The Top 10 Questions that Most California Wedding Venues Avoid

When you’re researching California Wedding Venues, you may be in a lot of trouble if they don’t have the right answer to these questions.

There’s a lot of good advice on questions to ask California wedding venues on The Knot, Wedding Wire, Brides, Martha Stewart, and name a few more. This blog is going to cover questions they never tell you to ask; Things that venue owners know are important to your wedding day, but subjects you’d never think of until it ruins your plans. 

There’s a lot more than ten questions, but here are a few to consider and why they are essential.  If you ask the venue any of these ten questions and they give you the wrong answer or no answer, run, don’t walk. Find a California wedding venue that’s professional and knows the proper answers and solutions.

Let’s think about the five senses we all have: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. We want to make sure none of them are offended during your wedding.

Does our caterer have to bring water?  

    • Mountain House Estate’s Answer: No, we have safe water. Our water has been tested and is potable. Want to try a sample?
    • Wrong answer – Yes, we ask that the caterer bring the drinking water. P.S. That’s code for “our water isn’t safe to drink.”

Many California wedding venues converted from another use, like historic barn venues in California, only have old agricultural wells.  The well was designed to be providing water for the animals and watering the crops.  Older wells do not have sanitary seals preventing runoff water from going down the well, and polluting it.  Just envision cows in the field pooping as cows do, or chemicals sprayed on crops, then it rains, and the runoff goes down the well, perhaps contaminating it forever.  In other cases, the water can not be potable (safe to drink) for many other naturally occurring reasons.  Some locations have old piping that may contain lead that leaches into the water, causing pollution issues like those experienced in Flint, Michigan.

How many bathrooms does the venue have?

  • Mountain House Estate’s Answer: Yes, we have a bathroom in the bride’s room for the bride and tribe to use, we have another in the groom’s room for him and the guys to use, we have a separate one for staff, and a large, easy to find ones for the maximum capacity of the venue.

You need to know: the rule of thumb is that you need one bathroom fixture (toilet or urinal) for every 50 people.  Don’t only count your wedding guests; make sure to include all staffing in that count.  For a 150 person wedding, you want at least four fixtures.  Ok, that’s great for the guests and staff, but what about the bride and groom prep area – do they have separate bathrooms, or do they need to use the ones the guests use?  Do the bathrooms have baby changing facilities?  Are the ADA (American’s with Disabilities Act) compliant?  Grandma may not be in a wheelchair, but don’t you want her to feel safe?

If the venue doesn’t have enough toilets, are you ready to spend the money on porta-potties?  Even luxury Porta-johns are just fancy outhouses.  And then you have feminine products – are there provisions to handle them, so they don’t get flushed?  If not, and they are flushed, be prepared for flooding.

Does the venue have a commercial septic or sewer system to handle the effluent generated by the wedding?

  • Mountain House Estate’s Answer: Yes we do! 

We handled the subject of bathrooms, but ‘it all runs downhill’ as the saying goes.  Some Sonoma wedding venues are hooked up to the public sewer system, and as long as it’s a commercial hook up (not residential), it should be able to handle the load.  But this can be an issue if you are having a wedding in grandpa’s backyard.  His bathroom(s) were never designed to handle that many flushes in a day.

So let’s calculate the load  For an average 150 person wedding, with 15 support people, where beer and wine are flowing, each person will use the restroom facilities twice (some more) during the wedding day.  That’s 150 + 15 X 2 = 330 flushes – enough to fill a six-person hot tub.

So what about rural Sonoma wedding venues? Rural venues in California have sewage disposal systems called septic tanks and leach fields.  For adequately built and maintained commercial venues in California, the systems are large and can handle the load.  The arrangements are much larger than those for single-family homes, where a typical family of 4 may reside.  When an event goes wrong in the wedding industry, it’s called a “shit show.”  And when a septic system is overburdened or fails during a wedding, that’s what you have.

What does the venue do to control insects?

  • Mountain House Estate’s Answer: We work day and night tirelessly to control the insect population. Yellow Jackets – MHE uses a combination of methods – the typical traps you see at the hardware store, let’s MHE know if there’s a problem in the area. If one is detected, then a specialty insecticide is used that the wasps carry back to the nests, killing the nest. Flies and Mosquitoes – First, we make sure the problem doesn’t arise by not having animals around the venue or sources of breeding water. Our pond is stocked with various species of fish that take care of larvae. We employ natural methods including bats who will eat their weight in insects each night. Fleas and Ticks – within landscaped areas we use a combination of methods to prevent them from establishing a colony. First, the wildlife areas are fenced away from the venue, and the venue is surrounded by large parking areas. For any lawn pests, a specialized insecticide is used.

Now notice that we’re presuming there are insects, and unless it’s a commercial area with all indoor space, there are insects.  Typically, the insect population will be different on the day of your wedding; then, it is the day of your tour.  You see, most visits occur during engagement season – between Halloween and Valentine’s day.  Most engagements happen on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, or Valentine’s day, all of which are in the fall and winter.  However, most couples want to have their wedding in the spring, summer, and early fall – when the insect population can be concerning.

