Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Christian W. Klay Winery (401 Days to Go)

First off, I could totally kick myself for forgetting my camera in the car.  I mean seriously, all I had to do was say, "Oops, I'll be right back."  Less than two minutes.  But no, the camera remained in my bag, in the Mini, sitting in the parking lot.

I think it's partially because Jeff and I got to the winery a little early this past weekend and decided to get out of the car and stretch our legs after the early morning drive for nearly two hours.  Driving back into the Laurel Highlands from Pittsburgh involves some patience, the turnpike, and some back country highways that twist and wide up and down the mountains.  At first we weren't sure what to make of the place.  It had just finished raining, was gray and bleak, and we were situated at the bottom of a valley.  All we could really see was the barn from the outside, looking up at the ridges where the vineyards were, and a man-made pond with a fountain.

Christian W. Klay Winery is set into a valley in the Laurel Highlands less than ten minutes away from Ohiopyle  State Park and and about 20 minutes away from Falling Water.  When we finally got up with the vineyard's groundskeeper/manager, he gave us a driving tour of the property (since it was muddy and since it was a relatively large piece of property).  We got to see the main vineyard, the apple orchards, and a beautiful hill top grass field that feels as if the entire world is just dropping away from it.  There was even a valley field set further back on the property too.  Our favorite two spots on the property were the first two that we saw (probably lucky since we wouldn't want to be towing people back and forth much further than that).

The vineyard is at it's peak after the start of June.  Before that it's in the middle of needing pruned and the grass is about two feet high between all of the grapevines.  But by June, the grass is turned over and the vines are budding and turning green.  So for our wedding date, it would be in peak condition.  Essentially, we saw it at it's worse, and I think I could still work with it.  Except for maybe the two foot tall grass.  The vineyard itself is set on top of a ridge and the view looking out is exceptional.  The mountains are covered in trees and there's only a few houses and farms spotting the valley view below.

The field that was situated at the top of a ridge was a little more clean looking.  There were no orchards, grapevines, or any other agriculture.  Nothing but open air and a few trees on nearby ridges.  In all directions, it looked down into valleys much like the view from the vineyard.  And of course the mountains were gorgeous.  It was a perfect 360 panorama of Pennsylvania's nature at its finest.

The last possible location, and the furthest back, was a field set down into a valley.  We were informed it has lost its popularity over the years because it is no longer a field of wildflowers.  Both Jeff and I were a little disappointed that we are apparently getting married five years to late to enjoy this splendor.

Back at the barn, there was a fenced in field for event parking.  I'd imagine that there would be no trouble finding space for parking even with the large numbers that Jeff (not I) is expecting.  On the other side of the barn from the parking is the entrance with giant sliding doors.  Inside, the columns are wrapped in dried grapevines and twinklie lights and spot lights have been hung from some of the cross beams for the dance floor and additional lighting.  With only half of those lights on during the day, it was relatively well lit and provided the beginnings of a romantic setting.  The man who gave us the tour did not know all of the specifics (as he's not the actual event manager) about how many people could be seated in there, but he knew that there had been about 200 people in a banquet before.  In one corner of the barn was a walled off section for the catering prep which included stainless steel tables and a refrigerator--no oven/stove.  Also, a pair of wheeled bars were there as well and the floor was concrete.  The walls on two sides were newer than the other side.  This created a slightly discordant appearance, but Jeff and I talked about it and decided that with a little decorating, it wouldn't be noticed.

Back outside again, there was the pond that I mentioned earlier that even came with two geese.  Actually they were trying to give away this pair of lovebirds.  So if your interested, go pick them up.  But near the pond was a newly built pavilion.  Not a very large one, but after some chatter between Jeff and myself, we decided worst case scenario (that being rain of course) it would serve as an appropriate and still beautiful choice for a ceremony site.

And to sum up our tour of the winery, we got to do a wine tasting.  Jeff and I are anything but wine critics so our comments were pretty much limited to "amazing", "eh" and a scoring based on the 1-10 scale.  We're classy all the way.  This was important to us though that the let us taste the wine.  Especially since if we decide to go with the venue, we're required to buy at minimum two cases of wine.  We decided that only two wines weren't that good and that we would have no trouble selecting at least one white and one red wine to serve.  And we'd probably have to buy bottles of every desert wine to serve instead of a champagne toast.  As we drove away we were even talking about buying an entire case of their wine in order to open one bottle a year for our anniversary should we get married there.

Now, as we had been approaching the winery, we passed over the tippy top of a mountain and right past the Summit Inn Resort.  This place looked like it had dropped down on top of the mountain straight out of the 1940s (or even earlier).  No, I don't mean in a shabby run down way.  I mean in the elegance of the place.  It had character.  You could just tell by driving by.  On our way back, we decided to stop there and have lunch.  It seemed like a logical place to stay for the weekend if our wedding was at the winery so it would also be a logical place to have our rehearsal dinner too.

Before we could even get to the restaurant, we accidentally walked into a side door and right into their reception hall that was being set up for somebody else's wedding.  Oops.  I told you, we're all class.  So we glanced around, giggled a little at our mistake and ducked back out again.  But already, we were falling in love with the place.  The hall had been enormous.  The seating that was there for 100 barely even began to fill  a third of the space.  We finally found the main entrance which made me practically swoon at the huge patio deck.  It was gorgeous, absolutely picturesque.  I wanted to see me and my bridesmaids lined up against the rail looking radiant.  I wanted to get dressed for my wedding in this hotel.  

Once inside, I felt like I'd stepped back in time.  The lobby was enormous, a staircase leading up and to both sides like something out of the Sound of Music.  Actually, both of our first impressions was that of the Shining, but without the creepy girls in white dresses asking us to come play with them.  We got our lunch and Jeff went bonkers as his taste buds sang and danced.  He asked if we could instead have our wedding reception here.

After we ate, we talked to the women at the reception desk and found out that our date was already booked for another reception but that there were still plenty of rooms available for the weekend and that it wouldn't be a problem to have our rehearsal dinner the night before and our after party there the night of.  They even gave us the keys to a couple of different rooms and allowed us to give ourselves our own tour of the hotel.  The rooms were a tiny bit dated, but very clean looking.  And by dated, I simply mean the TVs were old.  But seriously, who's going to be watching TV that weekend?  There's going to be booze!

Everywhere we looked from the hotel, the view was gorgeous.  It was all valley views from the front.  And the back looked onto a slope of trees.  And in case our guests really are bummed by the old TVs, they could go play golf or jump into the enormous pool they had.  Or perhaps the heated out door hot tub?

We're still going to look at one other place in another week or so, but I have a feeling we're very quickly going to try and get everything booked and reserved to have our wedding between this resort and the winery.  All I know is that I'm definitely going to jump on the fact that Jeff is actually excited about planning our wedding.

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