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A New Idea for Intimate Wedding Reception

A highlight of any Sonoma County wedding is the food and wine. But with small weddings being more popular these days, it can be harder to find a top-notch caterer for an intimate group. A wedding party of ten, for example, might not have many options, or might end up paying an arm-and-a-leg for an elegant meal.

So think outside the box. With more and more wineries offering elaborate food pairings for small groups, a “reception” might actually be a wonderful winery feast before or after the ceremony, or even the following day.

Consider the “Small Bites Experience” at Paul Hobbs Winery in Sebastopol. A recent tour and tasting left my group of friends marveling at the talent of the kitchen, and feeling like we were enjoying our own private party.

Offered by appointment on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1 p.m., the adventure last two-plus hours, beginning with a private tour of the architecturally stunning library rooms, winery, and vineyards. The first crush was hosted here in 2003, but the property still feels cutting edge, with streamlined, barn chateau ambience.

The hospitality center, The Lindsay House, opened in 2006 as a modern, concrete and stone crafted showpiece, boasting an art gallery interior of abstract canvases, and warmed with fireplaces and soft gray-green, wood and caramel color furniture. It was designed by wine country architect extraordinaire Howard Backen, and wears its pedigree proudly.

Grapes growing on overhead trellises mark the entrance and path to the patio, leading to more grapevines hard at work developing their precious fruit in the vineyards spanning across the hillside and into the valley.

After learning about the winemaking process in the tank room – aged in French oak, bottled unfined and unfiltered for pure flavors – we settled at the long communal table in the sunny dining room. Another option is relaxing on the patio next to the pizza ovens, which is lovely, but a more formal gathering like a wedding group, the dining room adds that extra glamour.

Chef Anne Sibbaluca draws on the freshest and best of the season for paired menus. And though the experience is titled “small bites,” these are full size plates, for a filling meal. With at least three courses and eight or more wines, at $100 a person, it rivals a fine restaurant.

We began with baked Alaskan halibut, set on a pond of parsnip puree with saffron sauce and watercress, and paired with 2012 Russian River Valley Chardonnay plus 2012 Ellen Lane Vineyard Chardonnay.

Next was slow roasted Berkshire pork shoulder with figs, shaved fennel, roasted bell pepper salad, watercress and Pinot Noir reduction, alongside 2012 CrossBarn Pinot Noir, 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, and 2011 Hyde Vineyard Pinot Noir.

Then, it was on to West Sonoma rack of lamb with farmers’ market beets, herbed crème fraiche, micro mustard and heirloom fingerling potato, paired with 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 Las Piedras Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, and a 2010 Cobos Malbec from Hobbs’ vineyards in Mendoza.

Assorted confections are very nice, but for a wedding-centric dessert, this could be the time to bring out the wedding cake. Or, if that’s already been presented at the wedding, cupcakes would be fun.

As a party favor and thank you to the bridal party, a parting gift of Paul Hobbs wine would be just the ticket, too.

For extra convenience, the rural Sebastopol location of the winery lends itself to just a short drive to nearby lodging. Avalon Bed & Breakfast is a sophisticated choice, of a brick Tudor chateau nestled in a redwood forest, outfitted with luxury décor and amenities like massage, afternoon tea and cookies on the sun deck, a complimentary wine hour, and a gourmet three-course breakfast that changes daily.

Another option is Applewood Inn just a few minutes away in Guerneville. This is quiet, pure Wine Country luxury, in a magical retreat amid fruit orchards and redwoods. Amenities include a new spa, the acclaimed Applewood restaurant, and a secret wine cellar.

Details: Paul Hobbs Winery, 3355 Gravenstein Hwy. North, Sebastopol

Planning a wedding? Get free wedding assistance from Sonoma County Tourism here.


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