Across most of the United States, shelter-in-place orders due to the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 have shut down all but essential services, businesses and stores. That goes for California as well, including businesses in the Napa Valley and Sonoma. Coveted by many as the perfect place to host a wedding, California’s wonderful wine country is essentially closed for business until the state is allowed to open back up, When that will happen is anybody’s guess, putting hundreds of weddings on hold and crushing the dreams of couples state-wide.
Wedding Venues in Napa and Sonoma are Rare Indeed
Here’s the thing; having a winery wedding in Napa or Sonoma to throw a wedding party isn’t easy. In fact, it’s downright difficult. The reason? Only 5 wineries in the entire Napa Valley area are allowed to host weddings legally due to a 1989 law. (Those five were already hosting weddings and thus were grandfathered in before the law was enacted.)
That law, the Winery Definition Ordinance (WDO), was put in place to protect land in the Napa Valley from development, and more specifically agricultural land which can be used to grow grapes and produce wine. The folks who enacted the law were worried that other, non-wine-making businesses would start to invade the area, if you will, taking up valuable earth that could otherwise be used to create the wines they hold so dear.
With only a handful of Napa wineries thus legally allowed to hold weddings, demand for those five Napa winery locations is fierce. They’re usually sold out over a year in advance, if not longer. For anyone getting married sooner than that, Napa would basically be off the table (not that there aren’t plenty of locations north and west of the area).
Wedding Reception Venues in Napa Are Feeling the Pinch…
Imagine, if you will, a winery in Napa County or Sonoma County that’s booked solid for wedding parties through most of the year, with weddings every weekend. Many of those weekends have multiple weddings as well, with hundreds of brides and grooms scheduled to exchange vows, and many more of their friends and families coming into the Napa Valley and Sonoma area to share in the special occasion.
Now imagine that dozens, if not hundreds, of those plans, are having to be pushed back, rescheduled, and rearranged. And, lest you think that it’s as easy as, say, rescheduling a May wedding to go off in August, keep in mind that all of the August dates are already booked as well. Remember, in Sonoma and Napa they book weddings a year out or longer. There’s nary an open spot until the end of ‘wedding season’ in 2021. Deposits have been placed, money has exchanged hands and plans have been put into motion, all of which will now need to somehow be rescheduled.
For the five Napa wineries that are legally allowed to be winery wedding venues, the chaos is palpable. How to reschedule hundreds of weddings when there’s no room on the schedule for at least a year if not longer? Can they ‘double up’ on weddings? Will some couples agree to postpone their wedding so that those being postponed now can get their shot? All great questions but, until the pandemic passes and life gets back to a semblance of normal, all impossible to answer.
…And So are Hundreds of Couples
If you think the Napa winery wedding venues have it bad, think for a moment about the brides and grooms who’ve been planning their weddings, many for over a year. For them, the situation is frustrating at best and maddening at worst. Months of planning tossed in the trash. Thousands of dollars in invitations that no longer have the correct times and dates. All that planning and preparation has gone to waste and, even worse, new plans and preparations now have to be made.
All over California’s Wine Country, It’s the Same Situation
It’s not just the Napa Valley and Sonoma County area that’s hurting, of course. California’s wine country is huge and, further north, there are dozens of wedding locations that are all just as beautiful and scenic. Small wedding venues in California’s wine country and even cheap wedding locations are all going through the same situation, with doors closed and the wedding plans of many couples in a jumbled heap. While they’re smaller and more affordable than Sonoma or the Napa Valley, the folks who’ve planned their weddings there are in the same quandary; plans canceled, weddings pushed back and many questions still unanswered.
That says nothing about the hundreds of hotels, motels, wedding caterers, wedding planners, wedding photographers, and DJs. They’re all closed for business as well due to the pandemic and like so many other businesses across the United States, they’re struggling mightily to survive. The 3rd largest state in the nation, hundreds of thousands of businesses are suffering right now and, unfortunately, nobody knows when things will, or can, start to get back to normal.
But what does that mean for weddings in 2021 and 2022?
With many 2020 weddings being postponed, prime dates during future wedding seasons are being reserved for 2020 weddings. So the competition among couples for Saturday weddings in spring, summer, and fall, is intense. Where in the past, a couple could expect to find dates available as little as six months before their desired wedding date, which is no longer the case. If you are looking to have a wine country or bay area wedding, your search for the perfect event venue should begin immediately.
Many of the top venues offer virtual tours on their websites. This virtual experience can help you narrow down your list of possibilities. But also contact the venues you are most interested in and keep track of how fast they respond to you, do they answer your questions, are they interested in your wedding, and are they helpful. It will be a good measure of what you can expect from them in the future.
What’s Next for Napa and Sonoma Wedding Venues?
Until the pandemic comes to an end and California opens back up for business, the question of ‘what next’ remains to be answered. Even after Californians are allowed to leave their homes and start going back to work, the fact is that weddings aren’t exactly small affairs where social distancing can be easily practiced. In fact, far from it.
Unfortunately, some wedding places and vendors will not make it through economic hardship. Already there are rumors of wedding locations that are simply throwing in the towel. The number of wedding venue owners seeking to sell is on the rise.
Some venues are offering creative ideas to assist couples through this time, with elopement or tiny wedding packages, followed up with a sequel wedding when restrictions are removed. Other event venues are helping to have virtual wedding attendance, for those guests still hesitant to travel after restrictions are lifted.
That being said, the only thing that can be done is to look toward the future, stay positive, and hope that, sometime soon, life will start returning to normal. America and the world have suffered mightily during this pandemic and there might be more suffering to come. The truth is, however, weddings are where we humans tend to shine the most brightly. The power of love is one of our strongest. Indeed, love, life, and laughs might be exactly the answer we need right now to truly move forward and start to heal.