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Saturday, March 31, 2012

March Photo Tour: Great Wedding Venues in Saratoga CA

This month Stacie and I stayed close to home and photographed some of the most interesting places in Saratoga, California. Only this time we each chose a different perspective to feature at these places of interest. Since all of these stops are great places to hold a wedding I chose to spotlight them as wedding venues. Stacie's focus is to share them with her readers who want to take in all of the great spots when they to visit Saratoga. To see Stacie's Tour of Saratoga post just click here.

We planned to visit four locations all of which I have had the pleasure to be the DJ/MC many times for a number of wedding celebrations over the years.

Villa Montalvo – 15400 Montalvo Road, Saratoga, CA 95071  www.montalvoarts.org

Hakone Gardens – 21000 Big Basin Way, Saratoga, CA 95070  www.hakone.us

The Mountain Winery – 14831 Pierce Road, Saratoga, CA 95070  www.mountainwinery.com

Saratoga Springs – 22801 Big Basin Way, Saratoga, CA 95070  www.saratoga-springs.com

We began our tour at one of the crown jewels of Saratoga, Villa Montalvo. This property has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is so rich in history that I am surprised the public can actually rent it for events. It would be a major tourism attraction even if all you could do is walk around the grounds and view it from a distance.

The main entrance leading to Villa Montalvo is on Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road

Stacie's excitement began before we even entered the Montalvo property because she loves the Griffin statues at the front entrance. She even blogged about them earlier this year in this post.

Griffins "guard" the entrance to Villa Montalvo

The sprawling lawn and Historic Villa make Montalvo one of the most sought after wedding venues in Northern California. If you're seeking European flair without going overseas, Villa Montalvo is the ticket.

The Historic Villa makes a great first impression upon arrival.

For ceremonies the two outdoor choices are the Oval Garden behind the Historic Villa or the Love Temple on the opposite end of the front lawn.

Most ceremonies are held in The Oval Garden behind the Historic Villa.

The Love Temple can also be used for wedding ceremonies.

My favorite space at Villa Montalvo is called the Spanish Courtyard. Often the wedding guests congregate here for the pre-reception beverages and appetizers while the bride and groom finish their photographs. Then the steps down into the courtyard make for a very dramatic Grand Entrance for the honored couple.

The Spanish Courtyard

Most of the weddings I have done at Villa Montalvo then move onto The Veranda for dinner which is a nice space for outdoor dining. The views of the front lawn and Love Temple make for a great setting.

At this point I am going to defer to one of the top professional wedding photographers who is on the Montalvo preferred vendor list, Todd Rafalovich to show you how really great a wedding can look at Villa Montalvo. Here are some of Todd's images he was kind enough to let me include in my post to spotlight Villa Montalvo.

Hakone Gardens, our next stop, has been selected as one of only twelve sites in the United States to receive the Save America's Treasure award by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. These incredible Japanese gardens were created in 1917 and like Villa Montalvo it is surprisingly cool that they are made available for weddings and events.

Entrance at 21000 Big Basin Way

Hakone Gardens' Main Gate

The Main Gate welcomes visitors and opens directly into the large area where the wedding ceremonies take place.

Hakone's wedding ceremony area has plenty of room for seating

The Koi Pond and Moon Bridge is the centerpiece of Hakone.  This area is not only incredible for photographing brides and grooms but also provides the visual backdrop for the wedding ceremonies.

 A gently cascading waterfall flows down the hill into the Koi Pond.

The Koi are plentiful and eager to position for feeding.

Reception facilities include a pleasant outdoor area for dining and inside the Cultural Exchange Center for dancing and dessert. The back side of the center boasts great views of the Santa Clara Valley.

The Cultural Exchange Center Building

Viewing Deck of the Cultural Exchange Center

The photo opportunities at Hakone Gardens are seemingly endless including their famous Bamboo Garden with its cool lighting and infinite patterns.

Bamboo Garden (Kizuna-en)

On the Hakone Gardens' website they feature the work of several great photographers. I was fortunate enough to get the following photos of a Hakone Gardens wedding taken there by professional wedding photographer, Chung Li. Thank you Chung for offering your beautiful images.

