Sophisticated Tented Farm Wedding in Northern California

Lori and Michael
Photographed by: Denis Reggie PhotographersLocation: Merced, California, United States

Lori Rossi and Mike Gallo met while volunteering at one of many charity dinners hosted by the Italian American Lodge in their Northern California town. They worked together as a volunteer food server and cook on many occasions without sharing a word until one night when Mike was moved to reach out to her. Lori was enduring a particularly difficult time caring for her ill mother, Susie, and Mike inquired about her condition. "The question was so kind and thoughtful," remembers Lori. Their conversations continued - leading Mike to surprise Lori with little tokens of affection - until they finally went on their first date. A few years later, Lori's mother passed away, and Mike was right there by her side. But Lori's grief was soon softened by joy. "It was not much longer after that Mike asked me to be his bride," she recalls.

For the inimitable wedding celebration, Lori, a realtor, and Mike, CEO and owner of Joseph Gallo Farms, tapped San Francisco-based event designer J. Riccardo Benavides of i.de.as event decor and production to carry out their specific vision. The wedding would not only commemorate the bond they shared as a couple, it would pay tribute to the Italian-American heritage of which they were both so proud. In fact, it was so important that the experience be authentic for their guests that Lori and Mike traveled to Tuscany with the man they appointed to oversee their wedding feast, chef Vincent DeAngelo, to research the culinary traditions and techniques of the region. They ate their way through the beauty of Tuscany and returned to California with menu ideas and design inspiration to create a lavish wedding on the grounds of Mike's 15,000-acre farm.

The couple was married in a nearby church - the one Lori had attended since childhood. The members of the bridal party, including Mike's three children from a previous marriage - Peter, Tiffanie, and best man Micah Gallo - and Lori's sister and maid of honor Denise Rossi, were ushered down the aisle by the ethereal sounds of a boys' choir. When it was time for Lori's grand entrance, her brother Kenny Rossi and his wife Esmerelda opened a curtain to reveal the bride to the congregation. Lori walked down the first half of the aisle on the arm of her uncle David Manahan, her mother's brother. Her father Tony Rossi then escorted her the remainder of the way to the altar. Mike's niece Ann Marie Jelacich and Lori's cousin Robert Guanuario, representing both sides of the new extended family, lit a unity candle together before the bride and groom exchanged vows.

Lori and Mike rode to the reception together in a 1938 Packard limo (loaned to them by friends) and entered the farm along a tree-lined country road. Another car awaited them at the reception - a pink and white 1957 Nash Metropolitan - but instead of providing transportation, it was there to pay tribute to its beloved owner, Lori's late mother. It was positioned in a place of prominence near the entrance of the tent, spotlighted for everyone to enjoy. "The car has become a symbol of our mother's spirit, because she loved that little car so! All of our guests thought it was a wonderful touch," recalls Lori.

As the sun began to set, guests sipped cocktails and indulged in an abundant display of appetizers. Among them was a long table of traditional Tuscan foods - cured meats, breads, olives, and large rounds of imported parmesan cheese - that was guarded by a statue of a rooster ("Gallo" means rooster in Italian). The table was the perfect primer for the six-course dinner that awaited the 400 guests inside the tent, a setting that took the rusticity of a Tuscan farmhouse and dressed it in its finest evening attire.

Gold carpeting ushered the guests through the entrance of the structure, past stone fountains backed by iron gates that were reminiscent of Old World architecture. European sconces peaking out from the delicately draped walls, along with large iron chandeliers perched overhead, lit the space warmly. A profusion of votive and pillar candles also dotted the room, and a subtle projection of climbing vines bathed the surroundings in Tuscan charm.

All the tables were covered in iridescent olive green silk linens embroidered with more vines to mimic the lighting treatment. Urns brimming with red and golden yellow roses, pale green hydrangea, and dark red grapes and artichokes evoked the timelessly elegant style of an "Italian countryside on an autumn afternoon." Custom-upholstered chairs for the bride and groom sat at the head table, and a parade of tall pillar candles ran the length of its top.

The newlyweds christened the hand-painted dance floor with a choreographed routine ("It included a dip at the end," beams Lori. "We got a standing ovation!") before being joined by the rest of the guests who were raring to celebrate. They took breaks in the festivities to enjoy DeAngelo's painstakingly-designed meal, which included imported sea bass and prawns, pasta stuffed with meat and cheese served in a white truffle and porcini mushroom sauce, and pancetta-wrapped veal, paired with a different Italian wine for every dish. The sorbet course was even served in individual ice sculptures shaped like roosters. Homemade Italian pastries and a Venetian-style wedding cake followed the dinner service, accompanied by sparkling red dessert wine and espresso.

For the grand finale, guests were treated to a spectacular display of fireworks set to Italian music, which illuminated the surrounding fields and the thrill on the newlyweds' faces. As everyone finally retired for the night, they left the celebration with wine glasses engraved with roosters and filled with traditional Italian wedding candy - sugar coated almonds called confetti. "We wanted all of our family and friends to feel like they were in Italy," asserts Lori. "It was accomplished!"

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