This Couple Exchanged Vows Beneath a Willow Tree During Their Golden Hour Wedding Ceremony

The pair chose their venue in California's wine country for its connection to their relationship—and the stunning landscape, of course.

wedding couple outdoor portrait
Photo: Meg Smith

Zoe and Josh Lu first met back in March 2017 in San Francisco, Calif., when she was in the process of joining the company where he worked. After finishing her interviews, the two connected outside of the office, and the rest is history.

A little over two years later, Josh asked Zoe to marry him during a trip to Martinelli Winery in Sonoma County. This location already held a special place in their hearts—it's where they shared their first date (and Zoe's family has collected and enjoyed Martinelli wine for years). Zoe gave a resounding yes as Josh popped the question on the property's flower-filled deck.

The two began planning their wedding for September 2020, but the spread of COVID-19 forced them to push their event forward. Finally, on July 6, 2021, they celebrated their nuptials with just over 80 friends and family at Black Swan Lake, a private estate in Calistoga, Calif.

As soon as they strolled the greenery-filled grounds, they knew this venue was the one. "As we walked through, the willows swayed in the wind and butterflies fluttered by the central lake," says Zoe. They loved the timeless ambience and the opportunity to host their loved ones in such a serene place. The couple worked with Mollie Jones Hennes and Sunna Yassin of Bash Please throughout their evolving wedding timeline to create the unique and equally stunning big day they had been waiting for.

elegant pastel tones invitation suite
Meg Smith

Whimsical Watercolor Invitations

A custom watercolor illustration of the venue's gardens, created by Studio Luzance, gave guests a sneak peek of the dinner location. The handmade deckle-edge invitation suite also featured traditional gold calligraphy with modern sans serif font. A honey silk ribbon tied the package together, setting the tone for the golden hour celebration.

wedding welcome gift wine bottle with note
Meg Smith

Welcome to Beautiful Napa Valley!

To thank their guests for being a part of their big day, the duo gifted each attendee a bottle of wine sourced from the Napa Valley region.

bridesmaids and bride in matching dressing gowns
Meg Smith

Forever Awaits

Zoe and her bridesmaids wore coordinating floral robes as they got ready for the wedding ceremony.

bride portrait in elegant lace dress
Meg Smith

Classic Elegance

There was never any doubt in Zoe's mind: She knew she'd wear a Monique Lhuillier wedding dress. She had a vision of a classically elegant, yet beautifully detailed gown—and, in the end, created a custom ensemble by the designer, combining the lace of one frock with the bodice of another. The result was a V-neck, fitted-sleeve ball gown covered in delicate and intricate French lace with a dramatic, long train, classic silhouette, keyhole back, and pearl buttons.

blush tones floral wedding bouquets
Meg Smith

Colors of Wine Country

Zoe's lush bouquet echoed the warm, light landscape of wine country with white-and-pink roses and greenery. The bridesmaids held smaller and more delicate versions of the bride's arrangement.

bridesmaids in varied dresses walking through wooded area
Meg Smith

Romantic Color Palette

Each bridesmaid wore a unique dress that followed the soft, romantic color story of the wedding. "The mixture of fabrics, textures, colors, and patterns added depth and contrast," says Zoe. "Each bridesmaid had a unique style that fit them." The bride wanted them to feel confident in their dresses and choose something they could wear again.

wedding portrait first look in front of willow
Meg Smith

True Beginning

After waiting nearly 24 hours to see each other, the couple's first look took place by the willow trees, in a spot overlooking the venue's lake. "I felt at complete peace and bliss," Zoe says. "I was with my husband, on our wedding day, and we were sharing each and every moment of this day together."

The moment also felt monumental for Josh: "To me, it marked the true beginning of being together on the best day of our lives," he says.

wedding ceremony wooden chairs set up my willow and lake
Meg Smith

The Wonderful Willow

Zoe and Josh chose one of the property's dramatic lakeside willow trees as the backdrop for their ceremony. The tree, along with the surrounding landscape, is what sold them on the entire venue, they say.

elegant floral wedding ceremony setting outdoors
Meg Smith

Organic Beauty

Using a layered palette of white, linen, mauve, olive, pollen, lilac, and dusty blue, Max Gill Design played to the organic beauty of the location when creating the lush ceremony florals.

pastel wedding floral bouquets ceremony
Meg Smith

Pops of Florals

Abundant summertime blooms lined the aisle and spilled out behind the rows of light wooden chairs.

table of wedding drinks and baskets of umbrellas
Meg Smith

Toast to the Newlyweds

Guests were welcomed to the ceremony with glasses of Champagne and umbrellas to keep cool.

wedding ring bearer holding umbrella
Meg Smith

Ring Bearer Duties

Three-year-old Colin was feeling a bit shy before making his big-day debut as ring bearer. Luckily, his dad was waiting for him at the end of the aisle, which led to a happy sprint—and a massive round of applause from the guests once he made it.

wedding ceremony pianist
Meg Smith

Piano Lessons

A live pianist played Pachebel's "Canon in D," Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah," and Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love" during the ceremony processional.

