The wedding ceremony usually takes the spotlight, but as any betrothed couple knows, the rehearsal dinner is where it first begins to shine. That can mean two opportunities for splendor, actually, with Sonoma County restaurants ready to make that first-time official gathering of friends and family nearly as remarkable as the big day.
Don’t feel the need to follow the rules, either. Stuffy ballrooms or stodgy banquet spaces are out. Why not stage the celebration in a café art studio, beer garden, or in a bakery? With that last, you might taste your cake, and then eat it too (at your reception the next day). Need help planning your Sonoma Wine Country wedding? Request free wedding assistance here.
Chef Ryan Fancher works his art in a Wine Country-perfect setting, housed in a mahogany barn with pitchforks on the walls and a neighboring garden, next door to Barndiva owner Jil Hales's art gallery, Barndiva Gallery + Bistro. Each space is open for your rehearsal, for as elaborate as cocktails and hors d'oeuvres followed by plated seated dinner service and late night dancing. You can even book a single garden for a smaller party beneath heritage trees, or guide your guests through multiple dining rooms and lounges over the course of a dynamic evening.
Whatever you choose, you can select from sumptuous menus built with local ingredients from Bellwether Farms, Early Bird's Place, Mix Garden, The Patch, Preston of Dry Creek, and more, for mouthwatering dishes like cauliflower soup with caramelized florets, raisin, fried caper, toasted almond and sage; and sautéed Pacific swordfish with fregola sarda, green goddess, cracked crab, olive, and tomato confit. Details: 231 Center St., Healdsburg, 707-431-0100
Setting up a rehearsal dinner is as simple as filling out the restaurant’s online large party inquiry form. Groups of 10-plus can enjoy a fixed menu in the quaint farmhouse dining room, or on the patio surrounded by sculpture gardens near the culinary farm and vineyard. That might mean dishes like housemade burrata, rabbit bratwurst over toasted farro with cider braised greens, and the signature wine barrel-smoked Wagyu beef rib-eye drizzled in Zinfandel sauce. Certainly add in guided tastings of the RRV wines for a great interactive experience with your guests and the winemaker. Details: 5700 Highway 116 N., Forestville, 707-887-2300
Built in 1903 and previously used as a railroad powerhouse and a farmhouse, this rustic stone-and-timber tavern provides a fun and relaxed brew pub setting for your rehearsal dinner. The indoor dining room provides a warm and welcoming atmosphere for smaller groups. The outdoor beer garden, complete with fountains and a fire pit, allows up to 225 guests and can be a blast on sunny days or warm summer nights. (It’s also good in the winter months, when it’s professionally tented and heated.) The onsite event planner can assist with all the details. Hopmonk features a full bar with craft beer, local wine, and premium spirits; an outdoor stage; and audio visual equipment. Details: 230 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol, 707-829-7300
At the Vintners Inn Event Center in Santa Rosa, guests are welcomed by a stunning, 35-foot tall, European-style structure of natural stone, set in a fountain courtyard framed by manicured gardens and flowers. There are other beautiful venues on the sprawling property, too, such as a vineyard gazebo, the John Ash & Co. restaurant, and intimate courtyard or terrace spaces. Any or all make a memorable rehearsal dinner space, for small groups, meetings with up to 300, and receptions for up to 500 guests. Custom menus from chef Thomas Schmidt reflect his passion for authentic Sonoma County wine country cuisine, with delights procured from more than 30 Sonoma County farmers and food producers, plus the restaurant’s own on-site fruit, vegetable, and herb gardens. Seasonal bites might include roasted spring asparagus with poached farm egg, pancetta and crispy shallots in truffle honey vinaigrette; and Petaluma Poultry Rocky boneless chicken griddled under a brick then plated with creamed corn and leeks, la ratte potatoes and Hobbs’ bacon. Details: 4350 Barnes Road, Santa Rosa, 707-566-2604
Put a regional Italian twist on the festivities with the grand old historic Marshall House Victorian mansion in old town Santa Rosa. Owners and husband-and-wife Marco Diana and Karin Hoehne uses recipes drawing from Milano in the north to Sicily in the south, for dishes like seared ahi with home-made ravioli in almond sauce; Sardinian semolina gnocchi with porcini and slowly braised beef; or roasted breast of duck served with sautéed spinach and fingerling potatoes. Enjoy al fresco flair on the porch overlooking the fountain garden framed in flowering trees, and larger parties are welcome to take over the entire restaurant space. Details: 835 2nd Street, Santa Rosa, 707-542-5800
With the opening of the new patio in 2014, parties can be as glamorous as anyone could dream, sparked with elaborate décor like the circular floor done in an elaborate swirl of Italian, black-and-white checkerboard marble. The space includes a brand new garden, outdoor bar, and separate restroom building, and plenty of room for dancing, live music, and picture perfect Wine Country photo backdrops.
The patio alone spans 3,500 square feet and holds up to 150 people; the adjacent garden spans another 3,500 square feet, with gravel paths framed by flowers, bushes and trees. Add in delicious history, too, since the Catelli family has owned the property for nearly 80 years, and still draws raves for their luscious, authentic, Italian dishes like hearty minestrone, baby beet salad with prosciutto, and wild mushroom lasagna. Details: 21047 Geyserville Avenue, Geyserville, 707-857-3471
A Healdsburg institution since 1923, the European-style bakery specializes in sourdough, rustic batards, and sweet French bread, plus crunchy-crust ciabatta, multigrain loaves fermented with a touch of molasses, and many other recipes that take 24 to 48 hours to craft. Many people eat the bread plain or simply smeared with creamery butter, but you can also get the slices as sandwiches, like salami, sun-dried tomato, goat cheese, and aioli. Yet did you know that the lovely French-décor shop welcomes up to 200 guests for stand-up evening events on the open-air patio, 80 friends for custom sit down dinners, and varying numbers for intimate cocktail parties and small private meetings?
You might want a full meal of appetizers and hors d’oeuvres, salads, and entrées, or perhaps casual sandwich platters and buffet items. It’s all mouthwatering, with signatures like fromage and fruit, salumi baguettes, and deep-dish quiche. Don’t miss the gorgeous sweets, either – graceful fondant cakes finished in buttercream swirls and chocolate flowers, seasonal fruit tarts, gooey éclairs, cookies, and house-made candies. Details: 417 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-433-1913
Planning a wedding?
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Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet.