by HCTG Staff Writer Linda Watanabe McFerrin
Can you really have a Wine Country wedding in the East Bay? Absolutely! Head for the gracious, grape—growing Livermore Valley. Located a mere thirty miles east of San Francisco, it was this pastoral oasis of canyons, hillcrests, rambling ranches and handsome homes that garnered America’s first international gold medal for wine back in 1889 and put California on the world wine map. Founded by pioneer winemakers such as C.H. Wente, James Conconnan and Charles Wetmore, Livermore Valley wineries were the first to bottle varietally labeled Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Petite Sirah. And, nearly 80% of all California grapevines trace their genetic roots to a Livermore Valley clone. Who knew? Long overlooked (and overshadowed by Napa and Sonoma), this lovely cradle of California viticulture has been a well—kept secret for decades.
But now the Tri-Valley region, which also includes Amador and San Ramon Valleys, is going through a renaissance that is attracting too much attention to ignore. Estate wineries, golf courses, day spas, new hotels and historic downtown areas exert an unquestionable appeal. Visitors are pampered with big—time amenities and small-town hospitality and warmth. Although the word on this alluring region is definitely getting out, most folks haven’t gotten the message yet. So, we’re going to take you on a quick “tour” of some the Other Wine Country’s best wedding and special event locations. Enjoy the trip!
Situated in a canyon at the southern end of the Livermore Valley and surrounded by vineyards, sycamore groves and rolling hills, Wente Vineyards Restaurant, Visitors Center and Golf Course is a picturesque setting for weddings and receptions. Founded in 1883 by German immigrant C.H. Wente, this well—known winery is now managed by the fourth generation of the Wente family. The casually elegant restaurant, set in one of the property’s white, Spanish-style buildings, is framed by beautifully landscaped grounds and features three private rooms and terraces with views of the distant hills. With first-rate facilities, acres of vineyards and a warm Mediterranean ambiance, this popular event site books up quickly, so don’t wait too long to pay them a visit.
Nowhere is the deeply satisfying sense of hospitality, abundance and grace more pervasive than at Rios-Lovell Estate Winery. In only ten years of operation, Rios-Lovell has grown into much more than an award-winning winery—it’s become a Livermore Valley destination. The Event Center, like the tasting area and gift shop, is decorated with delightful trompe l’oeil murals that evoke the pastoral peace and plenty of the French and Italian countryside. But a large part of the estate’s beauty is in the lawns, gardens, gazebos and 18 acres of grapevines that frame this hilltop property. Flowers like star jasmine and rose perfume the air. An outdoor pavilion outfitted with carriage lamps provides shade by day and dramatic lighting in the evening. It’s an idyllic setting in every season—you simply won’t want to leave.
You might expect thoroughbreds to canter up to the white fence that lines the drive to Poppy Ridge Golf Course. A narrow road winds through the biscuit-colored hills to a spacious hacienda-style building overlooking the verdant 27-hole golf course, which opened in 1996. Like the flower it’s named for, this expansive facility with its top—flight restaurant, wide wraparound decks and commanding views of the Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Merlot fairways, epitomizes the ease and sunny charm that distinguish the golden state. Whether you’re dancing and dining in the Poppy Ridge Grill and Bar (voted “Best Restaurant View” by the Tri-Valley Herald in 2003), sipping champagne on the sun-splashed deck, or pausing to reflect in the shady tower archway, you’ll find a plethora of magical moments to fill your album of memories.
Consider this wedding scenario: The groom’s parents have a horror of anonymous hotels and want to stay in a cozy B&B with a pool, a garden and an arboreal surround. The bridesmaids want to treat the bride to a facial and massage on the morning of the wedding. The bride’s mother is obsessed with the idea of an elegant dinner followed by dancing in a ballroom with a spectacular view. The bride wants to make her entrance down a staircase with a harpist playing on the balcony behind her. And the groom wants to be married outside in the country. Ringed by low hills and surrounded by vineyards and ranches, this quiet, stylish hideaway is the place where all of these wedding visions can be realized. Owner Karen Hughes and her experienced staff will make sure of it.
Yes, you might actually see a white crane spiraling against the green, vineyard-covered hillsides. That’s how this winery got its name. A symbol of long life in Chinese mythology, the white crane is special, and that’s just how you’ll feel when you plan your event at this vineyard-winery-B&B. From the white clapboard farmhouse winery to the gardens, gazebo, fountain and arbors, this site exudes quiet country charm. And after the event, no need to hurry away. The vintner’s residence is the perfect little roost for the newlyweds and their guests.
It’s a little bit like a village—a small one surrounded by grapevines. Although one of the newest wineries in the Livermore Valley, this little gem with its Italian Wine Country style is already drawing a crowd. Maybe it’s because of the restaurant on the premises or the jazz they serve up with the food and the bocce ball. There’s an enormous 6,000-square-foot pavilion for special events and plenty of room outdoors. The Garré Café, modeled after the cafés of old Italy, features tasty Tuscan-style cuisine.
