Choosing a wedding venue requires experience, and unfortunately, it is one of the few things that you will only do once in your lifetime. Brides and their families look at the size, price and convenience of a wedding venue, while there are so many other factors that will not be considered until after the wedding is over. Wedding Venues in Napa are very limited - done so by the supervisors in an shortsighted way to limit the overwhelming weekend traffic in Napa Valley. At the moment, there are but three winery wedding venues in Napa. So, for your consideration:
First - it could rain. If your venue is outside and does not have a contingency plan for weather, you better be sure about the weather. I have photographed a number of weddings on dates that practically guaranteed it would not rain - and it did. I have rain covers for our cameras - but there is no such thing for a bride. And truly, there is no such thing as a happy bride standing in a downpour. Sure, it is considered good luck, but really, is that just a consolation prize? If bad weather can be accurately predicted several days in advance, often a tent might be arranged, but it is an expensive option, and one that limits the size and fun of your wedding.
Next, it might NOT rain - but it might be 110 degrees. See the above! I have actually seen guests pass out from sitting in direct sun during a long ceremony. Regardless of the temperature on a given summer day, but you can insure that you and your guests are shaded. Providing shade is something most professional planners insist upon, and umbrellas are not always adequate for that - especially for the bride and groom. If shade trees are the remedy, check the ceremony time and height of the sun on that date and check with your wedding venue coordinator. I have software that will tell us the exact angle of sun on a given hour of any day.
I have seen a bride reduced to tears, and a brides mother actually sue a wedding venue for simply not providing what they said they would, or even what the contract calls for. There are a few (very few) venues out there run by unscrupulous people, but if you run across one, they can ruin your day - and the hard work of your vendors as well. You can find ratings for every wedding venue you are considering (Yelp.com is sometimes a good one) and take the advice of others to heart. Also, read between the lines and try to ascertain whether the review was written by an actual bride or someone at the venue itself - think about what a bride would realistically say about a wedding venue. I see planted reviews from time to time.
Most venues will place restrictions on your choice of caterer, wine choices and other vendors. Be sure you are OK with their choices of approved vendors. Keep in mind that sometimes, in order to be on an approved list, the vendor must kick back to the venue.
There are a number of areas that people flock to for weddings, and they are not all equal. Sonoma and Napa are two that people seem to vision as a magical place for weddings. North of San Francisco, you are much more likely to find happiness in Sonoma County. There are some terrific places to get married in Sonoma, Healdsburg, Santa Rosa and north, most of which are well outfitted and happy to oblige - for a price. Tahoe is fun, but know that the weather is changeable. Lodi has several wonderful venues and great prices, too.
Some areas stage huge events to draw crowds, so be sure to ask about any conflict of your wedding date and other local events - Some are so big that hotels are booked and traffic is impossible - be sure to ask about that. You might consider your own wedding planner to help your day go completely stress free. And be sure the venue you choose is licensed and insured for weddings, and in fact, check this with all your vendors.
Of course, if you would like information about wedding venues (Napa wedding venues, or Sonoma, Sacramento or Lodi wedding venues or elsewhere) - or anything related to weddings, please call anytime, whether we are your wedding photographers or not.
by Laurence Bartone