Winelands wedding destination tips

South Africa has emerged as one of the top international wedding and honeymoon destinations. Over the last few years, wedding specialists based in the historic Stellenbosch has seen a dramatic increase in both local and foreign couples saying “I do” in our remarkable region.

The options are unlimited - in the Cape Winelands one can now design any kind of wedding imaginable – whether it be an intimate get-together, opulent bash, or casual luncheon.

The Western Cape holds many appealing factors for bridal couples who decide to combine their wedding with their honeymoon.  Let’s name a few of the drawing cards: great value for money, spectacular scenery, stunning beaches, warm weather for seven months of the year, world class suppliers, and a vast range of luxurious locations – from chic private villas to historic Wine Estates – love birds are spoilt for choice when planning their nuptials. 

Stellenbosch is known as the culinary capital of South Africa, and acclaimed eateries offer diners some of the most revered taste experiences – with superb views, landscaped gardens, friendly service, and fantastic wines to boot.  

Opting for a winelands wedding with their closest family members and friends, couples can now turn their celebrations into more than just a one day affair – these days it’s about an entire wedding weekend, or even a trip through South Africa with a group of friends after the wedding.  What often starts out as a conservative guest list can easily end up being a large wedding celebration with over 100 wedding guests who are only too keen to explore the surrounding areas as part of an unforgettable holiday.

The country is calling!

This is a trend we’ve seen growing for a while: couples are leaving behind the city lights and exchanging more accessible venues for rustic, off the beaten track hideouts.  The rest follows suit... understated outdoor wedding ceremonies; pastoral elements in the décor; organic farm produce and local wines on the menu; entertainment sourced from surrounding communities and, moreover, a return to the conventional ways and traditions of the ‘good old days’.  The Stellenbosch Winelands offer all of these and more.

To start with, create your own concept

Gone are the days of weddings that don’t tell a story.  Modern day brides are increasingly opting for theme inspired celebrations that have an identifiable thread running through them from start to end. While being a popular trend, choosing a specific wedding theme is a task many brides across the globe find exceptionally daunting.  The reason is quite simple: caught up in the flurry of planning the Big Day, most couples make the mistake of wanting to incorporate too many different and unrelated elements which invariably leads to a loss of focus.  The result is a wedding that doesn’t reflect your true personalities.

Who are we?  

A wedding celebration can be likened to a storyline or narrative that ties all the parts of the couple’s story together into a comprehensive, sensible whole.  Often drawing on a specific colour, a well-loved era, or cultural customs, themed weddings are characterised by recognisable icons that convey a certain message.  To this end, the process of selecting a theme needs to commence with proper introspection.  Ask the following questions about you and your fiancée:

What makes us unique? Start with the bare essentials – your age, your nationality, your background, your language and cultural affiliation.  Spend time contemplating whether your heritage should play a leading role in communicating the meaning of your union.          
Do we share any common interests?  Perhaps you both like travelling, art, the great outdoors, films, architecture, a specific interior decoration style – or even a specific place in the world.  Choose the ones that you both genuinely love.
Which memories will always stay with you?  Consider your favourite holidays, career highlights, past birthdays and social occasions.  Evaluate what made these moments stand out and whether it is possible to recreate similar scenarios at your wedding.    
Who are we in the eyes of friends and family? Some couples are down to earth whilst others have their heads in the clouds.  Some are daring and adventurous – others more conservative.  Are you active and outgoing, or homebound and private? Ensure that your wedding reflects who you really are by staying true to yourself.      
What key words best describe our style?  The following ones are a mere handful: modern, vintage, urban, rustic, classic, contemporary, bohemian, eclectic, glamorous, understated, bold…the options are endless.  The words on your list will ultimately give shape to your personal tastes and preferences – choose ones that you are comfortable with.             
What kind of atmosphere do we desire for our wedding day? Every wedding has an underlying type of personality and although abstract, this is often its most memorable aspect. Ruminate whether your theme will add a sense of formality, surprise, intimacy, interest, novelty or relaxation – and decide which route works best within your needs set.

