Does Your Dream of a Napa Wedding Match the Napa Reality?

at Mountain House Estate

California’s wine country is undoubtedly one of the most breathtaking in the United States, rivaling even the majesty of Saint-Émilion in Bordeaux, France, Stellenbosch in South Africa, and Piedmont, Italy to name a few. Rolling vineyards, bookend mountain ranges, and sunsets that will blow your socks off are some of the reasons why. Napa and Napa Valley, two of its most popular locales, are also the 2 areas most coveted for weddings, and there is certainly a lot to like.

If you’re thinking about holding your dream wedding there, however, there’s also a lot not to like about Napa Valley and the town of Napa. In fact, rather than a dream, a wedding in either of the two could turn out to be more of a nightmare for you, your family and your friends. This quick article will tell you why and give you some suggestions that might serve your wine country wedding dreams, and your pocketbook, much better.

Napa and the Valley Have Gotten Expensive

If you’re looking for cheap wedding venues or wedding reception venues, you’re not going to find them in Napa or the surrounding area. In fact, you’re only going to find 5 winery locations in the area that are legally allowed to hold weddings due to an obscure law enacted way back in 1989.

That law, the Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO) prohibits weddings at wineries, leaving all but 5 (that were grandfathered in) to hold them.  And, as you might imagine, those 5 wineries charge a premium for the right to hold your nuptials there, making them the exact opposite of an affordable wedding venue.

Also, knowing that there are only 5 wineries that can legally host weddings in Napa, the surrounding hotels charge some of the highest rates per room in the entire country and may require a minimum two-day booking. Yes, that’s right, country. As in the entire United States.

For example, the national average hotel room rate is $130.00. The average in Napa? $325.00. That’s 2.5 times higher, a financial burden that you’ll be putting on all the friends and family you invite to your wedding. (And, by the way, you won’t find any cheap hotels or motels either in Napa Valley. They simply don’t exist there.)

The Napa Valley Has Gotten Crowded

Have you ever been to Disney World or Disneyland on a crowded weekend? If yes, you already know what it’s like in Napa Valley and Sonoma during their peak wedding months or, for that matter, most of the year. Crowds of people. Long lines of tourists in their cars on the two-lane Highway 29.  It’s the only Highway that travels the length of Napa Valley, servicing all the small towns (Calistoga, Rutherford, St. Helena, Yountville, and Oakville) as well as the City of Napa itself.  You’ll find lines at any reasonably priced eatery, like the famous Gott’s Roadside in Napa.  About the only thing you won’t find are giant mouse ears.

What do locals do?  They don’t travel in the mid-afternoon when your guests will be trying to get to your wedding.  They use winding back roads unknown to anyone who doesn’t live in Napa Valley.  Stories abound about guests missing the wedding ceremony because they were caught in traffic.

Sure, it’s still beautiful, but so is the Magic Kingdom while you wait in 3-hour+ lines to get on Space Mountain. And yes, years ago visiting the Napa Valley was like ‘going out to the country’ but, these days, it’s more like a corporate urban area with nice decorations.  Gone are the days of the little old winemaker selling his wine, made from his grapes.  He’s been replaced by corporate wineries that have more in common with Las Vegas Casino’s than they do with farming.

The Weather There Can Be Fickle at Best

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing a Napa Valley sunset on a beautiful day you know that they can be spectacular. The problem is, the Napa River is part of the San Francisco Bay, where the weather can be as fickle as a feather, with fog and cold that can roll in and stick around for days on end.  It’s one of the reasons the area is great for growing wine grapes.  But if one of those days happens to be the day you picked to exchange vows, well, let’s just hope you and your guests brought sweaters.

Small Wedding Venues in Napa Valley? Nope.

There’s no such thing as a small wedding venue in the Napa Valley. As we already mentioned, there are only 5 winery wedding venues to choose from, and they aren’t what you’d call affordable wedding venues. Just the opposite.

Plus, with only 5 available, you’ll need to book your wedding far in advance! There’s so much demand for wedding reception venues in Napa and the immediate surrounding area including Sonoma, that booking a wedding venue means planning at least a year out, if not longer. If you want to get married faster than that you’ll have to look elsewhere. The good news? There are lots of elsewheres to look!

If you really search hard for a winery wedding venue in Napa, you’ll find a number of wineries that will let you have your wedding reception there, but require that you have your wedding ceremony at a different location.  Why?  They are trying to skirt the Ordinance.  But if they get caught, what will happen to your wedding plans?

Another trick is for some short term rentals (B&B’s, VRBO’s and the like) to offer you a space for your wedding and some guests to stay the night.  They are trying to skirt not having the proper permits to host events, by saying they only rented the rooms, you are having the event.  Of course, if they were just renting the rooms for $ and they charged you $$ because of the party, what is everyone going to tell the governmental officials when they show up at your wedding?

Affordable Wedding Venues in Northern California Wine Country? Absolutely!

California is a big state. It’s the 3rd biggest in the United States and has a massive wine-growing region. California is also one of the most scenic states in the country and, just about everywhere you go in their massive wine growing area, the scenery is gorgeous. Rolling hills? Check. Majestic mountains? Check. Beautiful weather during peak wedding season? Check!

Another plus about going somewhere besides the Napa Valley if you’re looking for cheap wedding venues is that you can actually find cheap wedding venues, smaller wedding venues, and more affordable wedding venues. (Use whatever adjective you like!) In the Anderson Valley, for example, the countryside is beautiful and there are plenty of wedding venues to choose from.

You’ll find them in the Alexander Valley, Geyserville, Healdsburg, and Cloverdale – all excellent choices as well, with affordable hotels, far less traffic and a ‘country feel’ that Napa and Sonoma seem to have lost a long time ago. And here’s a tip; when searching on Google, don’t type in ‘wedding venue near me’, type ‘affordable wedding venue in northwest California’ and you’ll see exactly what we’re talking about.

In Closing

Hopefully, we haven’t rained too much on your parade. Yes, Napa Valley, Sonoma, and Napa are beautiful, no doubt, but holding a wedding there, in our opinion, simply isn’t worth the price you pay, both in dollars and in the fact that they’re a shell of what they once were. A little further north west (Sonoma County and Mendocino County) your budget will go so much further, you’ll face a lot fewer hassles and the overall feel is, in a word, tranquil. That’s where dream weddings are held, without a doubt!

Thanks for reading, and best of luck booking an affordable wedding venue in California’s wine country!

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