Real Wedding: A Love Affair in Wine Country

Tracy and Jason, 2nd August, Churchill Manor, Napa, California


How did your fairytale begin?

Jason and I met in 2005 in a local wine-bar. We didn’t start dating until a few months later, but soon afterwards we had agreed to go travelling together and booked ourselves round the world tickets… He was stuck with me for the next 6 months, whether he wanted to be or not!


Tell us about Jason’s Prince Charming moment.

Friends had me convinced that Jason was going to propose whilst we were away for a long weekend on my birthday. He had been leaving me clues about my present that made us all believe it was something small and sparkly and ring-shaped… it wasn’t. And he didn’t. So the hints continued to be dropped for another month until one evening when we went out for dinner at our local Italian. We had been discussing our next trip to visit family in the states. Completely out of the blue, Jason suggested that whilst we were out there we should get married. Just like that; no bent knee, no ring, no big romantic speeches (which I’m actually quite glad about, since we were in a public setting!) I think he surprised himself as much as he had surprised me. I had to check quite a few times that he hadn’t made a mistake and then we ordered a bottle of champagne to celebrate.


Rags or riches?

Probably somewhere in-between. I DIYed most of the stationary and decor and getting married abroad actually saved us money rather than becoming an additional cost. It also helped holding the ceremony and reception in one venue as it meant we didn’t need transport to or from the wedding. An intimate ceremony meant we can spend more on each guest without going over-budget too.

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How would you describe your wedding?

To us, it felt like a whirlwind. Our wedding was a delightful day with family and friends, full of wonderful moments shared with each other. It was a day to spoil ourselves silly!


Was there a theme of colour palette?

I’m a girly girl, so love a bit of pink. We also incorporated shades of brown to compliment the stunning manor that we had found. We didn’t really have a theme, but tried to bring in elements of the beautiful wine country that we were surrounded by. Our tables were named after grape varieties and we used vines on our invitations.


How did you choose your venue?

We knew we wanted a sunny day, so Napa in August was worth placing a bet on. Originally we wanted a vineyard for our intimate ceremony, but most of the venues we came across were either too big, too small or too expensive. Once we’d found Churchill Manor we knew it had to be. Being able to book the entire venue for just ourselves and our guests really appealed and Joanne and her team seemed so hospitable and experienced, we knew we were going to feel relaxed and happy there.

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Tell us about your bridal style.

I wanted sparkly, but not dazzling. I think I was much more of a classic bride than boho. Despite wanting to be a bride for ages before we got engaged, I’d never really thought too much about my dress. Actually, I bought my shoes before my dress: A beautiful pair of peep-toe stilettos with a t-bar and leather soles by Bourne. I had seen them in a magazine and thought they were perfect, but then struggled to find them in stock anywhere. Fortunately, Vivienne from Sophie Louise was able to put a pair aside for me. I tried on so many stunning dresses, though my dwarf frame tended to get swamped by the very princessy and very embellished gowns. My dream dress came from Benjamin Roberts Tia collection and was a simple fishtail gown with a dropped waist and layer upon layer of super-soft tulle. I loved it!


…And the rest of your bridal party?

Being an intimate event, I only had one bridesmaid, my lovely friend Caroline who I’ve known since school. She had moved to New York, so we only had one day to go dress shopping together when she was back visiting the UK. I think we must have ventured into nearly every dress shop in the west-end, We finally found a gorgeous pale pink number in Mango that we nicknamed the shower cap dress because the ruffles reminded us of one. Jason’s suit was by Ted Baker. He likes to look sharp, but isn’t a fan of formal. He chose a smart suit that he could wear again and would feel relaxed and comfortable in on the big day. The three-piece was grey with a slight shimmer to it, which made him stand out as the groom. I’m biased of course, but he looked hot! I was so proud to be marrying him.

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Were you buyers or DIYers?