Find the right venue

One of the most important decisions in bringing your wedding concept to life is choosing a venue that sets the scene appropriately.  Looking at your answers to the above questions, pick a venue that closely matches the tonality you wish to create.   Firstly, consider the location.  If you’re after something modern and sleek, look to contemporary wine establishments for inspiration. Secondly, evaluate whether the furnishings reinforce your theme.   A wooden barn will be the perfect container for a rustic, earthy celebration.  Similarly, an old guesthouse with antique furniture, heavy curtains and exquisite carpets will contextualise a wedding marked by grandiose features. 

Planning an intimate wedding?  Listen up! When it comes to finding a suitable reception venue the choices are unlimited but simultaneously quite tricky since very few places cater exclusively for small groups.  One can opt either for a dinner at any one of the acclaimed restaurants in the winelands – many of which offer private dining areas – or if the ceremony takes places at a venue which has a private function room such as a boutique hotel or guesthouse, one can style the menu and dinner table to suit the overall look and décor theme. 

Deciding on a look and feel

Weddings are all about offering a sensory experience, and the most popular ones have an arresting effect on the senses of sight and touch.  Start with conceptualising the look.  Your wedding invitations are like the opening paragraphs of a book which immediately suggest a plot.  If your theme involves a certain colour or fashion from a bygone era, start showcasing it here.   At the reception, your tables will continue the dialogue.  Pay special attention to your flowers, linen, chairs and stationery elements as these all work together in conveying a message – overtly or covertly – to guests.  

Opulent table tops with dramatic height, elaborate arrangements, heavy containers and vast amounts of flowers are currently as popular as their slightly dressed down counterparts. With flowers, the sky is now literally the limit.  Over past seasons we saw bold, colourful arrangements; contemporary containers with individual flower stems and luxurious orchids as popular as ever.  To the opposite end, there is a definite move back to simple, basic arrangements that whisper rather than shout. The same holds for the use of slightly bulkier versus more modern furniture elements.  The important thing here is to conceptualise a theme that can be pulled through to the hiring, food, stationery, entertainment, dress code and programme of the day.

The popularity of pales and nudes aside – weddings remain jubilant affairs.  No surprise then, that many brides are now seeking a décor approach that reflects – if not encourages – the vibrancy of their celebrations.  Some opt for one feature colour in an otherwise neutral palette whilst others choose a combination of brightly coloured flowers, glassware, cakes and stationery to liven up the mood.  Rich gem colours like navy, plum, and amber are all the rage.  Instead of chocolate brown, look to soft crème brûlée hues, bronzes, coppers, and black.  Be sure to make a bold statement with colour next season – just remember to use the correct lighting not to let the impact fade away in the dark.

From burgers to beats

Although a theme needn’t extend to every single aspect of your wedding, the impact is often greater when repetition occurs.  Once you have settled on a specific look, it is necessary to pull the thread through to other areas.  Music and food are strong leitmotif carriers. 

Your menu can easily represent influences from a specific country or region – think simple seafood platters at a barefoot beach wedding, or a farm-to table meal paired with award winning wines at a wine estate renowned for its sustainable farming practices. 

Food is one of the key ingredients of a striking wedding day.  The latest food trend: Uncomplicated food dished up to encourage social interaction and to minimise interference with the natural flow of events on the day.  Create a fusion of food to suit your theme and stylize it in such a way that it fits in with your décor.  For a rustic summer wedding, during pre-drinks, position picnic baskets filled with tins of antipasto, nuts, fruits, bread sticks and dips and some local cheeses.  Allow guests to sit on blankets with oversized cushions for comfort!  Serve your starters on wooden boards and opt for bite sized desserts.  Gone are the days of predictability and boredom; the era of fun food has arrived and it here to stay.

Take a feather out of Eastern Cuisine’s hat; bowl food, circulated spontaneously is currently a well-received trend.  So are platters meant for sharing between guests at their tables.  Salmon and wok stations with ‘live chefs’ will have people running back for seconds. Ingredients are full and flavoursome and local - often combining South African with culinary European trends.

In turn, nothing beats entertainment when it comes to conveying overtones of drama, culture, romance or experimentalism.  Choose a musical line up that corresponds with your décor and food to ensure the mood stays in pace with the theme.   

    

We want to be outside, but what about the weather?

