One Couple's French-Inspired Wedding at a California Winery and Villa

bride and groom in doorway outside looking at each other
Sposto Photography

In the summer of 2016, Natalie was assigned to a military training unit in Florida. Since her 10-year-old daughter would be staying with family for the two months that she was training, she decided to give online dating a try. When Jon reached out, the two bonded over their experiences living in Europe and in the military (Jon is an Army veteran!), and although it was already getting late, he convinced Natalie to meet him for a drink that night. Before they parted ways that evening, the two shared their first kiss on a park bench and made plans for breakfast the next morning. They spent every day of the next month or so together before Natalie had to leave for California.

Just a few months after that first date, Jon decided to pick up and move to California to continue his relationship with Natalie. Two years later, while the couple enjoyed dinner at one of their favorite restaurants (nestled into Balboa Park) in San Diego, Jon suggested a post-meal stroll through the rose garden. There, he got down on one knee and popped the question. "I was so surprised and it was so beautiful in the center of a circle surrounded by all of the roses in bloom," Natalie says.

Drawing on their European adventures, the couple knew they wanted a French-inspired venue where they could create an elegant experience with timeless details. They landed on The Sunstone Winery & Villa in Santa Ynez, California, where just under 40 guests joined them for an intimate affair on March 15, 2020. They worked with planner and designer Amanda Landon of Amanda Maie & Co. to pull off a formal country wedding inspired by France and Italy. Although Natalie and Jon had to change their wedding date more than once because of the COVID-19 pandemic and Natalie's deployment, they managed to plan a destination celebration in California from their home in Washington in just four months.

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Old-World Suite

ivory paper with gold foil lettering invitation suite
Sposto Photography

Natalie and Jon's invitation suite was printed on ivory paper with gold foil lettering. They hired Cindy Chi from Owl Post Calligraphy to help them design a crest—the color scheme of which nodded to the event's palette of gold, white, and blush—using their initials; it was featured on both their stationery and wedding cake. The rehearsal dinner invitation included a hand-drawn image of the winery and villa done in gold foil; the RSVP cards featured a french fleur-de-lis design (the ultimate European touch).

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Princess for a Day

bride wearing off the shoulder Liz Martinez organza wedding dress
Sposto Photography

The bride shopped for wedding dresses in Seattle, San Diego, and Los Angeles—she was on the hunt for a gown unlike all the rest. Her mother, sister, niece, and daughter joined for those appointments; Jon even took part by driving them all over Los Angeles, from one atelier to another. "It was so special that he partook in that part of the process. I felt like a princess being whisked all over town that day," she says. And when she tried on an organza Liz Martinez gown with floral and butterfly appliqués, she cried and knew it was the one! She added custom drop sleeves and paired the a veil, also by Liz Martinez.

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Borrowed Sparkles

silver Jimmy Choo crystal embellished heels
Sposto Photography

Crystal-covered Jimmy Choo mules added a touch of sparkle to Natalie's look, as did earrings and a hair pin she borrowed from her sister (she realized she forgot her jewelry right before the first look!).

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Classic Groom

groom wearing black tux leaning on vintage car outside
Sposto Photography

Jon purchased a Vera Wang tuxedo for the celebration and paired his getup with a black bow tie, cuff links, and a white pocket square.

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Blending Families

groom presenting daughter of bride with promise ring before ceremony
Sposto Photography

Natalie's daughter, Izabella, stood by her side as a bridesmaid; she wore a dress from Lulus, matching the rest of her mother's attendants. Before the ceremony, Jon shared a special moment with her, offering her a ring and a promise to always love her and be there for her. "She was so surprised! We made sure our photographer was there to capture that special moment—the pictures are priceless," Natalie says.

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Last-Minute Fix

bride with two flower girls outside
Sposto Photography

The flower girls' dresses and shoes didn't arrive on time due to the COVID-19 pandemic—but luckily, Natalie was able to rush outfits from David's Bridal and have them delivered straight to the venue.

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The First Look

bride walking down staircase to groom for first look
Sposto Photography

Natalie and Jon shared a first look at the villa, and the bride explains that she was getting more and more excited as the big debut drew near. "We had been waiting for this moment for so long and it was finally happening," she says, "Having that moment together probably kept my eyes a little drier during the ceremony, also."

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On Location

outdoor villa wedding ceremony
Sposto Photography

The service took place outside of the stone villa, where a rustic fireplace served as the focal point. The couple selected French provincial King Louis chairs to create a feeling of opulence and formality.