  • Honey Bees
    • Does the venue have a lot of flowers?  That means a pretty thriving honey bee population, and they usually don’t bother anybody.  But it’s something to know.
  • Yellow Jackets
    • these are the wasps that invade summer picnics and are super bothersome.  They can sting and bite more than once.  They hang out around food sources that are sweet or have protein.  Wineries can have issues with them, but their buffets and bothering the guests while eating are the main annoyances.  There are various traps and other pest management programs to minimize the annoying population.  What does the venue do?
  • Flies 
    • House flies, horse flies, bot flies, fruit flies – most don’t bite, but you don’t need the annoyance on your wedding day.  When you go on your tour, take a look around – are there any animals on or near the property?  Horse facilities, dairy’s, goats, sheep, dogs.  Are there any processing plants – apple, grape (winery), and others.  Each one of these things has a fly population associated with it.
  • Fleas and Ticks
    • Only the very rural California wedding venues, with lots of grass, brush, and woods, will typically have this problem.  And as long as you don’t head out into the areas for pictures, you won’t be taking home the nasty little critters.
  • Mosquitos
    • Anywhere there is water, there can be mosquitos, and there needs to be a plan.  Heard a story from a wedding guest about another wedding he recently attended by a natural lake, where tents are set up in the meadow.  It was a beautiful location when toured in the early spring – green grass, beautiful trees, deer in the pasture.  But the summer wedding had a different experience; tall, dry grass that harbored the fleas and ticks mentioned before, and there were clouds of mosquitos swarming around the lake, which was covered with a green ooze of algae.  Everyone was trying to be polite as they swatted at the mosquitos, but the lights after dark seemed to make them more aggressive.

Will there be odors during my wedding month?

  • Mountain House Estate’s Answer: No, there will not be. We operate exclusively as a wedding venue.

In the winter and early spring, everything is wet, and odors don’t travel.  But in other parts of the year, it can be an issue.  There are California wedding venues located near odor-producing enterprises, where the source of the odors is totally out of sight.  Over a ridge, in the next valley, or upwind.  Some of the odor producers near California wedding venues that we’re aware of are, wineries, the dump, composting operations, mushroom farms, dairies, equestrian facilities, cattle, and sewer plants.

So ask the question, drive around the area, and look for yourself.  Having the smell of cow herd wafting through your wedding doesn’t make for great memories.

What is the weather like at the time of year I want to get married?

Mountain House Estate’s Answer: Mountain House Estate is located in a mountain pass between the Alexander Valley in the Russian River Valley, and the Mendocino Coast. Our property is the highest location in the mountain pass, as 1220′. Because of this we experience a very unique microclimate. Our weather is almost similar to that of Yorkville, CA 95494, located 10 miles to our west. However, our mailing address is Cloverdale, CA 95425 to our east.

Cloverdale is located on the upper Russian River Valley floor at 335′ in elevation. The Russian River continues down the Alexander Valley to Healdsburg, with an elevation of 105′ above sea level.

Cloverdale is MHE’s mailing address, but it’s not MHE’s weather address. MHE is regularly 10 degrees cooler than Cloverdale in the summertime, and will get an afternoon and will frequently get an afternoon breeze from the Mendocino Coast. From MHE, Hwy 128 is downhill all the way to the coast at Navarro River.

Know Your Venues Microclimate

Every area has its climate, but there are also microclimates.  The Sonoma wedding venue should show you the average high and low temperatures, and describe the particular microclimate they occupy.  Is it in a valley or on a bare hill that gets brutally hot?  Is the venue on the Sonoma or Mendocino coast where a cold fog can roll in and be bone-chilling cold?  What is the average rainfall, and what’s the backup plan?

Are there any issues with the neighbors and noise?

Mountain House Estate’s Answer: No, there is not, because we are distant from our neighbors and have great relationships with our neighbors.

There are two ways that this question should be answered.  If our wedding makes a bunch of noise, are the neighbors going to call the authorities?  Some California wedding venues have ongoing feuds with neighbors, and you don’t want to get wrapped up in their issues.  Second, are the neighbors going to make noise during my ceremony?  What, can this be a problem – heck yes.  There’s one venue in Northern California with a feuding neighbor, where the neighbor, knowing when the wedding ceremony is most likely to happen, starts up his weedeater, or backpack blower, both of which he’s removed the muffler.  This Northern California wedding venue has made videos, complained to the authorities, but has been told nothing can be done.  Your wedding day shouldn’t suffer from the ongoing feud.  Another venue in Sonoma County has neighbors whose teenage boys now have off-road motorcycles, and like to ride around on wedding days.  Not only is it noisy, but it’s also dusty.  The wedding venue is in an area with rolling hills and no neighbors within a mile radius.  But the boy’s parents, not wanting to hear the noise, send the boys out to the track they’ve created within sight and sound of the venue.  While you are at the wedding venue tour, look far and wide, do you see evidence of motorcycle tracks, earthwork, construction, or anything else that gives you a clue to something else that you should consider?

