If there’s one thing wine makers treasure above all else, it’s the vines that serve as the lifeblood of their estate. So, when they willingly start pulling them out, you can rest assured it’s for a very good reason.
That’s certainly the case for Rennae and Dean Rackley from Vue on Halcyon in the Yarra Valley, who have pulled up hundreds of vines to make way for their new wedding chapel, opening in September.
The husband-and-wife team are among a global band of winemakers who have tapped into the growing popularity of winery weddings, which are already a favourite among the celebrity set.
As the second generation on the family-owned estate, it was their inspiration to open it up to weddings five years ago, and demand has risen ever since.
“A winery is such a wonderful location for a wedding – just so beautiful and earthy,” Rennae says. “It gives couples a real connection to nature hidden in among the vines.”
It’s certainly something she can say with authority, since their own wedding was the first held on the estate, some six years ago.
They do admit it’s made them a little biased, but the couple believe the perfect place to marry is on the rolling hills of a winery where “you can make your wedding toast with wine grown on the very soil on which you stand”.
And hundreds of couples obviously agree, with a steady stream of inquiries about their eagerly anticipated wedding chapel.
It’s another showcase of the popularity of winery weddings. And here are some of the reasons why.
Rich dirt, open skies, colourful vines and the heady smell of nature… Mother Nature certainly turns on the charm for a winery wedding. And there’s something very romantic about saying I Do in the midst of it all.
“Few man-made spaces can compete with the beauty of nature,” Renee says. In fact she and Dean were so taken with the surrounds and stunning views across the Yarra Valley it seemed obvious they had to share them, first with a spectacular outdoor ceremony lawn and now with the chapel, which can seat 130 people in pews and cater for 150 comfortably.
So important was it to continue the theme, Dean designed the chapel with hardwood timber trusses and floors and then added such accents as oak wine barrels and custom hardwood tables.
“It’s nestled among the vines with plenty of natural light, so guests have a great view, especially in spring and summertime when they can see the foliage,” he says.
It’s the moment that tops all others – the arrival of the bride. And wineries offer myriad ways to make this moment memorable. One common mode of transport Rennae sees is luxury cars, however, she has a soft spot for a simple journey on foot, where brides travel from the bridal suite down a specially created path as anticipation builds. “It’s such a beautiful moment,” she says.
“A bride always looks so stunning against a background of vines and grapes and it really makes for beautiful photos. It also gives her a chance for reflection as she walks towards her future. It’such an exciting moment.”
Another advantage of a winery wedding, be it at Vue or somewhere in the Bordeaux, is the chance for guests to simply relax and put their keys away for the day. “One of the things couples find most attractive about winery weddings is that they generally offer the full wedding experience,” Rennae says.
It’s about keeping the wedding party, and their guests, together for the entire celebration.
“Guests arrive, we have the vows and the beautiful ceremony, and then they meander a short distance to drinks and canapés on our 2.5m wide verandas and cellar door before continuing on to the reception,”
Rennae says. “With winery weddings, everyone generally remains together in the one spot for the whole celebration.” The single location means there is no navigating between reception and ceremony and guests can relax nearby while the couple shoot their wedding photos. Usually, they’re near enough to watch!
It’s something that earns praise from guests, and it also adds to the ambiance for the bride and groom. “It helps to highlight the special meaning of their day,” Rennae says. “And more than anything, that’s about being with family and friends.”
Shots among the vines are a must-have for any winery wedding, but Renee says a working estate offers myriad beautiful backdrops. Think cellar doors and a sprawling array of breathtaking nooks and crannies just perfect for photography.
“We actually encourage couples to make use of the wider property,” she says.
“There’s our driveway, which is lined by historic pin oak trees, our beautiful grand gates, which have the property’s name on them, lovely ornate lighting and lawn areas as well. As you move between them, it’s almost like telling a story.”
And there’s plenty of other ways couples can add inspiration to winery shots as well, from using props, such as wellington boots, balloons and buckets, to unposed images, where they walk and talk together and the photographer snaps them at will.
Wineries often lie in the heart of communities noted for their food, which creates a ready-made invitation to factor local produce into wedding menus. This can be anything from cheeses, seafood and meats to vegetarian options.
Again, it’s something the Rackleys have eagerly embraced, from their roaming-style canapés to decadent desserts.
As Rennae explains: “When it comes to weddings, people head to the Yarra Valley as a destination, so our menu is highly driven by Yarra Valley produce.” It also creates a great excuse to return to the Valley again for an extended culinary exploration…
Since you’re directly connected to your earthy surrounds, use the winery as inspiration to feature rustic and autumn-inspired tones for your bouquet. Think beyond flowers to incorporate such touches as real or artificial vines, which look stunning, and also work perfectly as buttonholes for the gents.
What goes perfectly with wine? Cheese of course. And with cheese wheels being so popular, a winery wedding is the perfect opportunity to replace, or compliment, a more traditional cake with one whose layers boast flavours such as brie or cheddar. Again, use vines or even grapes for decoration.
Everyone loves a wedding sign, so draw yours from nature with a series of wooden signposts that blend perfectly into nature. These can point people to the ceremony and reception, announce the bride’s arrival, flag the dessert table or even help direct people towards their assigned seat.
Corks aren’t just practical , they can also serve a pretty purpose. You can use them to hold place cards or table numbers, stack them in a vase as a centerpiece, arrange them around the levels of a cake or glue them together to form coasters.
Last, but most certainly not least, it goes without saying that guests who are invited to a winery wedding expect a top drop perfectly matched to each course. And it’s a trend that is dear to the heart of Rennae and Dean who, like most wineries, exclusively serve their own Halcyon Daze Estate wines.
“We are recognised for our boutique range of wines,” Dean says. “This ranges from a robust pinot noir and a handcrafted chardonnay to sparkling wine.”
Other popular options, depending on food choices and the time of year, include merlot and cabernet sauvignon. And there’s an extra benefit to a winery wedding – the cellar door, which helps to create wonderful memories by allowing guests to take home the same wines they’ve been drinking.
“There really is no better place for a wedding than a winery,” Rennae says.
“And it’s not just because of the beautiful surrounds; there’s just something very special and intangible about forging that earthy connection as you make your vows. It really does make for an unforgettable day.”