‘Are you serious?”
Those were the first words that my bride-to-be said when she turned to find me on bended knee, fumbling with a small box and asking the biggest question of my life.
Thankfully, her next word was yes. I was serious, after all. And over the course of the following 10 months, I found out how serious weddings really are.
Not only are weddings serious business, they are big business as well. According to research company the Wedding Report, couples spent an average of $35,543 on Sonoma County weddings and $37,504 on Napa County weddings in 2015, compared to the national average of $26,536 last year. I was looking for a figure well below those numbers.
Those prices are so high because Sonoma and Napa counties are considered destination spots for weddings, with unparalleled views and decked-out wineries available for the right price. But that also means locals are expected to pay destination prices for their own backyard.
Never mind the daunting numbers, just thinking of the sheer number of decisions that need to be made in planning the nuptials tied my stomach in knots those first weeks of engagement. On one hand, weddings allow you to throw the party of your life the way you want; on the other hand, where do you start?
Without realizing it, we decided to embark on what what’s being called a “slow wedding,” defined as a simple wedding that is locally sourced, seasonally catered and more environmentally sustainable. Here’s how we did it.
Wed Your Way
The first big decision is where to have the wedding. We decided to eschew the vineyard and chateau settings, as great as they are, for a venue with a personal touch.
In general, a slow wedding is best enjoyed in a backyard or other familiar, intimate and mellow venue. The personalized setting comes with a sense of comfort that you can’t get when walking into an unfamiliar space. And while professional venues might offer a pre-set look, a home, grange hall or, in our case, parish hall is a blank canvas for your decorative imagination. Run wild with it.
Pro tip: Rope and string lights are instantly enchanting and can transform even the blandest hall into a wonderland. Don’t skimp on the lights.
As tempting as it may be, one-stop shopping weddings websites are not the answer. Sites like the Knot and Weddingwire have endless lists of local vendors, but, like browsing Netflix titles for two hours, everything looks the same online.
In addition, Yelp reviews are useless, especially for weddings, where planted, fake or just plain crazy reviews and ratings are the norm. Besides, the volume of talented people in the North Bay means there’s a good bet that whatever you need is only a personal recommendation away. The biggest lesson I learned in wedding planning is to meet people in person.
Our first locally sourced vendor was Santa Rosa stationery store Sincerely Yours, who specialize in wedding invites. Their attention to detail helped ease our worry, and their choices for invites resonated with what we were looking for.
Part of a slow wedding means keeping it casual, which is how we found ourselves tasting cake next to bags of charcoal near the checkout counters at Oliver’s Market in west Santa Rosa. A little gawking from curious shoppers didn’t bother us, though; we were too busy cramming our face with chocolate ganache and lemony frostings in the process of assembling our wedding cake. It tasted amazing, and I love telling people that the best cake I’ve ever had came from a local grocery store.
Another personal recommendation was to visit
ER Sawyer Jewelers in downtown Santa Rosa, and let me tell you, make friends with your jeweler. As a guy who’s never worn any jewelry, I can easily say I was out of my element walking in there, but the guidance from sales associate Leslie Griswold set me at ease. On top of that, her enthusiasm was genuine—she even bought us a wedding gift.
It’s also important to make friends with your photographer. We met Sonoma County photographer Maria Villano, who works primarily with families and wedding parties, through my wife’s work colleague. Villano’s personal mantra includes making friends over business contacts, and right off the bat we were on friendly terms, spending more time getting to know each other than talking shop.
When the big day came, Villano was the perfect photographer, instinctually capturing all the intimate and unexpected moments along with the formal poses. During our “romantic” photo shoot, we stumbled upon a grove next to the church where we were married and Villano deftly photographed us looking lovingly into each others eyes while also discreetly cropping out the small hobo camp that had appeared the night before under the shady trees.
The best part about planning a wedding is all of the free, unsolicited advice you get. The secret is to listen to it. And to listen to your friends when they offer to help. In our case, we put together “save the date” cards with a friend who works as a graphic designer. We got fresh, in-season flowers from a family friend who owns a house-painting business and also happens to create gorgeous corsages in her spare time, and we nibbled on appetizers at the reception, courtesy of chef, author and friend Michele Anna Jordan.
The final aspect of our slow wedding was thinking green. It’s easy to reduce your wedding’s carbon footprint by simply keeping the ceremony local or where most guests already live, using all compostable tableware for the reception and recycled paper for everything from invites to programs. Lastly, make sure you get the leftovers, and see that they don’t go to waste.
Two weeks after the wedding, my most prevailing memories are how much support I felt from the local community vendors we worked with, and how easy it was to go slow in creating our fun, warm and welcoming wedding. I’d almost do it again.