Mostly DIYers. The beauty of a small ceremony with fewer guests was that we were able to make all of the invitations by hand. I also made personalised favours, menus, place cards and lots of bunting. Fortunately, the manor house was beautiful. Inside were various antiques as well as a gorgeous grand piano. Most of our day took place outside in the garden. We were surrounded by roses and were married in front of the fountain, with the house as the backdrop. There was beauty all around us, we really didn’t need to do too much to enhance it.


What did your guests nibble or feast on?

Catering was supplied by Brian and his team from Churchill Manor. It was delicious and no one went hungry. Our guests could choose between salmon in a pinot noir sauce, or chicken roulade with spinach, pine nuts and brie filled polenta. The most memorable dish for me though, were the oysters Rockefeller that we had passed round after the ceremony. I’d never tried an oyster before – I thought they’d be too slimy – but these ones had been sauteed with spinach and Parmesan cheese, so I figured they’d be ok… My wedding day will likely be the only time I ever try an oyster!


…And the cake?

Jason and I aren’t whopper cake fans and we had no desire to do the traditional cake cutting and feed your partner dance that many brides do, so we opted for cupcakes that could double as desert. We had heard good things about Sift Desert Bar in Napa, so on the morning of the wedding the men nipped over to collect our cupcake order. We had chosen 3 flavours: All for the Cookie, Berry Good Cheesecake and my favourite, Pink Champagne.

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Tell us about the entertainment.

Krista Strader played the harp as our guests arrived and during the ceremony. She is very talented and has an extensive repertoire. We knew we wanted some classical pieces prior to to the ceremony followed by some contemporary songs after and Krista was happy to do both. In the evening we booked a pianist and singer. I was a bit disappointed because the singer failed to sing as he was a bit hoarse. Fortunately, we all made up for it and had our own sing-song around the grand piano once he had left. The piano really brought all of our family and friends together, though we probably weren’t as tuneful as we thought we were being at the time!


Who captured your wedding day memories?

Marrying abroad obviously makes it trickier to meet each vendor before the event, so we were really lucky to have Kim Salvato recommended to us. Kim was the best friend to my bridesmaid’s sister-in-law (who happened to do our make-up) and she lived in the Bay area so it was perfect. The vibe in the bridal suite as we were getting ready was fantastic and Kim had a brilliant balance between being part of our wedding without being too intrusive. I loved that she was able to capture so many natural moments that will always trigger fond memories of our special day.


How did you personalise your special day?

We attached a personalised message to all of our guests’ favours as we wanted to thank everyone for travelling so far. I had handmade all of the stationary myself including our guestbook. As Jason and I loved travelling, we had collected postcards from around Napa Valley and asked guests to choose one before popping it into an envelope inside our guestbook. When we got home, we really enjoyed sitting down together and opening each envelope to see whom had written what. Sadly, my mum was unable to be with us on the day, but I had borrowed her ballerina brooch and secured it to my bouquet along with a diamante bracelet that had belonged to my grandma.


What was the highlight of your day?

There were so many! I loved stepping into my dress and having my hair (Stella Stevens) and makeup professionally done and stealing my first glance of Jason in his suit was amazing too. I remember feeling really happy that I didn’t blub my way through the ceremony, but I suppose one of the highlights had to be hearing my brother relay a speech that my dad had written in his absence. We had just finished the wedding breakfast and were thanking our guests for sharing our special day with us when my brother suddenly stood up and surprised me. I knew my parents couldn’t be with us that day, but hearing how proud they were, even from afar, was a little overwhelming – thank-you waterproof mascara!


Your parting words of wisdom to other brides…

Make sure you spend at least part of your day together. Try to take a moment for just the two of you. I remember standing at the fountain, holding Jason’s hands and feeling the sun beam down onto my shoulder. At that moment it felt like it was just the two of us, despite us being the focal point for our friends and family. I’ll always treasure that memory. Oh and ‘the kiss’ should last for 4 seconds – any less time and it’s too much of a peck and any more and it’s just uncomfortable – our Reverend, Tim Mills, taught us that.

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