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Lush Touches

fireplace filled with floral and candle display
Sposto Photography

A fireplace was decorated with a large mantel arrangement, featuring ivory-and-blush roses and branches for texture. Similar arrangements were displayed on the ground; lit pillar candles in varying heights were situated in glass votives.

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A Religious Ceremony

groom saying his vows to bride during wedding ceremony
Sposto Photography

Natalie's uncle, Dexter, officiated their religious ceremony; a live guitarist played gentle music throughout. Though they originally planned to exchange scripted vows, they decided to write their own just hours before the service. "I cried half way through mine and there were a few laughs as well," says Natalie. "People told us how beautiful our vows were and they were so surprised to hear we wrote them that morning."

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Perfect Pair

cocktail and appetizer pairing on wooden serving tray
Sposto Photography

Jon and Natalie offered guests a full bar during the cocktail hour, along with appetizers that were served with a drink. Crispy pork belly in a bourbon apricot glaze was paired with whiskey on the rocks, while chicken and waffles were presented with a Moscow mule.

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Taste of Italy

various foods grazing station for guests
Sposto Photography

To the couple's delight, the head chef at the venue is from Italy—so he put together a beautiful grazing table featuring fine cured meats, domestic cheeses, gourmet crackers, and accompaniments like infused olive oils, fresh fruits, nuts, and olives.

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Into the Villa

indoor villa reception area with long linen covered tables
Sposto Photography

The dinner reception was held inside the villa, where stone walls and wood beams infused the space with rustic ambience; lavish chandeliers added elegance. Another fireplace at the end of the room was embellished with flower arrangements that crawled up the wall.

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Classic Settings

white and gold table settings with floral centerpieces and tapper candles
Sposto Photography

White rose centerpieces, placed in rustic urns, ran the length of each table. Ivory taper candles in tall gold candle holders were placed between each arrangement for texture. Place settings included gold-rimmed white plates and gold flatware.

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Poignant Toasts

guests toast with glasses during reception
Sposto Photography

Natalie and Jon served a three-course meal starting with a duo of fresh greens and butternut squash soup. For the main course, guests had their choice of local ribeye in a beurre blanc sauce, free-range chicken breast sautéed with garlic and herbs and topped with spinach and mozzarella, or homemade ravioli pasta filled with mushrooms in a cognac cream sauce. During dinner, the couple was touched to hear speeches from the maid of honor, both of Natalie's parents, and Jon's brother. "We had only planned on the maid of honor speech and my dad saying some words and giving us a toast," Natalie says, "so we felt so loved after they all spoke, as well!"

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La Vie en Rose

bride and groom share a twirl outside venue
Sposto Photography

The newlyweds' band, Paris Venice, is from the French Riviera and sang "La Vie en Rose" in French for their first dance. Natalie and Jon took dance lessons every Friday night in the weeks leading up to the celebration, and wanted to keep their choreographed dance a surprise. Although they didn't remember every step perfectly, Natalie does recall Jon telling her how beautiful she looked during their first dance. "He made me feel like a princess," she says.

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Cutting the Cake

bride and groom cutting into three tiered wedding cake
Sposto Photography

Natalie and Jon selected a classic champagne-flavored wedding cake, baked by Lele Patisserie. "Although our guest count was [small] and we could have gotten away with a two-layer, I really wanted a three-layer," the bride explains. Their custom crest was placed front and center on the middle tier; a few flowers and a gleaming gold stand polished off the display.

Although the pandemic forced the couple cancel their Tulum, Mexico, honeymoon, they rented the wedding venue for an additional night, opting for a mini-moon, instead. To duos currently planning their big days, Natalie recommends finding the best photographer possible. "I highly recommend working with your photographer to capture multiple events. You will not regret having pictures of all of those special moments!" she says.

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bride and groom sitting on black vintage car
Sposto Photography

Photography, Sposto Photography
Venue, Sunstone Winery & Villa
Wedding Planning and Event Design, Amanda Marie & Co.
Flowers, Anna Le Play Taylor Flowers
Stationery and Calligraphy, Owl Post Calligraphy
Bride's Gown and Veil, Liz Martinez
Bride's Accessories, Jimmy Choo
Bridesmaids' Dresses, Lulus
Flower Girls' Dresses and Shoes, David's Bridal
Groom's Suit, Vera Wang
Groomsmen's Suits, Men's Wearhouse
Cake and Favors, Lele Patisserie
Catering, Mistura Catering
Music, Paris Venice Duo; DJ Hectick
Rentals, Tent Merchant
Linens, La Tavola Linen
Transportation, Santa Barbara Speedster
Lighting, Bella Vista Designs
Bar, Bottles and Ice

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