A wedding in Wine Country is every couple’s dream for good reason—there’s nothing like the picture-perfect backdrop of vineyards, great food and iconic wine to create an aura of romance. If you want to your special day to be something you’ll remember fondly, it’s important that you start off on the right foot by knowing your budget, understanding the impact of the dates you select, and connecting with the team at your venue of choice to ensure seamless logistics.

To help you start thinking about your Sonoma Valley wedding, we interviewed the Directors of Sales for three of the valley’s top wedding venues for advice. A special thanks to Joan Harvey of Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, Michael Wilson of MacArthur Place Hotel & Spa, and Xavier Bon of the Lodge at Sonoma. Hospitality is what they do best; and here are their top tips to consider before planning your big day.

Confirm your venue and dates early

Most weddings book a year in advance. Make sure to be clear on your dates, your timing, and your venue of choice. These days, with the backlog of weddings that were postponed, last-minute bookings are a thing of the past; look ahead and pick your dates early.

Signing a contract is a big financial responsibility, and you are responsible for all costs. Read the fine print. Get informed about taxes and service surcharges, and ask for an all-inclusive rate so that you know what the occupancy and tourism taxes will be included in the final balance of the bill. If you’re not factoring them in ahead of time, they can really throw your budget off track.

Michael Wilson also highly recommends looking at the published rates in advance of a sales call. “Hotels love to be accommodating, but we hate to have to justify our rates. When people understand the impact of their timing on cost and availability, it makes things so much easier and starts the relationship between the venue and the couple on the right note.”

Pick dates that correspond best with your budget

Know from the get-go that Saturdays are always the most expensive day of the week to plan a wedding, and especially between May and October. While Saturdays may be the most common day of the week to plan a wedding and are often convenient for many out-of-town guests, they also come at a more premium price.

Xavier Bon says, “Don’t rule out Fridays and Sundays—these are the best days to get the best pricing on rental fees.” Midweek and off-peak are always great times if you are on a budget. You can save thousands of dollars, depending on the type of event and venue for your wedding. And for those who are used to wintertime being cold, dreary and snowy, you’ll revel in the moderate temperatures and lush green landscapes of Sonoma Valley from December through April. Winter weddings offer a lot more choices, even if you catch an occasional rainy (and romantic) day.

Look for places to enjoy nature and year-round activities

To really enhance the experience of a destination wedding, Joan Harvey recommends picking a venue that offers a connection to the outdoors. Whether it’s an outdoor patio for the reception, a garden for taking pictures, or a vineyard for the cocktail hour, be sure to weave in the outdoor beauty of Sonoma into your special day.

Do your due diligence before touring the facility

Before calling up to inquire about availability and pricing, take the tip from the pros and do a little research on your own. Wedding planning websites like Wedding Wire or The Knot are great for comparison shopping between venues, and the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau website is a treasure trove of calendar events, venue information, and fun things to do. If you’re able, peek around the facility on your own anonymously, and take in the vibe before your scheduled tour.

Once you’ve done your research, you’ll be able to understand the nuances of dates and pricing, see what’s included and what’s extra, and prepare yourself for more specific questions. When you prepare well, you not only maximize your use of time but you also tell the sales and events teams that you’re serious. And when you’re serious, you’ll experience Sonoma Valley hospitality at its finest! Our hotels and inns are can be super creative collaborators when they see that you understand your budget and know what you want.

Consolidate your event into one location

Joan Harvey recommends trying to consolidate all the components of your event into one location. Not only does it make transportation easier for you and your guests, but it also gives you more buying power and the ability to get bundled pricing—food for thought, especially if you are interested in a Saturday wedding.

As part of your research, see what’s possible at your venue of choice. Can you have the ceremony and cocktail hour, too? Is there a place for the bride and/or groom to dress before the event? How about the rehearsal dinner the night before?

Don’t overextend yourself by blocking too many rooms

The temptation of any bride or groom is to book a room block with as many rooms as possible. While a nice service to your guests, not everyone will want the same experience for their stay, and the cost of the room may not fit into their budget. When you block a set of rooms, you become financially liable for those rooms, even if they don’t sell.

Xavier Bon cautions, “Don’t overextend yourself by reserving too many rooms since you may be on the hook for these. Most wedding groups tend to overestimate the number of rooms they really need—remember, some of your guests may choose not to stay for the weekend, or may be staying with friends or in a rental home.” Be conservative and block a few rooms out of courtesy for special family members and your wedding party, but don’t expect that it will work for them. And by all means, don’t get caught with a bigger bill than you need!

Streamline communication through email

When planning a wedding, it’s common to want to reach for the phone, make a quick call, and ask all the questions you have as they come up. But do yourself a favor, and organize your thoughts first. Michael Wilson explains that when you streamline communication through email, you create a paper trail for you and the hospitality team at your choice venue. This helps avoid miscommunication, ensures you get your response in a more efficient window of time, and signals to the venue that you are professional about this important business transaction.

When a wedding venue sees that you’re serious, they will treat you accordingly. Who doesn’t want better service? As your big day approaches and the last-minute questions invariably come up, you’ll be grateful to have a record of all the important communications between you and the venue.

Assume best intentions

Hospitality is what Sonoma Valley does best. With a county full of seasoned hospitality professionals and warm, friendly service, we are able to welcome and serve hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. It’s not just what we do; it’s a source of pride. Keeping things small, bespoke and special is how we roll.

While mistakes, miscommunications, and misunderstandings happen, know that Sonoma Valley would be nothing without the great people we have welcoming our visitors every day. Please assume best intentions and know that we value you immensely, and look to serve however long you’re able to stay. Regardless of where you come from, of what your budget is, and who you are when you’re at home, our hospitality teams treat everyone with the same degree of respect. When you bring your best game to the mix, you can be sure they will, too!