When you think of California wine, Napa Valley is probably the first place that comes to mind. With acres of vineyards and gorgeous architecture, hundreds of couples swarm to Napa every year for elaborate wine-themed weddings. That said, it isn’t necessarily the best wedding venue choice. Expect most major wineries in Napa to be booked at least 12 months in advance, and in the peak summer season, you might need to book as early as 14 months in advance. In the winter, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a smaller, less-crowded vineyard that isn’t closed down entirely. In addition, Napa doesn’t offer a wide range of experiences outside of its wine culture, which will leave some of your guests feeling more than a little bored.
In Santa Cruz, you’ll still get to sample mouthwatering wines, but unlike Napa, you’ll have more freedom to experience all of California’s other wonders during your wedding weekend, from surfing to massive roller coasters. Santa Cruz is the ideal wedding venue for couples who love a fine glass of Pinot Noir, yet also want a spark of adventure and an unforgettable, individualized experience.
Get a Custom Experience in Santa Cruz
The main problem with Napa Valley weddings is that they can be formulaic. In these cookie-cutter ceremonies, many of the popular wineries want you to follow strict guidelines so that they can continue to host wine tastings and tours on-site. You might be one of five couples getting married in that venue that same day, and that means you might have to rush through your ceremony. If you’re fantasizing about a secluded experience nestled among beautiful blooming vines, you might be disappointed to see dense crowds of tourists nearby. In 2014 alone, more than 3 million people visited Napa’s wineries, and this number is growing every year; a Napa wedding ceremony is rarely as intimate as it appears on paper (or in strategically posed photos).
Santa Cruz is far less crowded, even in the peak summer months, so you can work with your venue to negotiate a fully customized, truly intimate experience. For instance, when you book with a venue like Kennolyn’s Hilltop Hacienda in the Santa Cruz Mountains, you get exclusive use of the entire space, which isn’t always possible at some Napa wineries. You’ll never have to worry about a tipsy tourist barging in during your vows, and your photos will still have the rustic, outdoorsy charm that you crave. In fact, your photos might look more stunning than they would in Napa, especially in wooded venues like our Stone Creek Village. Vineyards tend to look scraggly and depressing in the winter because the vines go into a form of hibernation, but the redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains stay green and stately all year round.
Wine Quality is Superb
Santa Cruz can be more intimate and picturesque than Napa, but are the wines up to snuff? Quite. According to wine critic Eric Asimov, Santa Cruz crafts some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon in northern California, and he calls it the “least-celebrated great American wine region.” Many critics are tired of the alcohol-heavy, jammy red wines that are often grown in Napa, and the wine world is trending toward a lighter, more herbal style. Santa Cruz wines have this quality. In addition, the region produces elegant Pinot Noir, especially in vineyards like Bargetto and Soquel. In fact, Soquel Vineyards is just an 8-minute walk from our Hilltop Hacienda wedding venue.
Another problem with booking your wedding at a Napa winery is that you’re required to drink only that winery’s vintages. This isn’t always a bad thing, especially if the wine is fantastic, but it’s nice having the option to expand your list beyond just their offerings. When you book near Santa Cruz’s best wineries, you can order a wide range of wines to test, and cherry pick only the cream of the crop. You could even put together your own mini wine tour before the wedding to find the bottles that best fit your personality as a couple.
Santa Cruz Is More Than Just Wine
Napa Valley is largely one-note in scope. You’ll find countless wineries, tours, tastings, and even their historic wine train, yet the region doesn’t have a lot of options outside of wine-related activities. If some of your guests dislike wine or they’re only casual drinkers, they’ll need a venue that makes them feel included. When you book your wedding in the Santa Cruz Mountains, you not only have reputable vineyards nearby, you also have some of the most beautiful hiking trails in the country within walking distance.
After a refreshing morning hike, you can take a ten-minute drive down to the beach and soak up some rays. Your guests might enjoy taking a surfing class the day before the wedding, or lounging on a beach towel after a long flight. If the sun gets to be too much, you can head over to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and ride the Giant Dipper, one of the country’s biggest wooden roller coasters. For some romantic alone time away from your guests, take an evening stroll along the beach with your future spouse and watch the sun set against the Pacific Ocean. You’ll find hundreds of options that align with the hobbies and passions of you and your guests.
Have Your Wine and Drink It Too
The allure of a vineyard wedding is intoxicating. The idea of tying the knot in a French-style chateau, surrounded by twisting vines, seems like the ideal romantic moment. However, we also know from experience that these weddings don’t always turn out as planned. Drunk crowds interrupt you, the venue rushes you through your vows, and you’re forced to drink whatever the winery offers. Booking in Santa Cruz can make the romantic, intimate image in your mind a reality. With towering redwoods, stunning oceanside views, and dozens of sprawling grapevines within walking distance, Santa Cruz is one of the most beautiful and secluded spots for an elegant wine-loving couple.
Lead Image Source: Flickr user Simon_sees