Weddings in Napa Valley – Locking in the Love

weddings wp

by Lisa Adams Walter

With Valentine’s Day on the calendar later in the month, February has traditionally become associated with romance and love. The three hundred sixty degree outdoor beauty, pleasant weather for the majority of the year, countless picturesque vistas, many traditional churches, several vineyard settings, and the fame for generous hospitality and romantic escapes…have naturally made the Napa Valley a prime location for the most “love-filled” days of all time: weddings.

Those with a unique perspective of the wedding experience include officiants who marry couples. Current trends reveal that wedding officiants vary widely. Many are religious or spiritual, while many are not. Close friends and relatives are increasingly popular to serve as an officiant for brides and grooms.

Wedding officiants in Napa typically marry people from outside the region, as destination weddings represent another trend that has long been on the rise. Those that have married locals usually know
the couple in some other capacity outside of the wedding.

Pastor Todd Bertani, a Lutheran pastor who performs anywhere from five to ten weddings a year, enjoys the experience of officiating. “I have done a few for local couples, but the majority are from out of state. I have done some for couples from San Francisco, but they are in the minority and usually are transplants from somewhere else. The local couples I have married in the Napa Valley have for the most part been done in the backyard of someone’s home.”

Napa City Councilmember, and former Napa City Firefighter, Scott Sedgley is a lifelong Napan who has officiated at several weddings at the request of several local brides, all of whom were friends of his grown children. “I believe firefighters have earned a position of trust in their communities, and as such are often asked do things and help friends,” said Sedgley.

Isn’t It Romantic?

Of the most romantic weddings in which Bertani participated, he notes was at Napa’s Andretti Winery, “It was a very private wedding of about six people not including the couple. They had been together for about five years, had gone through many ups and downs, and in fact right before they traveled from Florida to come to Napa for the wedding, the groom was in a serious car accident. He somehow decided rather than canceling the trip, to go ahead and follow through with the plans.” Bertani recalls that the beautiful location and the fact that the entire wedding guest list included only their mothers and few others made it a very romantic and meaningful wedding.

Local wine industry veteran, Tim McDonald, has been officiating weddings, mostly for people that he knew prior, for years. With more than twenty weddings on his roster, McDonald has officiated in the Napa Valley, as well as other locations such as Mexico, Laguna Beach, Milwaukee and Salzburg, Austria.

The most romantic wedding that McDonald immediately references was his experience marrying Tony and LeighAnn Torres at Trinchero, the groom’s family winery in St. Helena. “It was the most romantic and special ceremony I’ve performed.”

“I believe it is who is present, genuine love and the appreciation of being part of something that has so much potential that makes a wedding romantic,” added Sedgley.

Location, Location, Location

Bertani credits the local aesthetics for heightening an already glorious occasion, “There are so many amazing places to get married in Napa. Whether a winery, an inn or in a hot air balloon over Calistoga, the setting is breathtaking. Whether it’s in a vineyard or in a forest heading toward the hills…it’s just God’s country.”

McDonald cites the gardens at Beaulieu Vineyards as one of his favorite wedding spots, yet the natural features of the setting stand out, “Napa for me is simply perfect. With its stunning beauty, especially the sunsets, and then moon later if you’re lucky.”

For the local brides, Sedgley states that, “Growing up in Napa, the brides appreciate the natural beauty and small town atmosphere of their home town.”

Why Lock In the Love

February and weddings, are all about the love. McDonald serves as an officiant for very personal reasons. For him it’s not religious, it is a meaningful role that is fun for the couple and fun for him too.

For Bertani, as a member of the clergy, there are larger reasons for ministering to a couple uniting their life, “I have done a handful of weddings for same sex couples. Those have been especially poignant due to the pain and struggle that goes along with fighting against the current of homophobia, still so prevalent in our society, and believing so strongly in their love for one another that they go forward with their love. That to them is a blessing.”

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The Iconic Greystone Cellars

Greystone Campus

By Rebecca Yerger

Envisioned by William Bowers Bourn, Jr., the son of an Irishman, the visually impressive Greystone Cellars is the perfect historical subject for the month of March; the time to celebrate all things Irish.

With its solid, native-stone edifice rising from its terraced hillside site, Greystone has commanded notice and attention since its 1887 construction. While being physically solid, stately, and even formidable, Greenstone’s history has changed over time due to the influences of socio-economic changes.