Photo by Chung Li

Photo by Chung Li

Photo by Chung Li

The Mountain Winery sits high above Saratoga and is one of my all-time favorite wedding venues. I have been the DJ/MC at 48 weddings there between 1991 and 2004. There is just nothing like a nice warm summer or fall evening with dancing on the Chateau Deck and the valley view as a backdrop.

The sign at Big Basin Way (Highway 9) and Pierce Road

One of the first things you see as you walk up the front driveway is the huge Concert Bowl. The concert series at the Mountain Winery is legendary and features some of the biggest names in entertainment. Before the winery did their major remodel one of my 2004 clients actually had their entire wedding reception in the bowl. It was a blast keeping 300 guests rocking the dance floor in the same place I had danced myself at so many concerts!

The Concert Bowl is home to the phenomenal Summer Concert Series

What makes the Mountain Winery so special for me is the convenience of the great new facility that works hard at preserving its legacy. Everywhere you turn there are more than just simply nods to the rich history of the original Paul Masson Vineyards and Winery.

The Chateau is one of the original buildings and is now surrounded by two great decks The Vista Deck and The Chateau Deck that take full advantage of the fabulous views.

The Chateau at the Mountain Winery

Vista Deck looking down at the Chateau Deck

Wherever you stand at the Mountain Winery the views are incomparable. Even though it was bit overcast on the day we visited it was still breathtaking to see this much of the Bay Area all at once.

I was in luck when I saw that professional photographer, Rhee Bevere, was on the preferred vendor list at the Mountain Winery because I knew she would capture both the romantic moment and also the stunning beauty of this majestic mountain top place.

Photo by Rhee Bevere

Photo by Rhee Bevere

Photo by Rhee Bevere

Photo by Rhee Bevere

On our way out we were reminded of just how special this place really is. The Mountain Winery is and always has been truly minutes away and worlds apart.

Our final planned stop was at another Saratoga landmark called Saratoga Springs. This legendary creek side picnic and campground has been family owned for five generations and home to summer fun since the late 1800's.
Enter the fun zone at 22801 Big Basin Way

I am excited to be the DJ/MC at a Saratoga Springs wedding this coming July. My client is having 300 guests so they are taking full advantage of the huge open spaces of the Longbridge picnic area. The great artificial turf surface feels rustic yet keeps the dirt and dust to a minimum.

The upper Longbridge area can also be utilized for wedding ceremonies or a cocktail hour.

A raised deck overlooks the sprawling Longbridge grounds.

Food and beverage service is handled by in-house caterers and classic BBQ cooking right on the spot.

Natural, majestic and rustic is truly the vibe at Saratoga Springs

Several smaller areas are also available for more intimate groups like the Cathedral Grove,  Redwood Grove and Saratoga Grove. They have all the same great amenities but in a cozier space.

Cathedral Grove picnic area

Saratoga Springs has a wonderful creek that runs completely through it. It is a constant reminder of the natural beauty this charming place eludes. If you are looking for a rustic wedding spot that also has great services and convenience, Saratoga Springs is the real deal. Fortunately, another professional photographer I know, Lucie, of LucieXYZ Photography was able to provide me with these great images of a wedding she photographed at Saratoga Springs.

Now I am going to exercise a little writer's creative license with a side bar. I was married in 1987 at a small ceremony directly across the street from Hakone Gardens. My parents lived in the Saratoga Oaks neighborhood where we had a small ceremony with just 50 guests.

This complex sits right on the very first curve of Big Basin Way as you head out of downtown Saratoga and up Highway 9. It is distinctively marked by a single tennis court on the outer edge of the property. We had a creek side ceremony on this common lawn area followed by a reception in their multipurpose room just across this bridge. This facility is not open to the public but rather for the exclusive use of the residents of Saratoga Oaks. I just can't think of Saratoga and weddings without recalling that special Fall day nearly twenty-five years ago.

Where I was married in Saratoga all those years ago.

Saratoga is obviously a charming little place and certainly a romantic one to tie the knot. For a small town it has an impressive selection of wedding facilities. In just this tour alone we covered a huge range of styles. We had classic European at Villa Montalvo, the tranquil Japanese Hakone Gardens, the California history rich Mountain Winery and the rustic forest setting at Saratoga Springs.