You arrive via a graceful, palm-lined approach that leads to an antique-brick winery with a 280-degree vineyard surround highlighted by views of Mt. Hamilton and historic Ruby Hill. Built on a 110-acre California winery estate and fashioned in a size, scale and simplicity that emphasizes the beauty of its vineyard setting, the Palm Event Center is a fabulous place for a party. Its massive redwood doors—constructed of wine barrels aged over 50 years—open onto a Romanesque-style Banquet Hall graced with twenty-foot ceilings, stone colored Italian tile floors and a sleek tan-and-black granite bar. The property also features a magnificent catering kitchen with an all-star staff. An enormous patio and well-manicured lawn are perfect for outdoor ceremonies, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres or after-dinner drinks under the stars.
It all feels so exclusive. This beautiful Clubhouse, sequestered on a hill overlooking a golf course and gated community surrounded by acres of vineyards, might leave you a little awestruck, but you’ll soon find yourself relaxing into its chic ambiance. Much effort has gone into making the clubhouse a showplace: A sweeping staircase leads down to the main dining room with 40-foot ceilings. The lounge features a marble fireplace and granite-topped bar. The expansive arcaded patio overlooks a formal garden, elegant lawns and a stunning oval terrace just right for al fresco ceremonies and receptions.
A sheltered canyon tucked between two tree-covered ridges is home to this gracious three-story, turn-of-the-19th-century mansion surrounded by acres of vineyards. Garden-style ceremonies are held outdoors on grounds brimming with native flora. The secluded Terrace Room, with its vaulted ceiling, glass walls and wraparound deck, is a beautiful banquet setting. The entire site is shaded by oak, eucalyptus and olive trees. Toast with Elliston’s sparkling wine and dine on exquisite dishes prepared by the winery’s executive chef. Though easy to get to, the quiet country milieu will make you feel like you’re a million miles away.
It took widespread community support to build this handsome, breezily modern community center, and it was well worth the effort. Named after Robert Livermore, who planted the first commercial vines in the valley back in 1840, this sprawling complex situated on a tree-lined avenue has sunlight and landscaping and meeting rooms galore, including a lovely new ballroom of grand dimensions. Double doors open onto a spacious lamp-lined courtyard with pebbled walkways that lead to a ceremony site framed by rolling lawns and pines. The large, professionally designed catering kitchen has enough freezers, fridges, sinks and counter space to make it a caterer’s dream. It’s no wonder the community is already enamored with this new center. You will be too.
Two things make this facility special. The first is that it can hold a really large crowd—up to 450 seated guests! The second is that Beets Catering is the exclusive caterer and coordinator. They can transform this unpretentious hall with its stage, vaulted ceiling and expansive interior into something truly wonderful. Whatever you want, whether it’s budget-minded or sky’s-the-limit, country casual, tropical or seriously black-tie, Beets will create the desired effect. As for food, it’s always carefully prepared, reasonably priced and beautifully presented. Now that’s quite a one-two punch.
It’s a playful spirit that carries one away at this handsome Hilton property. After a multi-million dollar renovation, the entire operation is looking smart and contemporary, yet dashingly Old World. The hotel’s Olympic Ballroom and its Wimbledon, Masters and Triple Crown Rooms are all attractively appointed. Outdoors, an inviting deck and gazebo provide more opportunities for party and play. Or party and stay in the hotel’s stylishly appointed guest rooms and enjoy access to Club Sport, the members-only club next door whose facilities include eight tennis courts and three swimming pools.
This is not just a place to get married, it’s a place to linger and lounge. Weddings are held outside in the Radisson’s central courtyard. Spacious banquet rooms, including the dramatic Grande Ballroom, provide options for all kinds of receptions. The hotel’s restaurant has an elegant country club atmosphere and the Bodylines Day Spa offers six private massage rooms, each with its own fireplace. Then there are the guestrooms, classically appointed and plush with amenities that give them a resort-like feel. It’s all so appealing, you’ll want to arrive two or three days early and leave a week late.
You might want to reach for a mint julep, once you’ve walked past the white columns of the large porte-cochère that marks the entrance to this handsome clubhouse. Set on recently built Dublin Ranch Golf Course and nestled high in the Dublin hills, it has clean, modern lines and gorgeous views. The airy bar and adjoining banquet room look out over the golf course, and the adjoining patio and terrace are surrounded by crepe myrtle and roses. Everyone from the Executive Chef to the Event Manager will work with you so that you feel right at home. Now, that’s just the kind of old-fashioned hospitality you’d expect to find way out here in the country.
The shiny red ‘56 Chevy pickup at the end of Bent Creek’s private drive signals that this is a working vineyard. It’s also a delightfully rustic setting for an outdoor wedding. Whether you’re exchanging vows in the shade of a centuries—old oak, chatting beneath new olive trees, enjoying the mix of music and birdsong on the meadow—like lawn, dining on the winery terrace or admiring the seven-winery view from “the ridge,” you’ll find much to excite you on this handsome spread. Active guests will love strolling through the rows of Syrah grapes. Other folks might prefer a golf cart ride along some of the trails. For a wonderfully relaxed celebration, Bent Creek is a natural.
History and hospitality make this local landmark a perennial favorite for special events. Built in 1864 by John W. Kottinger, it was once a haven for denizens of the Wild, Wild West. Today this restaurant, banquet facility and cocktail lounge flanked by stately magnolia and palm trees add another touch of the colorful past to Pleasanton’s historic downtown. The lovely Victorian Ballroom, and the Fireside Room with its brick fireplace and book-lined walls, have a distinctive turn-of-the-century charm. For functions al fresco, the sought-after Garden Terrace brings the hotel’s vintage ambiance outdoors.