Is this a “Secret” Venue?

Mountain House Estate’s Answer: No, we are not a secret venue. We are an LLC and are fully licensed and insured.

But regarding other wedding venues in California, Is this one you heard about through a friend?  Did they tell you that they don’t do many weddings?  We don’t advertise?  Did you find them through Airbnb, VRBO, or Facebook?  Are they not listed on The Knot, Wedding Wire, or Here Comes the Guide?  Are their prices low? Run, don’t walk; your wedding day is at risk.

The pitfalls are too numerous to include in a single article, not just about secret venues but also about all types of wedding venues in California.  We’ve written other articles about specific subjects such as:

But here are a few other considerations for you.  

Secret wedding venues in California don’t meet safety requirements and haven’t been inspected.  That means, if you are one of the lucky ones, you and all the guests will survive the night unscathed.  If you aren’t, your wedding will be listed on any of the many Wedding Disasters websites.  And if the disaster is bad enough, you may even make the local newspapers.

Stories we’ve heard about secret wedding venues in Sonoma include:

  •  A roof blew off during a wedding.
  • Rat poop on the dinner plates
  • Allowing fireworks that caught the brides dress on fire
  • People so drunk that there were fights and vomit everywhere
  • Near drowning with no one sober enough to help the victim
  • First responders unable to find the venue out in the country in Northern California – hey, it’s secret after all
  • Shuttle falling into the septic tank
  • Dozens of guests in the hospital with food poisoning 
  • The shooting at an Airbnb party

This list can continue for pages. The lesson is, don’t have a wedding at a Secret venue.

Is the road to the venue easily accessible?

Now, this is an easy one – just look and see if the roads to and in the venue look safe.  In California, wedding venues must adhere to fire safety standards.  Many of the requirements are to make sure that first responders can get in, in case of an emergency.  Can large trucks (fire trucks, ambulances) quickly find the venue (large address signs, easy to find), turn into the venue, and navigate the venue’s roads as one truck is coming out, as the other goes in?  Are all the roads and parking, all-weather (gravel or paved)?  Does the venue require everyone to be parked off-site and shuttled?  

Wildfires seem to be an annual event in California lately.  Caused by PG&E or others, they are scary and dangerous.  As you approach or leave your wedding venue in California – are there multiple escape routes?  We can’t think of anything much worse than being trapped by a fire or fallen tree up some narrow country road with all your guests.  If both sides of the road are on fire, can everyone still get out safely?

There are plenty of stories about first responders not being able to get to the fire, heart attack, stroke, choking, shooting victim in time.  You have a lot of people together, for many hours, and something could happen.  Don’t have that be the story of your wedding.  You simply need to look around and think – “if I have 150 people here and their cars, can an ambulance get in as people are leaving, to pick up my grandmother?”

In the event of an earthquake, is the venue safe?

  • Mountain House Estate’s Answer: Yes, you will be safe. If you can’t tell from this article, we employ safety measures and precautions to safeguard you and your guests.  Mountain House Estate was built as a conference center and winery in the late 1990’s, and passed all the inspections.  It was remodeled in 2014, and passed inspections a second time.

What, earthquakes?  Yes, this is another one where you need to be observant during your wedding tour.  You don’t have to be a building contractor or structural engineer; you simply need to look for issues – they are staring you in the face when you open your eyes.  

We live in California – earthquakes can happen any day, any time.  What if “the big one” happens during your wedding?  Look around the California wedding venue and all areas where you and your vendors will be. Ask yourself,

  • Does everything look secure, braced, new, and safe?
  • Are there large arbors holding grape vines that will be overhead?
  • Are there art installations that are not well secured to the ground? 
  • Are there trees that will topple onto guests, or block the escape routes, including roads?

So you found that perfect old, old rustic barn wedding venue.  The barn is 60, 80, 100 years old, and well weathered.  It was built by ranchers to house hay before earthquake bracing was understood, and the DJ is rocking it out, the mood is joyous, and we get “the big one” – will you be digging people out of the rubble?  Will you be the one trapped?  Will there be a fire like in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake?  No, you don’t have to live your life in fear, but you need to make wise choices.  It’s your wedding, your family and friends.  Don’t subject them to a knowingly dangerous wedding venue.

Here’s what we want you to take away from this article

Going for a low-cost alternative can cost you in the long run. It actually may be the most expensive decision you’ve ever made. Contact us today if you have any other questions regarding your search for California wedding venues.

john mountain house estate

About the Author, John Alden

John Alden is a Wine Country Wedding expert and the owner of Mountain House Estate, a Northern California wedding venue located near Cloverdale,  Sonoma County. Over the past 5 years, John has tirelessly worked to keep the property in pristine condition and has unmatched expertise about wine country weddings. In his free time, he enjoys working on classic cars in his garage.