Wine Country wedding sector pivots to small ceremonies, livestreaming nuptials
Marina Kagawa and Stephen Kleshinski were determined to have their wedding this spring, the season marking nine years together as a couple. So once it became clear they would have to cancel their planned nuptials at the Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma due to the coronavirus pandemic, they decided to hold a last-minute ceremony at their home in the East Bay city of Fremont.
Only the couple’s immediate family, an officiant and a small camera crew were on hand for the backyard wedding on a sunny afternoon in late May. Another 125 guests attended the ceremony virtually via Zoom, dialing in from as far as South Korea and Germany.
“It was a wonderful time,” Kagawa said. “The response from everyone was how personable it still was and that it felt like they were still at our wedding.”
The countywide halting of large events and gatherings to curb the spread of the virus has forced thousands of couples to cancel or postpone their Sonoma County spring and summer weddings. That has crippled the once-booming local wedding sector, which last year hosted over 3,300 events totaling an estimated $114 million in revenue, according to the Wedding Report, an Arizona-based market research firm.
In June, the state and county health departments officially cleared the way for scaled-back marriage ceremonies like Kagawa’s and Kleshinski’s to resume. In turn, some in the Wine Country wedding industry are aiming to rebound from a three-month shutdown by pivoting to small, socially distant ceremonies.
Maryssa Souza, owner Save The Date Weddings and Events in Sonoma, has had to postpone roughly half of the 50 or so weddings she had on the books for spring and summer to next year. For couples who decide they’d still like to get married this year, she’s offering a $5,000 “modest minimony” package for ceremonies of 25 guests or fewer.
The deal includes a florist, photographer, and DJ to play music during the ceremony, as well as the option to livestream the event to family and friends who are unable to attend.
“We’re trying to make it a fun thing for our couples,” Souza said. “It’s so stressful having to postpone and replan everything, and if we have this package already structured, it’s so much easier for them to hop on board and let us do the rest.”
The county’s revised public health emergency order, which aligns with the state guidance for religious services and cultural ceremonies, allows for both indoor and outdoor wedding ceremonies, as long as attendees follow physical distancing and hygiene requirements and wear face coverings at all times.
Indoor weddings must be limited to 25% capacity of the venue or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower. There is no set attendance limit for outdoor weddings, which can be held at any public or private setting, but guests from different households must keep at least 6 feet apart.
While wedding ceremonies are allowed, receptions, parties or post-ceremony gatherings of any size are prohibited. Food and drink services also are not allowed, and only vendors that are “necessary to the ceremony” can be on hand during weddings, according to county health officials.
County health officials gave the go-ahead last month for nuptials even though COVID-19 cases were on the rise, and have not retreated despite a sharp case spike the past two weeks.
In an email, county health department spokesperson Rohish Lal said couples should keep the number of wedding attendees as small as possible, and ceremonies as short as possible, to guard against spreading the virus.
To help keep everyone safe during her weddings, Souza has ordered custom-colored face masks for guests.
“If someone is wearing a green mask, that means it’s OK to approach the person and have a conversation,” she said. “If it’s a yellow mask, then they’re being cautious, and if you’re wearing a red mask, it’s a ’please stay away’ situation.”
Souza said she plans to hold outdoor ceremonies at private homes and at two local venues, including the Gloria Ferrer Winery in Sonoma, which opened its tasting room at 25% capacity last month.
Colleen Patten, private events manager at the winery, said she will start by limiting events to just 10 attendees.
“Right now, we’re being very conservative with those parameters,” Patten said. “My plan is to be prepared for all different phases (of reopening).”
Samar Hattar, a wedding planner and owner of Petaluma’s Blissful Events, has two socially distant weddings in the works, including a virtual ceremony and reception with no guests. The livestreamed reception will include music for a remote dance party, instructions for guests to prepare a cocktail at home and a virtual photo booth where they can snap selfies with their phone or laptop.