This Couple Surprised Their Guests with an On-Site After-Party Following Their Fall Napa Valley Wedding
Cheryl and Sam met online in March 2016 and with so much in common, they were surprised they hadn't crossed paths sooner. "An instant connection was apparent," Cheryl says. "It felt like we'd known each other for years." About two years into their relationship, in February 2018, Sam decided to surprise Cheryl with a trip to Yosemite during the quiet off-season. The pair went on a hike and Sam led Cheryl through a meadow to the spot where they first said, "I love you." He set up a picnic along the river with Yosemite Falls as the backdrop, but before they could enjoy the wine and cheese, Sam popped the question with Cheryl's dream ring—a marquise diamond flanked by pear-shaped diamonds.
The pair fell in love with the New England-inspired architecture and manicured grounds at Meadowood Napa Valley in St. Helena, California, and decided to invite 36 guests to stay at cottages on the property for the weekend. They set the date for September 27, 2019, and began planning their outdoor black-tie ceremony and dinner party. "Throughout the planning process, I was constantly pulling inspiration from my background in art history," the bride says. "I ultimately wanted to curate an intentional, fine art wedding experience that oozed romance and sophistication."
The couple teamed up with Elise Johnson of Shannon Leahy Events to pull off the details of their East-meets-West theme, with décor inspired by French gardens. "We instantly connected; she quickly grasped my unique vision for my wedding," Cheryl says. "I had all these ideas percolating but Elise knew how to better articulate them." They chose a neutral color palette of creams and champagne tones for the ceremony, cocktail hour, and dinner—and a red palette with pops of black for the after-party.
Cheryl and Sam chose to host their wedding at Meadowood Napa Valley resort because of the surrounding vineyards, tall pines, manicured lawns, and charming architecture. Plus, they loved the fact that they could visit again for anniversary trips and invite their guests into a true Napa experience with amazing food and wine. "Simply put, we fell in love with Meadowood," the bride says. The pair booked three different spaces at the resort to give their guests a unique experience for the ceremony, reception dinner, and after-party.
The Formal Invitations
The couple's white-and-gray invitation suite was inspired by hand-painted chinoiserie patterns. The custom suite included an invitation jacket with a pocket on the inside and a laser-cut birch monogram as the seal. The RSVP envelope flap featured a bird and branch motif, which was also seen on the welcome note, day-of program, and dance floor.
Cheryl had some ideas in mind for her wedding dress but wanted some help finding the dress and assembling her look, so her wedding planner, Elise, recommended bridal stylist Maradee Wahl. "Hiring Maradee enabled me to find my dream dress," Cheryl says. "She assured me that I didn't have to compromise what I had in mind." They made an appointment at Lovella Bridal and as soon as Cheryl tried on a Zuhair Murad strapless sheath gown paired with a silk taffeta ball gown overskirt with a slit and an asymmetrical bow, she was sold. The dress incorporated intricate crystal beading with butterfly and dragonfly detailing and floral appliqué. "I was looking for a couture-level gown that exquisitely melded art and fashion," the bride says. "For me, that meant playing with texture, function, and the look of past and present wedding dresses—resulting in an effortlessly opulent look that wasn't overpowering." Cheryl took off the skirt for the after-party, transforming her look and making it easier to dance the night away.
Come the ceremony, she carried a bouquet of lily of the valley flowers; Sam wore a matching boutonnière.
The bride kept her accessories minimal to allow her gown to steal the show. She wore a simple gold hairpin from BHLDN featuring a teardrop stone surrounded by marquise-shaped crystals as a nod to her engagement ring. She also wore pearl drop earrings from David Yurman set in yellow gold. "In Chinese culture, yellow gold is considered to be the most beautiful color that symbolizes nobility and prosperity," Cheryl says. "I knew I wanted to implement nods to my Chinese heritage, but I aimed to do so in a subtle and meaningful way."
On Her Toes
Cheryl wore Roger Vivier pumps with a floral fabric, nude trim, Swarovski crystal buckle, and a comma heel representative of the Rococo period.
Sam wore a Brioni tuxedo with a shawl collar, a custom tuxedo shirt, a black bow tie, and a cummerbund. He also donned black onyx David Yurman cuff links.
The First Look
The couple's first look took place in front of a serene lake at the resort, where white swans are known to glide by. Although Cheryl admits she was nervous walking towards Sam, those feelings dissipated after they embraced, she says.
Ceremony in the Round
Cheryl and Sam's ceremony took place on the golf course, where a white circular podium was set up instead of an altar. The bride pulled inspiration from French formal gardens and the geometric design of hedge mazes when deciding on the florals. White rose hedge installations were set up around the podium and the seating areas, which formed a circle to create an intimate service. "Being intentional with our aesthetic vision at Meadowood was important to me. We created an elegant, one-of-a-kind experience for our guests in a manner that was harmonious and restrained—tasteful and timeless," Cheryl says.
Guests sat in cushioned French cane chairs; the last rows were surrounded by white rose bushes.
The couple hired a string quartet to play during the ceremony—and they were so glad they did. As the bride made her entrance, they played "Mrs. Darcy" by Dario Marianelli from the film Pride and Prejudice .
Reader, I Married Him
Cheryl's father walked her down the aisle as the quartet played "Maestro" by Hans Zimmer from The Holiday. The couple decided not to write their own vows, and simply included readings instead. Since they didn't have a traditional wedding party, they asked Cheryl's brother, Michael, to read an excerpt from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, one of the bride's favorite novels.
Taking It All In
Sam and Cheryl joined their guests for the first part of the cocktail hour, and then took a stroll through the reception space—a moment the pair will never forget. "We were over the moon with how everything turned out—our hearts were fluttering. We were ecstatic!" Cheryl says.
