Weddings Go On, With or Without Power

Kristin Tice Studeman, a wine expert and writer, and Jake Greenblatt, who works in finance, stood this past Saturday under a huppah crafted in red, orange and green blossoms at Meadowood, a hotel and golf club in California’s Napa Valley. The couple, who are from New York City, held hands and beamed as the rabbi declared, “We are standing in the Garden of Eden just as it was when the world was created. The electricity has just been hooked up, and God said, ‘It was good.’”

This was no metaphor. Since Oct. 9, much of Napa Valley and Sonoma, including Meadowood, had operated without power.

It was a dry week with almost no humidity, and the winds were strong, gusting at times. Because these weather conditions were ideal for wildfires, Pacific Gas & Electric, the utility giant, preemptively cut off power, eliminating the risk that one of its transmission lines would spark and lead to tragedy.

Almost 800,000 people in 34 counties were affected by the rolling blackouts, including Ms. Tice Studeman and Mr. Greenblatt.

With no electricity in guest rooms, the groom took a cold shower to prepare for a welcome dinner on Thursday, a fun affair with a waffle and chicken station. For the rehearsal dinner on Friday at Inglenook, a winery that was founded in 1879 and now owned by the film director Francis Ford Coppola, he showered at the pool. There he ran into Rabbi Elliot J. Cosgrove of the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York in his pajamas (who was also showering there).

Meadowood had generators to power public spaces, so the bride showered in the locker rooms by the pool and her hair was professionally styled in a corner of the resort’s three Michelin-starred restaurant.

“We were looking at getting generators in from Los Angeles,” said Ms. Tice Studeman, who is the founder of the Rosé Project, an event series that includes dinners paired interesting rosé wines. “My wedding planner bought every candle she could find. We were like, Maybe we will have a candlelit reception. As long as we could get everyone drunk on wine, we knew they would have fun.”

The power returned Friday evening, so all backup plans were abandoned. But the relief of all parties involved was evident by the ceaseless jokes during the festivities. “Is this a power couple?” asked the groom’s father during his wedding toast at the reception held in a see-through tent next to a pond with swans. “What can I say, Is this the power of love?”

Thanks to mild temperatures and colorful leaves, October is peak wedding season in Napa Valley.

“We were lucky this weekend we only had one wedding a day — usually it’s four to six a weekend in October,” said Katie Kristensen, the events director of Cornerstone Sonoma, a marketplace and garden events space in Sonoma.

PG&E released a list of counties where it might shut off power on Tuesday, but gave no definitive information. Some neighborhoods and counties had only a few hours’ notice before the lights went off within 48 hours. These last-minute power outages left couples, wedding planners, venues, lighting companies, caterers and others scrambling.

Couples who could afford it threw more money at the problem.

Sasha Souza, an event planner in Napa and Sonoma, staged a wedding, a winery event and a rehearsal dinner last weekend. Her wedding client spent $30,000 moving the ceremony from a church, which had no power, to the winery, where the reception was held. “We rented 200 extra chairs, built a huge ceremony arch, and added sound for the ceremony,” she said. “We added a lot of extra things to make it look just as special, instead of putting them on a lawn with nothing.” The church’s power returned Friday morning, and the original plans were reinstated (some of the new flower arrangements could be repurposed but nothing else).

Some places swallowed the extra costs for their clients.

“Our clients pay their venue fee, and our goal is for them to have a beautiful experience at this amazing venue, so we just decided we were going to make this work,” Ms. Kristensen said. She commissioned $5,000 in battery-powered lighting, which was later canceled when the power returned. Water trucks were brought in to keep four acres of gardens thriving. She bought solar-powered luxury portable bathrooms. “Many venues in Sonoma Valley have septic systems that need power to pump the wells,” she said. “That was interesting to navigate.”

One of the most sought-after commodities in wine country was not fine wine, but generators. They were sold out of stores by Tuesday, and couples brought them in from 500 miles away. Those who could find one paid heavily. “An $1,800 generator now costs $4,000,” Ms. Souza said.

Sondra Bernstein is the owner of the Girl and the Fig, a popular restaurant and catering company in Sonoma that was working four weddings in four different locations last weekend. Without water or power in her catering kitchen, friends came to the rescue. One offered her a kitchen with a generator to make wedding cakes. Another lent her a refrigerated truck in which to prepare food. “The community was amazing,” she said. “It kept everyone sane.”

Wedding guests were also thrown into turmoil. Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa, a quirky hotel in Calistoga where rooms come with hula hoops and tables that fold into camper beds, was one of the few places in the region with power Thursday morning. (It lost electricity Thursday night but only for a few hours.) Guests, spooked by the power outages, canceled reservations, which opened the way for others.

Claire O’Neill, a financial planner based in Denver who was in Napa for a friend’s wedding, got a last-minute room at the property after her Airbnb rental lost power and running water (and two other hotels she called first were fully booked). While she was making the most of the hotel’s facility like the mineral pools, staying there cost her $180 more than her original accommodation.

“Other friends decided to stay in their Airbnb without power,” she said. “I think they had fun having a flashlight party, but they all came to my room to get dressed for the wedding.”

Someone else who struggled to dress was Kacy Fowler, Ms. Tice Studeman’s sister from Lakewood, Colo. “When I learned the power was out, I bought an adapter that plugged into the cigarette lighter in the car and has two outlets available,” she said. Ms. Fowler dried and curled her hair in the car. “This was my sister’s wedding. I did whatever it took.”

A few guests canceled because of the outages. “One had a newborn,” Ms. Tice Studeman said. “I completely understood.”

The power outages have left wedding vendors contemplating whether October is still the best time for a California wedding. (Los Angeles had wildfires last week.)

“I would hate for people to just freak out and go, ‘Oh my God, we can’t get married in October,’ because that would be horrible,” Ms. Bernstein said. “It’s so beautiful here right now. But do we need to change our business model for October? Maybe.”

Some vendors claim this experience has left them more prepared for fall weddings. Ms. Souza said one of her most valuable wedding-planning tools is now an app called Windy, which predicts the strong winds that lead to wildfires. “It looks like this same thing is going to happen, the 36-mile-an-hour gusts, on Sunday the 20th,” she said. “This is just how it is going to be.”

“Knowing we are in fire season, we have now invested in better equipment and a better plan moving forward,” Ms. Kristensen said. “We are booked next October so I feel good about that.”

The couples who went through this experience can’t say with certainty they would choose to do it this way again. But they know they have a tale to tell. As Ms. Tice Studeman said, “It certainly was exciting. It definitely made me appreciate how my wedding turned out even more.”

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