This past fall, my friend and frequent associate Lisa Hause asked me to join her to second shoot a large wedding in Napa, CA. Lisa was traveling from Austin, TX and we have worked together on many weddings, including this Lucky Arrow Retreat wedding in Dripping Springs this past fall, as well as loads of my own weddings, such as this summer camp wedding in the Adirondacks of Upstate NY and this beautiful meadow wedding in Crested Butte, CO. It’s important when you’re traveling as a destination wedding photographer that you have someone that you trust and, most importantly, can deliver the quality of images that you are accustomed to delivering to your clients in the event that something goes wrong. Because, let’s be honest, sometimes things go wrong. And in the case of Sarah and Nathan’s Triple S Ranch wedding in Calistoga, CA, it went wrong to the degree that Lisa couldn’t be there. She contracted covid days before the wedding.
When these things happen, we always have plans in place and in this case, the plan is always that your second photographer steps in as the lead and you find another second. In the case of Sarah and Nathan’s Triple S Ranch wedding, we immediately reached out to our mutual friend Duy Ho who lives in nearby Petaluma. Duy is AMAZING and he and I photograph very differently, which is fantastic and always my goal when looking for a second. It gives the clients a much more well-rounded gallery. I have always believed as a manager and a leader that it’s important to hire people who are strong where you are weak and I do the same with the second photographers that I hire.
Calistoga and Napa’s premier wedding venue: a Triple S Ranch wedding
While Duy had photographed The Triple S Ranch in Calistoga, CA, before, I had not. The short version of this story is: WOW.
Sarah and Nathan picked quite possibly the best wedding venue in Napa, CA. It’s beautiful. It’s unique. It’s luxurious without being pretentious. It has all the elements a venue needs to make your wedding day unforgettable. From the stunning views of the surrounding vineyards and mountains to the exquisite gardens and elegant indoor spaces that make you feel like you’re in a villa in Italy, this venue has it all.
Because the Triple S Ranch is an all-inclusive wedding venue, your guests can stay on the ranch the entire weekend. The options seem pretty endless regardless of your group size. There are well-appointed comfortable suites in large homes on site, as well as smaller cottages, intimate cozy cabins, and glamping tents. In short: it’s like a summer camp wedding for people who are too bougie to camp and like wine. Hi! It’s me! And them!
Since all their guests were making a weekend of it and staying on-site for most of the event, Sarah and Nathan had originally hired Lisa for three days of coverage – from their welcome BBQ and dinner Friday night, to their rehearsal dinner and party, to the wedding day itself. Duy and I split up the duties, me covering Friday night and then the wedding day, and he covering Saturday night and the wedding day with me. Everything flowed seamlessly and, as all of their friends were ridiculously smart and charming (I stopped counting the PHDs), we were surrounded by exceptionally good company. Since we covered multiple events, I’m throwing a bit more photos in this post than I normally would just because I want to really show off the beauty of this sprawling estate in the heart of Napa Valley wine country.
Sarah and Nathan utilized the entire estate in the best way for their Triple S Ranch wedding: Friday afternoon’s welcome party was a pool party and paella feast, followed by a beautiful al fresco dinner on the patio between the estate buildings. The wedding itself took place under a grand oak tree, offering shade from the sweltering (and it was sweltering that weekend – there were record temps up and down the coast of California). The gardens offered the perfect backdrop for golden hour portraits. The indoor spaces are plentiful: from the great room which they utilized as their reception, to the alcove bar adjacent to the dining patio, to the saloon (perfect for late-night after parties!). The buildings themselves are charming in the best way and many of them reminded me of European provencal farm villas. Everywhere I turned was somewhere picturesque that inspired new photos.
All in all, not only was this one of the more memorable and amazing venues I’ve ever been to, but I’m proud of our team for overcoming a challenging situation, putting the clients at ease, and delivering an outstanding gallery. Beyond that, we all know that I LOVE wine so any chance to photograph a wine-country wedding and I’m there faster than you can pop a champagne bottle.
Calistoga is the perfect Napa Valley wine country weekend getaway
To be honest, despite my love of wine, I had never really spent a chunk of time (or the evening) in Calistoga, CA. It took my breath away. Nestled in the heart of Napa Valley, Calistoga is a charming town that offers visitors from anywhere in Northern CA the perfect weekend getaway with loads less pretentiousness than Napa proper (cause as we all know, this girl is pretty damn relaxed). With its hot springs, wineries, and stunning scenery, it’s got it ALL. So, fun fact: Calistoga is known for its natural hot springs. In addition to a plethora of spas, there’s an AWESOME little hotel that I fell in love with called Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort and Mineral Springs that features boutique rooms, a spa, a fantastic restaurant on site, AND spring-fed swimming pools. You should absolutely eat at the on-site restaurant House of Better (I went twice).
My favorite Napa Valley wineries (and beyond)
- Frog’s Leap Winery – Frog’s Leap is one of my oldest and longest wine clubs and one that I am very proud to be a member of. Frog’s Leap is incredibly unique in the sense that it’s the first winery in Napa Valley to be largely known and recognized for it’s sustainable and organic farming practicies. Not only does Frog’s Leap produce incredible wines, but they are conscious and respectful of the environment and the way their farming practices impact our world. They are solar powered, have rigorous water conservation practices implemented, and utilize dry farming as much as possible. Frog’s Leap believes in allowing the wine to express itself with minimal intervention, which means they utilize a very traditional winemaking style and they avoid the use of additives (read: no headaches here y’all). It’s an exceptionally wonderful wine tasting experience and I highly recommend adding on the full farm tour.
- Faust Wines – One of my good friends (and the brother of former wedding clients) is the wine tasting room manager here and it’s a newly found favorite of mine. If you are looking for a more traditional Napa experience (not sure what that is? It’s chardonnay and cabernet y’all), this is my go to. I find most Napa wineries are lacking the elegance and subtlety that I look for in my wine but Faust nails it on the head. Faust is known for it’s focus on small-lot production, with a focus on sustainability. The story behind the name, the brand, and the wine tasting home itself are unique and inspired and hearing the story is worth the visit alone.
- Williams Selyem – If you’re looking for pinot noir, Williams Selyem is my go to. Founded in 1979 by Ed Selyem and Burt Williams, two friends who shared a passion for winemaking, Williams Selyem Wines is one of the most highly regarded Pinot Noir producers in the world, with a reputation for producing wines that are balanced, complex, and reflective of their terroir. I find them to be incredibly approachable, elegant, crowd-pleasers no matter what the situation. The winery sources grapes from a variety of small, carefully selected vineyards throughout Sonoma County, allowing each wine to express different characteristics based on the site where they are grown.