When Guillermina Garcia and Riley Moore got engaged in March, they thought about a wedding in Los Angeles, Garcia’s home town, where the young couple envisioned a scenic ceremony by the sea.
“But I couldn’t imagine planning a wedding from afar with how busy my schedule is here,” said Garcia, 27, who moved to the District in 2008 and works on Capitol Hill.
So the pair came up with a new idea: As regular patrons of Breaux Vineyards, a winery in Loudoun County, they had come to love the rolling hillsides and tasteful simplicity of the setting. They plan to hold their wedding reception there in October, Garcia said, on a large stone terrace nestled among rows of merlot and cabernet grapevines.
“When we eliminated L.A. as an option, we knew [the wedding] was going to be in Virginia, at Breaux,” Garcia said. “We didn’t want it to be in the city. I think Breaux captures the feel that we wanted — outdoors, beautiful, elegant.”
The couple personifies a trend that has sent a soaring number of Washington area brides and grooms flocking to Loudoun County to get married in recent years, tourism officials and local wedding industry vendors say. Last year, Loudoun hosted nearly 2,700 weddings at wineries, historic inns, country manors, rustic barns and resort ballrooms, according to Visit Loudoun, the county’s tourism association. Those newlyweds spent more than $42 million, tourism officials said — and that’s a conservative estimate, encompassing only the cost of hotel rooms, venue rentals and catering.
The county’s rise to the top of the region’s list of desirable wedding destinations is almost entirely trend- and customer-driven, local industry experts say — the opposite of the “If you build it, they will come” philosophy behind so many hotel and conference center ballrooms. Some of the most popular wedding sites in Loudoun, which is self-branded as “D.C.’s Wine Country” and home to nearly 40 wineries, weren’t established with weddings in mind.
“We started with the wine first, and that’s at the heart of everything we do,” said Jen Breaux, sales and hospitality director at Breaux Vineyards. On a chilly February afternoon, she sat in the winery’s Grand Acadia Room — a stately event space that opened in January 2013, with wood floors, crystal chandeliers and massive glass windows overlooking the vineyard — as she recalled the first wedding hosted at the property in 1997.
“One of our wine club members told my father that he wanted to get married here,” she said. “We thought, ‘Okay, maybe we could make money with this’ — it’s hard to make money in the wine industry, it’s no secret, so we were open to it.”
She shook her head and laughed. “The couple was very laid-back, which was good, because we didn’t know what we were doing back then. We had a patio, we asked if they wanted our patio umbrellas, there was wine.”
But over the years, word of mouth drew more engaged couples to the vineyard, Breaux said, and the winery adapted to the mounting demand. Now, with the Acadia Room offering an indoor alternative to a tent or terrace, events coordinator Reagan Morris said the winery is aiming to host as many as 40 to 50 weddings this season, with the most popular dates falling in May, June, September and October.
Construction was underway to expand the vineyard’s tasting room and outdoor stone terraces, where couples will be able to set up tents to host even bigger weddings — currently, Morris said, the winery can hold a maximum of about 150 guests.
Breaux noted that the winery only recently invested in wedding-focused marketing on TheKnot.com, a popular online resource for everything wedding-related. Breaux Vineyards will also be featured on a venue tour in an upcoming Loudoun County bridal show — the first of its kind, organized by county tourism officials and marketed as “Virginia Wine Country’s Premier Wedding Showcase.”
The bridal show aims to attract at least 200 potential brides to Lansdowne Resort on March 2, along with their friends and family members, said Ashleigh Dawson, sales and development manager with Visit Loudoun.
“We want to showcase what Loudoun has to offer as a weddings destination, because there are so many phenomenal venues and extraordinarily talented wedding professionals, and this show will create a forum to connect the brides with those vendors,” Dawson said.
After an exposition at the resort, she said, the event will offer venue tours with three themes: wineries, rustic barns and historic mansions and manors.
The event follows an aggressive weddings campaign launched by Visit Loudoun in December, with a focus on social media, blogging and a dedicated Web page for weddings in the county. “We’re ramping up our efforts to heighten awareness of Loudoun as a weddings destination,” Dawson said.
So are local wedding vendors such as Laura Ritchie, who six years ago launched her Loudoun-based company, Events in the City, with business partner Megan Pollard. Their business has doubled its income every year, Ritchie said, and the pair opened a physical studio in downtown Leesburg two years ago.
Ritchie said she has seen a significant shift in the number of District residents who want to come to Loudoun for their weddings.
“Six years ago, the idea of Loudoun was, ‘What? Where?’ ” she said. “But now everyone loves the idea of a destination without having to go far away, and it really does feel like a whole other place.”
She said part of Loudoun’s appeal is that its venues offer a blank canvas that allows couples to design the look of their event.
“There is generally more interest in weddings being more a reflection of the people getting married — the way they live, their personalities,” she said. “There has been more need for personalization and attention to detail. People are moving away from cookie-cutter hotel ballroom weddings, because everyone wants this to be their day.”
That desire for originality has led many brides and grooms away from familiar settings, she said. “If you grew up in the D.C. area, you’ve probably been to a friend’s wedding at many of the city venues,” she said. “Many people are looking for something that’s different and new. And that’s great for Loudoun, because a lot of these places are newer.”
Loudoun also reflects many of the trends that have taken off in the wedding industry and on social media sites such as Pinterest, she said. “Vintage chic is in. It’s a barn wedding, but you have velvet. It’s rustic, but there are crystal chandeliers. You have a ballroom with wooden farm tables.”
Leesburg floral designer Holly Chapple, who has designed floral arrangements for weddings for 21 years, said the rustic aesthetic became popular during the recession, “when people were looking for something that was more comfortable, less opulent-feeling, rather than . . . ostentatious, over-the-top, dripping in D.C.,” she said. “When the trend really swung to this vintage, rustic-barn look, Loudoun was the answer to that for all of the Washington, D.C., market.”
Chapple is one of about a half-dozen local wedding vendors who plan to launch Middleburg Events, a wedding and events company, in March. The business was conceived by Matilda Reuter, a third-generation Loudoun businesswoman and general manager of the Red Fox Inn and Tavern in Middleburg, a quaint town in the heart of Loudoun’s horse country that is home to historic inns, sprawling estates and the recently opened Salamander Inn and Spa, a posh resort built by Black Entertainment Television co-founder Sheila Johnson.
“My dream with founding this company was really to provide any sort of client with a sort of concierge service, to help them find the right venue as well as the right vendors,” Reuter said. “We just felt that now is the time, the wedding industry out here is booming, and we thought we should capitalize on that opportunity.”
Reuter, 30, said the transformation of Loudoun’s wedding industry has been particularly dramatic as wineries have multiplied across the county, including in the Middleburg area.
“The wineries have brought a lot more people out, and then they see that we do have such great bed-and-breakfasts, and we have the Salamander Resort and Spa now, and people doing great things to old properties,” she said. “There are so many more destinations and places where multiple people could get married. Before, there were three places you could get married, and when they were booked, they were booked.”
Reuter hopes the new business will draw even more couples to Middleburg. If they make the trip, she said, she knows they’ll be seduced by their surroundings.
“When you drive to Loudoun, you come out past these rolling hillsides, the countryside, the wineries,” she said. “Honestly, how could you not want to get married out here?”