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Monday, July 2, 2012

Wine Country Weddings: Say I Do on Baker Ridge at Thomas George Estates

This was sunrise a week ago on Baker Ridge in the Russian River Valley. *Sigh* It was so gorgeous. I was blissed out to the max. I felt like I was standing in the center of a little slice of heaven on earth.

Sunrise, Baker Ridge, Thomas George Estates
Mt. Saint Helena at dawn from Baker Ridge, Healdsburg, CA

Being there made me want to listen to John Denver songs, eat brie cheese with bread, fruit and olives, and write poetry. Keep in mind I've never written poetry before. Nor do I read poetry. LOL. I guess I could have written a haiku. The whole 5-7-5 format is, for some reason, seared into my memory from childhood. Had I written one for the picture above I think it would have gone like this:

reaching for the sun
here I find serenity
too soon it will end

Grape Vines, Summer, Baker Ridge

The first day I was there it was just me communing with nature and, of course, my cameras.

New Pinot Grapes, Thomas George Estates, Baker Ridge

There were Pinot noir grapes everywhere! I should have held a cluster in my hand to show you the scale. Right now they're tiny, like the size of frozen green peas.

Entrance, Thomas George Estates

But why was I there? Baker Ridge is part of Thomas George Estates. You may recall I visited the winery last month while on a three day Wine Road blogging tour. After I published my post the winery contacted me to see if it would be ok to use some of the pictures I'd taken for their marketing purposes. I said sure. All I ever ask in return is for a photo credit and a link back to the post the photos were used in if the images are used online.

Thomas George Estates, WInery, Tasting Room
You'll know you're at TGE when you see these signs out on Westside Road.

Then they asked if Jeremy Baker, the winery's President, had been able to show us their new wedding and event area while we were there in May. Unfortunately we were on such a tight schedule he wasn't able to. So, they invited me back for a site tour!

Thomas George Estates, Guest House

And they graciously invited me to stay in one of their four guest houses if I was able to make the two and a half hour drive up. They didn't have to ask or offer twice! I was so excited to be able to visit Thomas George Estates, Healdsburg and the Russian River Valley again.

Upon my arrival at 3:00 PM I got my first peek of the event area driving up with Adrienne Donnelly, TGE's Tasting Room & Wine Club Manager, just to learn where it was. After that I was given the keys to a guest house and was on my own, free to wander and enjoy the property until checkout the following morning.

Thomas George Estates, Chardonnay, Guest House

When I arrived there was a bottle of Chardonnay wine waiting for me in the Chardonnay guest house.

Thomas George Estates, Master Bedroom, Guest House

The master bedroom was gorgeous! I almost had to pinch myself! I definitely didn't feel worthy to stay in such a beautiful room.

Interiors, Guest House, Thomas George Winery

But there was more. . . The living room had seating, a fireplace, and Direct TV! The bathroom had a neat glass door shower and there was a second guest bedroom and bathroom.

Guest House Kitchen, Fresh Eggs, TGE Winery

There was also a fully equipped kitchen. I just needed to bring food to cook. I didn't bring any with me but there was a bowl of eggs, laid fresh that morning, in the fridge along with spring and sparkling water. Three of my favorite things to eat and drink :)

Thomas George Estates, Chickens, Coop

After settling in I went out to explore the winery grounds and wanted to spend more time in the event areas at the top of Baker Ridge. The first thing I found across the driveway and just past the guest houses were the chickens that laid the eggs in the fridge!

Thomas George Estates, Gardens
"The Source" sculpture symbolizes Life, Love and Beauty.

As I walked up the main drive there was a bronze sculpture/fountain of a robed woman holding a crystal sphere. It's called "The Source" and was made by American sculptor Frederick Hart. I really like the way the soft way the metal undulates around her face. And I loved the colors of the patina along the front of her robe.

At the top of the drive you'll find the winery, tasting room, and a welcoming lawn area complete with patio and deck seating and another free standing fountain.

I passed the wine caves and tasting room and headed up the trail at the far end of the parking lot.

Thomas George Estates, Wine Cave

There are two ways to get to Baker Ridge. One is to get in your car, drive down Westside Road, enter a private driveway, pass through a security gate and continue driving up to the top of the ridge.

Or you can hike up (note the emphasis on the word up) using a foot trail. Since I had nothing but time on my hands I decided to have a go at hiking up to be able to take pictures of the spaces that will soon be available for weddings, private parties and special events.

As I began up the path there were wood and dirt steps cut into the earth. About two thirds of the way up the trail became a dirt path. Along the sides of the trail are bushes, trees and ferns. I was shocked to see maiden hair fern growing wild along the trail.

Afternoon, Baker Ridge, Pinot Grapes Vineyard

At the top of the trail I entered the vineyard through a gated fence. Thomas George Estates has three vineyards: Baker Ridge, Starr Ridge and Cresta Ridge. Baker Ridge consists of 26.5 planted acres comprised of: Pinot Noir (21 acres), Chardonnay (4 acres), Grenache (1.5 acres), and Viognier (1 acre).