Greystone began as a brain-child, business concept of William Bowers Bourn, Jr. who was the son of the late William Bowers Bourn, Sr. The elder Bourn had amassed a great fortune from his shipping company partnerships, and especially from his Empire Gold Mine during the mid-1800s. While both Bourns had many business interests and residences throughout California, they had strong ties to Napa County, and especially to St. Helena where Bourn, Jr. spent the summers of his youth.

Although an heir to his father’s estate, Bourn, Jr. was a savvy businessman in his own right and created an even greater financial dynasty. This entrepreneurial aptitude helped him recognize the opportunity and potential of a facility such as Greystone.

The genesis of Greystone was Bourn Jr.’s response to the autocratic, price-fixing conspiracies found throughout the Bay Area wine mercantiles. By imposing those unfair practices, wine dealers forced local grape growers and winemakers to take below-market prices for their commodities.

As a remedy to those underhanded tactics, the Greystone concept included creating a cooperative. In addition to building the one-million gallon winery, terms and options were drafted for those wanting to conduct their business with proposed Greystone. First off, it was emphatically stated, “NO Malvoisie, Mission, inferior grapes or grapes in bad condition will be received for winemaking.” As for the options, they were: 1) Greystone would produce wine, on shares, from anyone’s grapes, plus store the wine separately. 2) That wine, or any wine stored at Greystone, would be held until the highest price could be secured. Then, following the sale, the wine owner would be paid his share of the profits. 3) Any grower could sell their quality grapes directly to Greystone.

Bourn, Jr. began his Greystone campaign by first forging a business partnership with another young businessman, Everett Wise. Both of these men were in their early 30s. The next step was to find and/or rally support for the cooperative within the Napa County wine industry. To that end, Bourn, Jr. met with Henry Pellet, president of the St. Helena Vinicultural Club before meeting with the general membership. Pellet fully endorsed the idea and strongly encouraged his fellow associates to do the same.

After successfully gaining the backing of the local wine industry, Bourn, Jr. and Wise hired the San Francisco architectural firm of Percy and Hamilton to design Greystone Cellars. Some individuals believe Greystone was designed to resemble a castle in Ireland.

The final plans called for the use of cutting-edge materials and technology of that era, such as the brand-new, Portland cement. During the construction, that cement was used as mortar, as well as poured over the iron reinforcing rods built within the first and second floor elevations. The heavy timber construction of the third floor provided structural support for not only that floor’s cask, barrel and bottle aging space but also for the gravity-flow crushing area located within the floor above.

As for technology, Greystone was the first California winery to be operated and illuminated by electricity. A boiler and gas generator, located in a mechanical room below the central front wing of the building, produced the electricity. Another accolade garnered by Greystone was due to its massive dimensions. Greystone Cellars was the largest winery in California.

All that grandeur and state-of-the-art design came with an equally grand price tag, $250,000. That figure was an exorbitant amount of money in the late 19th century, even for the ultra-wealthy.

Then, within less than a decade of its completion, Greystone began its succession of property owners. By 1894, it was owned by Charles Carpy, and became the trademark for the CWA – California Wine Association. By late 1924, CWA had removed all of the 200,000 gallons of wine stored at Greystone. A year later the Bisceglia brothers of San Jose purchased Greystone, where they produced sacramental wines until 1930. Following a three-year hiatus, the Bisceglias restored operations at Greystone in October 1933.

Christian Brothers entered the picture in 1945 when they signed a lease agreement for the cellar. Five years later they bought Greystone. Decades later, faced with declining market shares and vineyard yields, as well as the very costly prospect of seismically retrofitting Greystone, Christian Brothers winery was sold to the Hueblein Company of Canada in 1991. A year later they sold Greystone to the Culinary Institute of America for $1.68 million. In three short years, after opening in August 1995, Greystone had been retrofitted and remodeled into the western CIA campus.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, Greystone Cellars is now enjoying a renaissance in purpose and popularity. However, it still lives up to the sentiments expressed in a circa-1900, CWA brochure. “Whoever visits Napa Valley…must inevitably have his attention called to ‘Greystone,’ our magnificent stone cellar which is a landmark for miles around, and which, for centuries to come, will be an enduring monument to its builders and owners…” and community.

The Highly Spirited – Beringer Brothers Winery

The Highly Spirited – Beringer Brothers Winery

By Rebecca Yerger

The Rhine House 1884 WP

 

October is a very spirited month in Napa Valley and County as winemaking and ghost stories abound. One Napa Valley winery, well known for both, is Beringer Brothers Winery, with its iconic Rhine House, fine wines and, it is said, extraordinary paranormal activity.

Beringer Brothers, located near the northern edge of St. Helena, was founded in 1876 by its namesakes – Jacob and Frederick Beringer. Jacob was the visionary who made the wines and managed their winery. Jacob also supervised the construction of the winery buildings and wine-aging caves. The cornerstone for the first winery building was laid in March, 1877. A year later,  Chinese laborers began excavating the caves.

The first Beringer Winery ghost story involves those very caves and laborers. The late Kathleen Kernberger, a local historian and author, recounted the story told to her by her aunt, Virginia Hanrahan. She spoke of how, on windy nights, crying and sad moans would come from deep within the caves. According to Hanrahan, those sorrowful sounds were the wails of the ghosts of the Chinese laborers who had been entombed deep within the caves. That theory was dispelled when records proved that no laborers had been buried there.

Kernberger also explained the eerie sounds were created by strong winds forcing air through fissures in the rocks. Following the application of a spray-on, cement compound throughout the caves, those openings were sealed off, which silenced the chilling wails and moans. However, even after the caves had been coated with that compound, people continue to report feeling exceptionally cold spots in the caves, and hearing faint whispers of the long-since-gone Chinese laborers. Also, photographs of the caves frequently capture images of odd orbs of light.

Returning to Jacob and the creation of the iconic winery; he and his family lived in the L-shaped, wood-frame farmhouse, originally built around 1860 by David Hudson, an early Napa County pioneer settler. However, this residence, with its Greek Revival influenced architectural features of a low pitched, gable roof with a wide band of trim, front porch supported by prominent columns and overall symmetrical form was originally located about where the Rhine House stands today. The Hudson House was moved to its present location using logs placed under the house and rolling it into its current position.

Frederick, the financier and promoter of their winery, was accustomed to living in grand style. In 1883 he commissioned San Francisco architect, A. Schropfer to design his country wine-estate home which was to be built on the visually prominent site formerly occupied by the Hudson House. Frederick was very specific about its design. The future , three-story house was to be a replica of the brothers’ ancestral home located in the Mainz, Germany area.

According to its Historic Resources Inventory form, the Rhine House was, and is, “…a residence in the Chateau style…” The Rhine House possesses this style’s impressive visual mass and scale; steeply pitched, hipped roof with many vertical elements, such as shaped chimneys and roofline crest details; multiple dormers; stone walls; elaborate moldings, doorways and more. To enhance the authenticity of the Rhine House, many of its architectural elements were imported from Germany, including the interior moldings, stairs, mantles, flooring and art glass windows.

The Rhine House also features Stick, style elements which are clearly evident at the second floor level with its smooth exterior plaster walls, ornamented with decorative patterned boards, or “stickwork.” The Stick style also features steeply pitched, hipped roofs similar to the Chateau style found on the Rhine House.

Purportedly, the Rhine House also possesses considerable paranormal activity. In fact, the winery has an overflowing file, documenting numerous encounters.

For example, one evening, just after closing, two employees were cleaning up the downstairs of the Rhine House when all of a sudden a loud crash came from the upstairs, Founders’ tasting room. That room had been Frederick’s bedroom and the place where he died in 1901. The two employees each took a different staircase upstairs and did not pass any mortal on their way to the room. They entered the room to find a heavy silver tray had been thrown across the room, and broken stemware was strewn everywhere. Many attribute this occurrence to Frederick and his apparent disapproval of his private quarters being used as a public space.

While others have heard footfalls ascending the stairs when no other mortal was present, there have been even more unnerving encounters within the Rhine House that have profoundly frightened workers. After hours, the night crew thoroughly cleans the house. And, on numerous occasions, those workers have been startled, or worse, by the sight of Frederick walking through his Rhine House walls. In fact, one worker was so frightened by the sight he ran out of the Rhine house and has never returned to Beringer Brothers Winery.

Apparently, the iconic and architecturally grand Beringer Brothers Winery and its Rhine House offers mortals more than one kind of spirit to sample.