A Toast to Vineyard Wedding: Harvest the Charm and Beauty of Wisconsin’s Wineries
Exclusive wines, romantic hillsides painted with linear rows of grapevines, and architecture with old-world charm—couples don’t need to trek all the way to Sonoma or Tuscany to have their dream vineyard wedding. The romance of a destination wedding can be found right at home at one of Wisconsin’s many vineyard wedding venues.
When Erika Hitchcock and Steve Ferraro tied the knot on September 20, their outdoor ceremony was held amidst a backdrop of green rows of grapes at Villa Bellezza Winery and Vineyards in Pepin, Wisconsin. The winery’s Tuscan-style architecture comprised of stucco, stone, and clay tile roofs made an ideal wedding location for the couple, who had one of their first dates at a wine tasting event. “It does not feel like you’re in Wisconsin,” the bride said of her wedding venue. Guests wondered why the couple chose Pepin, a town neither Erika nor her husband are from. “Then they got there and realized why,” she said of the picturesque Villa Bellezza grounds and the region’s gorgeous Mississippi River views with eagles soaring over the bluffs.
About an hour east of Villa Bellezza is another of Wisconsin’s winery wedding destinations. Bob and Connie Dubiel run Sandstone Ridge Vineyard and Winery, a 100-acre property high up on a ridge overlooking their flourishing vineyard. “It was always our dream to own a Wisconsin winery,” Bob Dubiel says. They found the perfect location in Osseo, its sandy, light soil ideal for growing grapes. Sandstone Ridge is willing to support a wedding any time throughout the year, but July and August are especially good for outdoor weddings as they tend to be drier. Sandstone Ridge is also quite popular in autumn. “Who wouldn’t want to be outside in those months?” Dubiel says. “There are changing colors and the grapes are ripening.”
Choosing an outdoor venue, such as a vineyard for a wedding, comes with logistical considerations. Most vineyards, Sandstone Ridge included, do not offer catering or tent rentals onsite and will refer couples to local vendors. Yet these venues often can offer couples flexibility and options for customizing their day that they may not get elsewhere. The Dubiels know that every wedding is unique, and they are committed to working with the needs of each couple. “We tell couples, ‘Here’s our property—how can we use that to meet the idea of your perfect day?’
That customization can also extend to incorporating the theme throughout the décor and wedding day activities. At Sandstone Ridge, the Dubiels will let clients use their table grapes and grape leaves as décor. Guests can also opt to participate in winery activities. “We have [wedding] customers who get into the idea of a grape stomp,” Dubiel elaborated. One memorable wedding party participated in the stomp in their formal wear. “It was risky, but they were able to do it without getting it on their dresses and they had a good laugh out of it.”
That couple was Ashley and Matthew Smith, who were married at Sandstone Ridge September 14, 2013. Ashley Smith notes that many of their guests weren’t wine drinkers or were unfamiliar with Wisconsin wineries, so the experience of watching the grape stomp and tasting the wines and grapes was especially unique. “It’s something we think about being a California thing, but it can be experienced right here in Wisconsin,” Smith says. She chose wine-themed wedding invitations and centerpieces too. “If you’re going to do a winery wedding, why not go all out, right?” Erika Hitchcock also extended the vineyard theme down to the tiniest details of her wedding. The craft lover made wine charms for each guest with their name on it. She also created a card box out of wine corks. “It was a Pinterest idea, but I think ours turned out way better.”
According to wedding planner Marsha VanArk of Distinctly Yours Wedding and Event Planning in Stevens Point, the natural setting and old-world ambience of a vineyard is an ideal backdrop for what she calls the “rustic chic” wedding trend that is wildly popular. She’s helped couples accessorize with vintage place settings and antique decorations. Others like the contrast of rustic surroundings with upscale linens, china, and silver.
VanArk emphasizes the need for a contingency plan for any outdoor wedding. “Because we’re in Wisconsin, you’ll always need a plan B. It’s my job to always think about what the backup plan might be.” Usually that involves renting tents from an outside vendor and communicating with the venue to solidify what will happen in the case of rain. At Munson Bridge Winery, owner Sheri Rohland says that the landscaped outdoor gardens are most couples’ first choice, but they have the option of using the loft of a remodeled dairy barn in the case of rain. Rohland describes the loft as “shabby chic, country elegant.” Also available for weddings at Munson Bridge Winery: a 140-foot tent that stays up through the wedding season. Fourteen different chandeliers illuminate the tent, and windows line each wall. “Even on a rainy day, it’s still pretty,” Rohland says. This year, twenty-four couples have said “I do” on the property, some coming from out-of-state locations such as Minneapolis and Chicago in search of rustic, old-world winery elegance.
Dubiel thinks that the typical vineyard wedding couple has a love for the outdoors and is drawn to the agricultural aspect of grape growing. “We want couples who really love the experience of being in a vineyard,” Dubiel says. “The couples who enjoy our site the most are the ones who have a passion for wine and grapes like we do.”
Worried about whether the flower girl and other underage guests will be allowed on site? Although the official winery premise is restricted to those above age twenty-one, most vineyards provide private wedding space that is open to all ages. Winery venues usually do require only their own wine to be served at events. “We didn’t mind because we loved it,” explains Hitchcock. So did their guests. “We bought a ton of cases of beer and expected to have too much wine. We have a ton of beer in our garage now—even his uncles who aren’t wine drinkers were drinking [wine].” Dubiel explains that at Sandstone Ridge they will also supply other alcohol not made on premises, such as champagne, the same way a country club would.
According to the Wisconsin Winery Association, historically only fruit wines such as apple and strawberry were produced in Wisconsin. Some wineries, including Munson Bridge, continue that tradition—in addition to fruit and berry wines, Munson Bridge is one of the only wineries in the country to make maple syrup wine! But in the last twenty years, vineyard agriculture has blossomed in our state due to the development of grapes varieties able to withstand cold winter temperatures. Wisconsin’s accelerated vineyard growth within the last five to ten years has led to the state’s ranking as one of the nation’s emerging winery regions. Wisconsin is home to around 100 functioning wineries. Anna Maenner, executive director, estimates that most have facilities that can be used for small wedding-related functions such as bachelorette parties and groom’s dinners, with a smaller number of wineries equipped to host full weddings. The Wisconsin Winery Association will offer any interested bride who contacts them a free brochure on vineyard weddings resources.
“Everyone had so much fun,” Hitchcock says of her vineyard wedding. “You couldn’t really ask for much more.”