By now, marquees are no longer a strange face at winelands weddings.  They are still the dream wedding venue for many couples who’ve already found their perfect outdoor setting and they’ve proven themselves to be highly functional and sought after by those who wish to create uniquely tailored reception spaces.  Whether it’s a friend’s wine estate, a public beach or a private sanctuary, it’s worth investigating.

The new kid on the block – the clear span marquee – has proved itself an unbeatable winner.  And what’s not to like?  Treat your guests to an unblocked view of the gardens and chill areas around the tent – and offer those who are relaxing outside an illuminated, glowing vision of the festivities on the inside.  These tents create an unbelievably fresh and modern atmosphere with an unhampered sense of space and connectedness that transcends the time of day and weather.  Make a mental note of the fact that these tents come with specific and pricier requirements in terms of logistics, labour, as well as added décor and lighting.    

Darling, leave a light on for me

Carefully chosen lighting features, striking chandeliers, chic lounge lamps, pin-spotting of your table tops, uplighting of walls and structural elements, as well as the all-important outdoor lighting – these are all part of a handcrafted wedding celebration that oozes style and exclusivity.  Illuminate your day and don’t forget that the most exquisite views disappear after sunset!

Size doesn’t matter

It’s proven, at long last, that size doesn’t matter.

Small celebrations, where exclusivity and privacy are of the utmost importance, have become increasingly more popular.  Many couples from across the globe have come to realise that a small wedding, whilst requiring the same meticulous planning and management, not only boasts a cost saving element but also allows for more choice between venues and service providers. 

In comparison to their larger counterparts, these weddings saw couples spending double to quadruple the amount on each guest, and in most cases this included accommodation for the whole group.  What this shows is that the international financial slump does encourage people to reduce their numbers – but simultaneously allows them to spend more per person in ensuring a day that is even more exquisite.

With any number between nil to ten guests attending, these cherished gatherings guarantee unlimited personlisation – from handpicking close friends and relatives and tailoring your menu according to every individual’s taste, through to creating meaningfully hand written stationery and ensuring that there’s ample time to engage each one of your guests leisurely at the reception. 

At the core of every wedding – large or small – is the ceremony; the commitment that two people make to each other to love and respect each other until the end of their days.  Intimate weddings are very much about this special moment and the focus is only enhanced by the smaller number of guests present, if any at all.  In many cases, only three people will be present – the bride, her groom and a carefully selected minister.

For many couples, the choice to have an intimate wedding is also a financial one.  Weddings abroad are not only challenging to arrange on one’s own but also implies that all your guests need to travel to another continent on their own account.  A gorgeous ceremony in a stunning location, followed by the honeymoon of a lifetime, comes as an incredibly special and personal alternative whilst remaining cost effective.  With the exceptional calibre of photography we have on offer in South Africa, and thanks to increasingly user friendly online tools, family and friends back home can now share in the experience by having access to your wedding pictures.  A lovely idea is to send them a post card or updated BlogSpot with some of your favourite wedding photos straight after the wedding.

Who to work with

Working through an experienced wedding coordinator is the easiest and the most hassle free way of planning a winelands destination wedding.  Focusing on only a select number of bespoke weddings each year, these professionals ensure couples of a highly personal experience that gives them access to South Africa’s top venues, as well as the finest suppliers and creative talents in the industry.

Every wedding is unique and one should carefully tailor each detail and idea to suit the couples’ individuality and personality.  You want your guests to walk away from a perfect day, feeling that it carried your signature all the way through.

The extent to which a wedding theme is successfully conveyed, depends very much on the ability of your wedding suppliers to put an idea into practice.  You will require the assistance of professionals who have mastered the art of interpretation.  Use detailed mood boards with concise visual references when briefing your suppliers, and check whether they have the appropriate props to give life to your theme.  Wedding planners are skilled at bringing a mix of the right specialists together to deliver a uniform end result and are in a position to oversee the seamless integration of different thematic elements.

Well, there you have it.  A wondrous winelands wedding is within your reach. Savour our wines. Absorb our views. Spoil your guests to our friendly, hearty service.  Book your seat and invite all your favorite people for an experience unlike any other you have ever had before.

Written by Hannes Loubser. With a background in branding and events planning, Hannes brings nearly a decade of  wedding planning experience to Spier Wine Farm. You can contact him on hannesl@spier.co.za

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