was supposed to. We got home from our trip to Napa and my dad surprised us by bringing out a bottle of V. Sattui wine that he had purchased in 1987, the year I was born. Eerily, it was same variety we had just purchased for him as a gift during our trip. If felt like a sign and I knew right then and there we had made the right choice to get married at V. Sattui. Next we set our sights on preparations for the big day, September 22, 2018.
For reference, we also looked at: Kunde Family Winery, Cline Cellars, Jacuzzi Family Vineyards, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, Silverado Resort, Meadowood, Calistoga Ranch, Paradise Ridge Winery and Campovida. Happy to share our experience with any of these. If you’re interested, just drop us a comment!
Kara & Kevin