Once again a huge thanks to my contributing professional photographers for allowing me to include all of their great images. Todd Rafalovich at Villa Montalvo, Chung Li at Hakone Gardens, Rhee Bevere at the Mountain Winery and Lucie Silveira of LucieXYZ at Saratoga Springs.

My parting shot is of Kim and I on that October day in 1987. Saratoga will always be near and dear to me. It is a great community with many wonderful wedding venues.

Kim and Carl Mindling

Friday, March 9, 2012

Wedding Tips: When To Do Your First Dance

Like many wedding traditions there are multiple opinions and variations on when to do your first dance. In my post called The Great Cake Debate - Two Schools of Thought I weigh in on the two most popular times to cut the wedding cake. Just like the ceremonious cake cutting there are really two key moments at your reception for your special first dance.

In California weddings it seems to be most popular to save the first dance until after the meal. Food comes first and latter half of the reception is all dancing.  I see this order to be the preferred choice with most of my clients.

On the other hand some couples prefer to be introduced into the reception and straight onto the dance floor for their first dance. This style of introduction is especially popular on the East Coast. It was explained to me by a client who has attended many East Coast weddings that they often serve long sit down meals with many courses. To keep the guests entertained during these long meals dancing in between courses is encouraged. Since etiquette dictates that the bride and groom be the first to dance at their wedding the first dance following the grand introduction means the dance floor can then open to all of the guests.

So what are the differences between doing your first dance upon entrance versus after dinner?

My preference is to wait until after dinner to do the first dance and then begin the open dancing.
As a Master of Ceremonies I am always looking for key points and markers to make a reception flow smoothly. The first dance is a great transition from the dining segment of the party into the dancing time. It gives me the opportunity to get everyone's attention and focus it on the dance floor. The first dance is festive and helps shift the mood from fairly low energy into a higher gear. Most of all it says to the guests that now it is time for them to leave their seats and celebrate with dance.

I do like the energy that a first dance has following a grand introduction. The bigger the introduction the more you also need something big to follow it. If my couple is not dancing upon entering, then I always head directly into a best man's toast or father of the bride's welcome speech to continue the momentum created by a grand introduction.

The only caveat with having the first dance early on is that you take away that marker to segue from dinner to dancing. The best solution is to then use the Father/Bride or Mother/Groom dance to signal the beginning of your dancing time. These parents dances or a bridal party dance will draw attention to dancing and help get your party going.

One misconception is that having your first dance early will mean the guests will start dancing sooner as in the East Coast example. I find that once people sit down to eat they generally want to finish their meal first. At that point they expect to hear background music during dinner and not high volume dance music.

Whether your first dance upon entering or wait until dinner is over it is most important that you have entertainment that is sensitive to your audience and follows their energy. Weddings are dynamic and they should move from lower on the energy curve to higher towards the end so your exit will be as grand as your entrance.

My next tip will be all about your last dance.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Go Green! A Different Twist on St. Patrick's Day Entertaining

Why serve the same old corned beef and cabbage dinner for St. Patrick's Day when you can freshen things up and dazzle your guests with a Green Theme Dinner that is only limited by your imagination. The rules are simple. Every dish must contain some shade of green. And the greener the better. I have been doing this for years and it is also one of the absolute best parties to make pot luck because it gets everyone's creative juices flowing and involved.

At first glance only some foods are obviously green like spinach, broccoli, and parsley but the array of recipes that can burst with this healthy color are just about unlimited. Just a few of my favorite dishes from past years' parties are:

Guacamole with Green Chips and Roasted Salsa Verde
Key Lime Margarita Pie
Spinach Hummus
Enchiladas with Tomatillo Sauce
Green Pesto Pizza
Traditional Mojitos
Artichoke Jalapeno Dip

My foodie friend, Stacie Tamaki, just posted a great recap of last year's dinner. WARNING: These Photos Are Excessively Green! To read her story just click here.

I have a new favorite asparagus recipe with a simple vinaigrette sauce that I am thinking about springing on my guests the next time we go green. This sauce adds a quick zip that turns your vegetable into a special side dish. You can see the recipe and a simple step-by-step photo tutorial on my food feature called "Cooking with Carl" on The Flirty Guide. Just click here to learn how to make this easy side dish.

Asparagus with Vinaigrette Sauce.

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all!