Bright Green, New, Pinot Grapes
This is one of my favorite shots I took the first day.

I had fun shooting the clusters of new grapes from every angle. I thought back lit with a short depth of field, softly out of focus on the sides, with the sun softly glowing through the leaves behind them made the grapes look sublime. They have no idea of the grand and elegant future that awaits them.

Entrance, Weddings, Upper Terrace, Thomas George Winery

After a short hike through the vineyards I made my way to the event area. There are actually two event areas. This one is the Upper Terrace. Perched at the top of the road with a view of vineyards on three sides and the valley below on one. The entrance is a petite arbor with newly planted grape vines that in no time will grow up and over the arbor.

Panoramic View, Upper Terrace, Thomas George Winery

It's quite spacious, paved, and is surrounded by a hand-laid stone wall. The wooden structure towards the back can be used as a ceremony or bar area. If you'd like a site tour contact Adrienne Donnelly at (707) 431- 8031. The spaces opened for events on July 1, 2012.

Seating, Weddings, Upper Terrace, Baker Ridge

Around both terraces are newly planted flowering plants that the butterflies and honeybees can't seem to get enough of. I even spotted some hummingbirds flitting to and fro. There are tables and chairs (with seating for up to 50) beneath a canopy of trees that come as part of the space. For a larger event you'll need to rent additional table and chairs.

One of the neat things about having a wedding at Thomas George Estates is on the off chance it rains you can either rent a tent from a rental company or move your wedding into the wine caves at no additional charge. The first thing I thought when I saw the wine caves last month was they would be a fantastic place for a wedding or dinner party.

Rental Perks, Weddings, Upper Terrace, Thomas George Winery
The garden structure, moveable bar, paved surface and hand-laid stone wall.

Here are some details I can share with you. The rustic garden structure complements the vineyard perfectly. It can be used as a ceremony site or, as seen here, it can be the bar area during your cocktail hour or reception. Or it can be both! Use it for your ceremony, have your cocktail hour on the lower terrace then have your dinner reception back in the upper terrace with the bar in place. Or it could be a great place to display your wedding cake during your reception.

The wood and granite bar has a built in sink and is on casters so it can be moved out of the way if you opt to use the space for another purpose. It comes included with the space.

A mobile, professional kitchen is also included in the site rental fee.

The ground may look like loose dirt but it's paved so that women don't have to worry about their heels sinking in.

And the hand-laid stone wall is almost complete. There was just one small section along the entryway that's in its finishing stages.

Bathrooms, Upper Terrace, Baker Ridge

I thought this was a small guest cottage. I was wrong. Can you believe it's the bathrooms? So cute!

Thomas George, Baker Ridge, The Lookout

The lower terrace, named "The Lookout," is a large, open, flat area. When I saw it I thought to myself: Anything's possible with this space. The rock retaining wall creates a backdrop looking back towards the Upper Terrace and new landscaping is being planted to soften the borders around the sweeping view of the valley below. It's sure to be a hit.

Thomas George, Event Area, Baker Ridge

The entry to The Lookout is lined with hand-laid stone walls. The view is of the Russian River Valley, Mt. Saint Helena, and an area about to be replanted with new grape vines.

In both areas amplified music is allowed until 10:00 PM. However if you're staying past dark you will need to consider renting additional lighting as there currently is no lighting at the top of the ridge, save for the sun :)

Can you picture a bride and groom posing for their photos here? I can.

After photographing the event areas I literally walked through the vineyard. One might think there isn't much to see other than grapes. But they would be wrong.

Grape, Vine, Tendrils, Baker Ridge
Nature's party streamers.

For starters I loved how the delicate, new tendrils of the vines create natural filigree shapes and patterns.

There was also a surprising amount of wildlife on the ridge. I saw hummingbirds, at least five different kinds of butterflies, honeybees, bumblebees, dragonflies, over a dozen little lizards, and beautiful turkey vultures with their amazing five foot wingspans. One didn't realize I was there sitting quietly and flew so close to me as it came over the lavender plants I could hear its wings flap! It was gorgeous.

Easter Blue Long-tailed Butterfly, Honeybee

There were many Swallowtail butterflies, both yellow and white, but they would only fly by and never land. I tried to get a shot of them in motion but they flew so fast it was impossible. I finally gave up in frustration and that's when I noticed a rather non-descript little grey and brown butterfly alongside the honeybees on a nearby lavender plant.

Upon closer inspection I realized that this wasn't an ordinary butterfly! It had a tiny tail like a Swallowtail only it was much more petite and dainty. The underside of its wings was a soft grey with orange, black, and white patterning with tiny tails stood out delicately from the bottom of its wings. It's antennae were striped black and white with tiny black and orange tips. And it had a bright orange spot on its head.

