Conversations: Dennis Vineyards
This is a series of conversations with other professionals in the wedding industry. I want to talk with vendors of all kinds to help you gain some insight into the wedding industry and what kinds of things to think about and ask as you start to meet with vendors for your wedding.
This week, I talk with Lauren Dennis Hutchins at Dennis Vineyards in Albemarle. The winery had humble beginnings when her grandfather started making his own wine 18 years ago. Demand started to grow after they began donating the wine to local churches for communion and it soon became a full-time family business. A wedding venue was added 11 years ago and ever since, brides have flocked to the pristine country side to get married amongst the gorgeous grape vines.
Lauren works with her brides through the whole process and makes sure everything goes smoothly. I sat down with my fellow Appalachian State alum in the winery's tasting room to talk about choosing a wedding venue and what to think about when start looking.
James: Let's talk about the the type of couples who come to Dennis Vineyards. What are they looking for? Do they want a full service package or do they just rent your space?
Lauren: I guess a la carte is the term. Most of the brides we get make sure they get things the way they want them. You’re seeing so much more of the DIY bride now. Pinterest--I love it and hate it at the same time. It does have some whacky ideas out there that I’m like “Why would you ever think of that?” Tons of people are finding great ways to save money now and it’s a great way to put your own personal spin on things.
James: Even with Pinterest and everything out there, there are still things you need a professional for.
Lauren: Yes, and with venues, there is a lot of sticker shock. People think "all we’re doing is renting your venue." It’s way more than that. We’re working with you for a year or more, helping you coordinate this. You come in various times for different meetings with us and then the day of is equally stressful for us as it is for her.
James: Not to mention, if you walked away your venue would …
Lauren: (laughing) Yeah, it would crumble.
James: I'm sure there is a lot of upkeep that goes on behind the scenes.
Lauren: Yes. The vines don’t just stay pretty.
James: What do you find are the biggest questions brides have when they first start looking and call? Do you ever get grooms who call?
Lauren: (laughing) Grooms are really funny to talk to because most of them, they either have no idea why they’re calling or what to ask, or you can tell they are reading off a list. We get some strange questions when grooms call like “Are there restrooms?”
I guess one of the most frequent questions we get is "Can we bring in our own caterer?” That’s one of the top questions. Price is another one. They also want to make sure we can accommodate the amount of guests they are anticipating.
Also, they want to make sure we have their date. You’d be amazed how many brides are set on this one date and it doesn’t matter if they have determined you’re the venue of their dreams, if we don’t have that date, click, they’re gone. It’s always uplifting when I hear a bride say “We’re searching for the perfect venue and then we’ll pick a date.” A lot of vendors, caterers in particular, have multiple teams and can do multiple weddings in a day. I just have the one venue so when it is booked, it is booked. There is nothing I can do.
James: What do you like about doing all of this? What keeps you coming back?
Lauren: I loved planning my wedding. A lot of girls say, “It’s so stressful, it’s so stressful.” Most brides, and I suppose it's because they’ve never done this before, they don’t quite realize the fact that if you choose reputable vendors, just tell them what you are looking for, and then rest because they will take care of you. I loved planning my wedding, it wasn’t stressful at all. Up until the day of, of course.
James: The day of always is, for everybody.
Lauren: I enjoy seeing the excitement they have when they come in, the way their eyes light up. I can tell instantly if a bride likes our venue or not just by her eyes. I enjoy helping them coordinate colors and things. I’m a graphic artist so that is always fun for me. Bartending at the weddings is a whole lot of fun. Watching people dance, or try to dance, is fun.
James: I actually got a few photos of your mom dancing at the last wedding I shot here.
Lauren: (laughing) She’ll get out there, I won’t. I dance comfortably from behind the bar.
But, that’s really why I enjoy it. It’s one of the happiest days of their lives and it’s an honor that they chose us and trusted us enough to have it here. What is really cool is when you develop that relationship with a couple that they still email us when they become pregnant or when they move. Not only did they love our venue, but they loved us as people too.
James: I’m in the same boat. For me, I love the emotions and the moments happening. That’s what a wedding day is, nothing but true emotion. I feed off of other people’s excitement a lot. That’s why I like being at weddings, they’re fun and they’re emotional. To have them trust you and to build that relationship is really something special.
Let’s talk about the day of a wedding. We both have a lot of experience with dealing with the stress and solving the problems that can come up. I think a lot of people forget that professional vendors are problem solvers and have experience from doing this time and time again, so we can solve many problems as they arise. For us, this isn’t the first time it has rained, or somebody didn’t show up.
Lauren: The biggest stress maker we’ve seen is weather. No bride says, “Oh, it’s going to rain on my day and I’m fine!” We do, of course, have backup plans, but even the backup plans take a lot nurturing and comforting until she is ok with the thought of it. It’s never her first choice, and it’s never our first choice.
James: You spend the entire year of planning with one thing in mind.
Lauren: It’s like with anything, you have an idea and a picture of what something is going to look like and then something drastically, changes like the weather. We at least have some good backup plans here and we don’t determine the “rainy day” plan until sometimes 10 minutes before the ceremony. If there looks like there will be a good break in the clouds and we can get you outside by the gazebo, we’re going to wait. Brides really do appreciate that, and love being talked to about it and not just us saying: “Whelp, it’s calling for rain, you’re under the patio.”
If they ever have any issues, we just have to be there as professionals to talk them through it. After 300 plus weddings, there is nothing we haven’t already seen. It may be the biggest traumatic thing, but we’ve already seen it and we know how to help you.
James: There are a lot of moving parts on a wedding day. What’s your experience with working with other professionals at your venue?
Lauren: We have a preferred vendor list where we’re basically telling you these people won’t let you down. They don’t let us down and they won’t let you down. Working together as a well oiled machine doesn’t happen over night. You have to have good communication between your vendors. We’ve built a lot of really good relationships.
James: These are things that people might not think about. There is a lot that goes into it, there is a team aspect. I think it’s important for vendors to be able to adapt and work well with others. You have to make friends quickly and establish that rapport because you’re there for the couple and you want to do a good job for them.
What are some other things to think about when choosing a venue?
Lauren: We came up with a list of things for a bride to make sure to ask a venue. Price, make sure it does fit within your budget because, that’s only one aspect of your wedding. Make sure everything added together is still within your budget.
Another thing, if you plan to invite 300 guests, look for a venue that can accommodate them, because even though it is rare that everybody shows up, sometimes they do. So if your venue can only accommodate 200, you should be a little scared. Don’t ever push your venue’s physical limitations because you can’t put space where there is no space.
These are just things I would brush over because I’ve done it so many times, but for someone who this is brand new for, these are all things you need to ask, these are all things you need to know.
In order to get reputable vendors, you’ve got to start planning early. We book well over a year in advance. I constantly have people who call me for a wedding in three months and I have to say, “That’s been gone for a year and a half.”
I have to say I’m surprised how many brides are open to Friday or Sunday weddings. Even some Thursdays. There’s really no right or wrong day for a wedding anymore.