When Lori Carlyle’s daughter got married seven years ago, she wanted a venue that was rustic—but not too rustic—with room for 300 guests. The Carlyles weren’t able to find what they wanted in Loudoun, but the search turned out to be a lightbulb moment.
In 2014, Carlyle and her husband, Bo, opened Shadow Creek Weddings and Events on their farm south of Purcellville. Since then, they’ve hosted weddings seemingly nonstop nine months out of the year.
“We’ve been blessed beyond measure since then,” said Lori Carlyle, a Loudoun native whose family has lived in rural Loudoun for generations.
And the Carlyles aren’t alone. For area wineries, farms and a host of service providers, Loudoun’s emerging role as the DC region’s wedding hotspot is changing the way they do business.
Dozens of these venues and vendors will be showing their stuff March 19 as the Visit Loudoun tourism agency holds its annual Weddings in Loudoun Open House. It features 60 wedding-related service providers and showcases 34 venues—from historic settings like Hillsboro’s Old Stone School, to the grand, like Stone Tower Winery.
At Shadow Creek, Bo Carlyle oversaw design and construction of an airy, light-filled timber-frame barn designed to meet his wife’s very strict specifications.
“I want it to feel like a barn, but yet I want all the bells and whistles inside. I want the elegant chandeliers, I want the gorgeous bridal suite, the handsome groom’s room,” Lori Carlyle said. And yes, there’s space for 300—and they’re signing contracts for 2019.
“Rustic chic is still absolutely huge and we have tons of venues that meet those criteria: the barn weddings, the winery weddings. That’s a large part of our market here,” said Visit Loudoun’s wedding specialist Dana Henry. She was hired by Visit Loudoun two years ago with the directive of keeping wedding business—and the tourism-related income it brings—in the county. Henry offers her services to couples for free, helping them connect with venues and service providers that will meet their needs.
For Loudoun wineries, weddings have been big business for years. But in some cases, the popularity of winery weddings can create a tug-of-war with tasting room needs. A number of wineries have solved that problem by opening dedicated wedding facilities and hiring special-events staff.
One of the county’s most established wineries, Bluemont Vineyards, operates a separate events venue, The Stables at Bluemont Vineyard. In a renovated stable on the picturesque property known for its expansive view, couples can take advantage of the winery’s one-of-a-kind scenery and celebrate on site without interrupting the tasting room’s flow.
“We’re in a hot county and wineries are the trend,” said Bluemont’s events coordinator Debbie Zurschmeide Schoeb.
The wedding boom has also led Bluemont to hire separate wedding coordinators who work with couples leading up to and on the day of the wedding. Couples can only serve Bluemont wines (although there’s no minimum wine purchase required), and the winery works with an exclusive caterer, Round Hill-based Savoir Fare Limited, to streamline the process.
“We want our clients to be here as guests and not have to worry about all the details or be stressed out about a wedding. We pride ourselves on being a turnkey operation for weddings,” Schoeb said. “We hold their hands from start to finish because we want their day to be as memorable as possible.”
For service providers, from caterers to photographers to designers, the Loudoun wedding boom has brought opportunities and plenty of room for growth. Rosanna Funiciello Smith left her corporate job in 2007 to open an antiques shop in Aldie. And during the past few years, that business, Bella Villa Antiques and Vintage Rentals, has transformed into a wedding styling/rental business, helping achieve the vintage chic look so many couples want.
“I fell in love with the antique stuff, but with its application for modern use,” Smith said. “It’s a mix of the rustic and the elegant and that was my premise from day one.”
Soon after opening her shop, Smith began getting requests from brides seeking advice and special pieces—and from photographers seeking out her design flair. In 2013, she styled her first photo shoot for Weddings Unveiled magazine. And since then, weddings have been her primary focus.
“You kind of morph with what the market is asking,” Smith said. “You help feed and fuel the industry based on what people are asking for and that’s what I did.”
Because Loudoun venues are so popular, booking 18 months in advance is the norm for many favorites and some couples book two years or more ahead. But for those last-minute planners, there are still plenty of options, venue owners say, especially if couples are ready to be flexible and consider a Friday or Sunday date.
And not everyone wants the pastoral vibe, Visit Loudoun’s Henry says: “An emerging trend is industrial chic. We’re now seeing couples looking for breweries or converted buildings that still have a structural feel.”
So even if rustic isn’t your thing, Loudoun may still be just the right place.
Visit Loudoun’s self-guided Weddings in Loudoun Open House is 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, March 19, with service providers setting up shop at venues across the county. Couples are invited to start the tour with a free continental breakfast from 10 a.m. to noon at West Belmont Place in Lansdowne where they can pick up additional materials for the tour. For a list of participating venues and vendors, go to visitloudoun.org.