Female, Eastern Long-tailed Blue Butterfly

When it spred it's wings I was able to see the topside of its wings was a rich brown streaked with a metallic blue. A little research online and I was able to identify it as a female, Eastern Long-tailed Blue Butterfly. So though it wasn't the butterfly I'd hoped for, it turned out to be even more special.

Olive Trees, Baker Ridge

Lining the road to reach the top of the ridge are olive trees. As I meandered between the vines and the road I realized there were baby olives on the branches!

Artichoke, Flowers, Baker Ridge

And I found some unharvested artichoke plants that had gone to bloom. This flower was around 5" in diameter.

Part of the reason I decided to go spend the day on the ridge was I was hoping to be able to photograph a beautiful sunset. Alas, there were no colors in the sky. But all was not lost.

Sunset, Baker Ridge, Grape Vine
Sunset in the vineyard on Baker Ridge, Healdsburg, CA

Why did being in the vineyard make me want to write poems? It's like I tapped into another part of me:

the sun must set now
a slow dance of leaves and light
ethereal calm

I've decided haiku is like the twitter of poetry :)

I LOVE this photo of a grape vine, shadowy and back lit, with the leaves showing just enough transparency that you can just barely make out their green color in the fading light. It turned out to be my favorite photo of the day.

With the light ebbing I decided to head back down the hiking trail before it got too dark. Can you imagine accident prone me, walking down any trail in the dark? I'm sure that scenario would not end well. With my luck I'd break my ankle (or something) and would have to crawl and drag myself through the darkness back to my elegant guest house. LOL

Guest Cottage, Dusk, Thomas George Estates

If there had been any stress left in me after spending five hours in the vineyards it would have vaporized at the sight of the Chardonnay guest house with its porch light aglow.

Thomas George Estates, Early Wake Up
At 5:15 there was finally enough light in the sky to snap a picture of the trees.

The next morning I woke up at 4:15 AM. Tracy from the WIne Road was coming to meet me at 5:00 AM and we were going to hike back up to Baker Ridge to photograph the sunrise. CLICK HERE to read her blog post of our shared adventure.

Before she arrived I went outside to take a picture for you. At 4:30 AM the air smelled a-m-a-z-i-n-g. It was a wet grass (like a field, not lawn clippings) smell that was dewy, sweet, fresh, and earthy. It was a scent you can never recreate in the city. Kind of like the way horses smell. I LOOOOOOVE the way horses smell. They smell of sweetness and hay and sun shine. I literally stood in the darkness just to be able to breathe in the fresh country air. I probably even said "ah" out loud after each breath. LOL. Thankfully no one was there to hear me save for the owl hooting in a nearby tree.

Sunrise, Baker Ridge, Thomas George Winery
The sun rising from Baker Ridge

The reason Tracy came to hang out with me was because after I went on the Wine Road tours last month she asked what camera did I use? I told her the Panasonic Lumix GF2 and that if she got one too I'd be happy to come back up to show her how the camera works.

A few weeks later she sent me an email that the Wine Road had purchased the camera for her to use on their blog Wine Time with Tracy. So up on Baker Ridge, right at dawn, I began showing her the ins and outs of her new camera. I love this picture she took and posted on Pinterest.

And we weren't alone. Gobble, gobble. I spotted this lone wild turkey standing along the side of the road. We also noticed three hot air balloons. And a Black Locust tree looked particularly striking with the sun backlighting a single seed pod.

Wild Turkey, Hot Air Balloon, Black Locust

Thomas George Estates and Baker Ridge may be the most beautiful, serene and peaceful place I've ever visited. If you're ever tempted to go wine tasting, a drive through the Russian River Valley would be a great day trip from just about anywhere in the Bay Area. If you're a Thomas George Pioneer Wine Club member you can enjoy a 50% discount off their standard guest house rates. Be sure to contact the estate for availability.

My thanks to Denise Sanders, Adrienne Donnelly and Thomas George Estates for inviting me on the site tour. The guest house stay was a lovely treat and very much appreciated. One thing I've learned in my two visits to Thomas George: There is no such thing as an overlooked detail. From the way they craft their world class wines to a guest's overall experience when visiting the winery, they think of everything, then tend to each detail with care.

The new event areas are sure to be a hit with brides and grooms whose hearts are set on a wine country wedding beneath the sky, in the vineyards, surrounded by the beauty of nature.

Here's all you need to know to visit Thomas George Estates:

Thomas George Estates - Website
8075 Westside Rd.
Healdsburg, Sonoma County, CA 95448 - Map

Tasting Room Hours: 11-5, seven days a week
Tasting Fee: $10.00, refundable with wine purchase

If you're interested in a wedding site tour contact Adrienne Donnelly at (707) 431- 8031

To join the Thomas George Wine Club just click here.

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