Spring hasn't sprung -- but wedding season has already begun in one of the Bay Area's most romantic destinations -- the Sonoma Valley.
And it's not just because the hit show 'The Bachelor' is being shot there this season. The mild weather has couples flocking to the Sonoma wine region to check pricing and venues for their upcoming nuptials. There was even a big wedding fair in the barrel room at Cline Cellars last weekend.
An interesting fact about Cline Cellars -- it was the original Sonoma Mission site before it proved prone to flooding.
The good news for Catholics, they say, is that the church recognizes weddings at this winery. Indeed, it's a heavenly place for a ceremony, with lush lawns and colorful gardens accented by fountains and ponds.
Not everyone who comes here cares about weddings, though, or even wine. Some find these things downright "yucky". We're talking about the 4,000 fourth-graders a year who come here for their mission projects -- and to see donkeys Fancy and Pudding -- furry reminders of the beasts who carried water and supplies at the mission camp.
"In 2004, Nancy [Cline] got a phone call," says tour guide Mike Alberigi, "offering her the replica of the Mission Sonoma that had been on display at the 1939 World's Fair on Treasure Island."
Cline bought all 21 of the replicas and they're on display in their own separate building at the winery. It's a big draw for grade-schoolers in Northern California. "The kids never hear about the wine," says Alberigi, who adds that the parents, meanwhile, are treated to wine tours and tastings.
Ten minutes away, the old Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma stands as the cornerstone of Sonoma Square, a watch guard of history in a town blazing trails in the slow food and wine industry. Here, too, there are weddings.
The old mission chapel provides a sacred sanctuary for couples who want history to be part of their future together.
How serendipitous, then, that this season's star of "The Bachelor" should be from this town. The hit show has been on set in Sonoma for the last several episodes, giving the region even more clout when it comes to romance.
Cline Cellars: http://www.clinecellars.com
Mission Sonoma: http://www.parks.sonoma.net/sonoma.html
Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau: http://www.sonomavalley.com