Guests moved from the golf course to the croquet lawn area to enjoy cocktail hour. The couple served two signature drinks: a classic margarita for Sam, and a twist on a gin and tonic that incorporated juniper berries and star anise for Cheryl. "The star-shaped pod is commonly used in traditional Chinese recipes," Cheryl says. "My mother and I love including star anise when preparing home-cooked meals!"
The couple offered passed hors d'oeuvres during the interlude including compressed watermelon, creme fraiche panna cotta, prawn mojo de ajo, pork and peaches, and wild mushroom vol-au-vent. The string quartet continued to play throughout cocktail hour and dinner.
A boxwood hedge installation separated the cocktail hour area from the reception space. "We really loved the hand-painted chinoiserie patterns that inspired the invitation suite, so we found a gorgeous Ralph Lauren wallpaper to create framed wall flats that were hung on the hedge that separated cocktail hour from dinner," says Elise Johnson of Shannon Leahy Events, the couple's planner. The framed wallpaper matched the custom Ralph Lauren table runner, incorporating the bird and flower theme once again.
Cheryl and Sam knew wanted guests at one long table to make it feel as though they were hosting a dinner party at their home. The couple selected curved T-back linen chairs with a wood frame and studded accents. "The chairs were comfortable, chic, and stylish," the bride says. "Together, the décor created this residential ambience that made our reception feel more like an intimate dinner party."
On the Tables
The reception tables held low all-white Canterbury bell centerpieces in clear bowl vases, allowing guests to engage in conversation over dinner without tall florals in the way. Gold bird figurines were scattered throughout the tables at varying heights. "In my family's residence, traditional Chinese bird and flower accents were always visible. It was important to me to include and to reimagine the traditional theme into my wedding," the bride says.
Place settings included plates with scalloped edges inspired by French formal gardens (think hedge mazes!); the couple chose to contrast the Old-World feel with modern gold flatware. Personalized menus sat at each place setting, incorporating the laser-cut custom monogram.
For dinner, the couple curated a locally sourced seafood-centric menu paired with award-winning wines. The dinner began with a chilled tomato gazpacho paired with a Chardonnay, followed by scallops in an almond-caper vinaigrette alongside a Pinot Noir. The main course was the guest's choice of lobster with corn risotto or grilled beef tenderloin served with edamame and mushrooms—both were paired with a Cabernet Sauvignon. "An exceptional food and wine experience is ensured at Meadowood," the bride says. "It offered us a one-of-a-kind formal dinner celebration that felt like a dream."
Heat lamps were set up on the patio to keep guests warm as the temperature dropped at night, and guests were also given white blankets. "I remember holding and reading my menu—with my other hand in Sam's hand—gazing upward at the tall pines," Cheryl says. "It was utterly romantic and forever a favorite moment of mine."
The couple worked with the pastry chef at Meadowood to incorporate the bird and branch pattern from the Ralph Lauren table runners into their wedding cake design (it was hand-painted!). The four-tiered confection included a vanilla bean flavor with mascarpone and fresh strawberries along with an espresso cake with Irish cream and chocolate ganache. It was displayed in front of Ralph Lauren wallpaper in a gold frame.
Lighting the Way
After Cheryl and Sam cut their cake, they announced to their loved ones that they were hosting an after-party. Guests made their way from dinner to another area on the property for dancing, and Cheryl was ecstatic about the experience. "The hanging capiz lanterns added a magical touch," she says. A lounge area with red chairs was also set up to give celebrants the opportunity to rest their feet.
For the after-party, the couple worked with their vendors to pull off a totally different energy. "Cheryl had a vision for a room draped all in red, so we riffed off the design elements for the wedding: A custom dance floor with the bird and branch decal (but in the red-and-black colorway), opulent tulip arrangements on the bars (but with black tulips instead of white), silk and paper Chinese lanterns, and a display of the beautiful custom red-bean moon cake favors," Elise says.
Cheryl and Sam selected two songs for their first dance: Danny Kaye's "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing" and Darlene Love's "(Today I Met) The Boy I'm Gonna Marry." "We are both old souls; White Christmas is one of our favorite films," Cheryl says. "Our first dance was charmingly soulful and forever memorable."
The couple hired Dart Collective to DJ the after-party. They made their grand entrance to "You and Me" (the Flume remix) by Disclosure, and ended the night with Jackie DeShannon's "What the World Needs Now is Love." "A beautiful song with an uplifting message," Cheryl says. "It was the perfect way to end the extraordinary night."
For their favors, Cheryl and Sam wanted to play off the mid-autumn festival in Chinese culture that is also known as the moon festival. "Eating mooncakes, displaying lanterns, and gathering with loved ones is how Chinese people celebrate it—and that's exactly what we did," Cheryl says. They offered mooncakes made by the venue's pastry chef as their favors; they symbolize togetherness.
Photography, KT Merry
Venue and Catering, Meadowood Napa Valley
Event planning/design, Elise Johnson, Shannon Leahy Events
Flowers, Cherries Design
Invitations and Paper Products, Wiley Valentine
Officiant, Brian Bajari
Bridal Stylist, Maradee Wahl
Bride's Gown, Zuhair Murad; Lovella Bridal
Bride's Veil, Lovella Bride
Bride's Jewelry and Groom's Cufflinks, David Yurman
Bride's Hairpiece, BHLDN
Bride's Shoes, Roger Vivier
Hair & Makeup, Mar, Team Hair and Makeup
Groom's Attire, Brioni
Music, Synchronicity Strings; Dart Collective
Rentals, Henley Event Resources; Theoni Collection; Encore Events Rentals; La Tavola Linen
Lighting, Got Light
Welcome Gifts, Marigold & Grey