outdoor wedding ceremony by giant willow
Meg Smith

Words of Affection

Zoe and Josh wrote their own vows, reflecting on their relationship and sharing their excitement about their journey as husband and wife. "Our vows talked about our commitment to one another. [We promised] to grow with each other, and always show love and patience, no matter how challenging times may be," says Zoe.

bride and groom recessing outdoor wedding
Meg Smith

Love Me Like You Do

The married couple walked out to Ellie Goulding's "Love Me Like You Do," surrounded by their closest family and friends (who were elegantly shading themselves with the white umbrellas in the bright Calistoga sun).

outdoor cocktail hour seating area with flowers and candles
Meg Smith

Touches of Candelight

Post-ceremony, Zoe and Josh took some time for themselves to sign their marriage license. Meanwhile, guests enjoyed the cocktail hour, where a mix of of furniture, including cozy couches and coffee tables topped with tea lights, provided romantic ambience.

signature drinks wedding cocktail hour
Meg Smith

On Location

The newlyweds offered four signature cocktails, each named for a meaningful place. The "Taipei Tini" referenced Josh's hometown, the "Martinelli Magic" was an homage to their engagement location, the "Kyoto Kiss" nodded to the duo's favorite trip, and the "Newport Nightcap" was an ode to the city where they live now.

japanese whiskey for wedding reception happy hour
Meg Smith

On the Rocks

In addition to their specialty cocktails and, of course, Martinelli wine, the couple also served Japanese whiskey. As a Japanese whiskey connoisseur, Josh had a lineup of several of his favorites at the bar for guests to enjoy.

wedding seating chart and flowers
Meg Smith

Simple Seating

Guests followed a path through grapevines and gardens towards a Tuscan home at the top of the hill; there, they found a simple escort display. Smooth tiles were calligraphed with guests' names and table assignments and placed on a wooden table with lush floral arrangements.

outdoor garden wedding reception long table
Meg Smith

Serene Setup

A long reception table was placed on what is typically the property's bocce court between two vine-covered pergolas.

long wedding reception table in garden
Meg Smith

Stunning Table Settings

With such a stunning backdrop and landscape, the couple kept reception dishes and flatware simple. The clean lines and neutral colors let the florals and art on the plates shine (the patterns were inspired by the couple's travels in Japan).

candles on wedding reception table
Meg Smith

Warm Lighting

Candlelight illuminated the table as their 80 guests took their seats.

elegant pastel floral arrangement on wedding reception tables
Meg Smith

Sunset-Inspired Blooms

Whimsical floral arrangements topped the table; they included soft, colorful blooms, which mirrored the changing colors in the sky as day turned to night. "The sunset seemed like fate. Pink, red, and orange hues covered the sky as we toasted to this day filled with love, all sitting together," says Zoe.

couple raising hands in celebration at reception arrival
Meg Smith

Newlywed Bliss

The pair excitedly walked into their reception area, where their friends and family, already seated, were waiting. The florals and décor, designed by Bash Please, were better than Josh and Zoe could have imagined, they say.

wedding reception bubble tea
Meg Smith

Boba Bash

Another one of the duo's favorite details? The boba bar. While in Taiwan, they challenged themselves to consume 20 boba items in three days—and while they didn't subject their guests to the same mission, it was a fun treat to bring out later in the evening.

simple two-tier wedding cake with small flowers
Meg Smith

Floral Confection

Susie Cakes created a vanilla and red velvet cake, which featured flowers that complemented the décor and the organic summer landscape.

wedding reception guests eating late night snack
Meg Smith

A Culinary Adventure

All of the wedding-day food reflected the couple's relationship, their passion for cooking and travel, and their cultural heritages. Componere Fine Catering used local, seasonal ingredients to create a menu that mixed Asian and Italian cuisines.

couple dancing at wedding reception costume change
Meg Smith

Two Step

Before taking to the dance floor, Zoe changed into a silk white dress and floral Keds. After dancing the night away, the bride and groom held on to one exciting secret. One week prior to the big day, they found out they were pregnant. They celebrated together in private before sharing it with their families the day after the wedding. "That little seed on our wedding day is now the love of our lives, growing and thriving!" they say. "Olive is the culmination of the love and passion that we share."

wedding couple in golf cart at winery
Meg Smith


Photographer, Meg Smith
Venue, Black Swan Lake
Wedding Planning and Event Design, Mollie Jones Hennes and Sunna Yassin of Bash Please
Videography, Kyle Mize
Flowers, Max Gill Design
Invitations and Paper Goods Printer, Aeralist Press
Invitations and Paper Goods Watercolor Artist, Studio Luzance
Officiant, Lili Freitas
Wedding Dress and Veil, Monique Lhuillier
Engagement Ring and Wedding Ring, Ring Concierge
Bride's Hair and Makeup, Katie Nash
Groom's Attire, Isaia
Groom's Cufflinks, David Yurman
Groom's Shoes, George Cleverly
Groomsmens' Attire, The Black Tux
Cellist, Kinga Basik
Band, The Shrines
Catering, Componere
Cake, Susie Cakes
Linen and Furniture Rental, Bash Please
Grand Piano Rental, Dart Collective
Lighting Rental, Got Light
Styling, Allison Calhoun
Transportation, NVTT

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles