2017 Best of the East Bay: Weddings
A historic venue with vistas of the San Francisco Bay; a wine trolley fit for parties.
When Steven Branstetter said “I do” a decade ago, he not only married the woman of his dreams, he also found the vocation of his dreams: wedding photography. “I realized that I love the chaos of a wedding, and I was attracted to that beauty and the grace,” says Branstetter, who worked as a second photographer under Los Angeles photographer Robert Evans (who shot Tom Cruise’s and Brad Pitt’s weddings) before setting off on his own in New York. We chatted with the photographer—who uses film, not digital—about why he loves his job.
Q: Why do you use film instead of digital?
A: It allows [me] to really slow down and capture moments that matter. I feel like when I use digital, it’s just click, click, click. But with film—you have to wait for that moment. It’s
authentic. The imperfection makes it perfection.
Q: What’s the most difficult part of photographing a wedding?
A: Early on, the difficulty was learning to understand the type of client that best suits my style of shooting.
Q: How do you determine that type of client?
A: By becoming a better listener. There are maximizers, and there are satisfiers. I try to listen for, “We’re just here to get married—just do your thing.” That’s a satisfier. A maximizer says, “I want this and this and this.” And that’s fine, but for my personality, a satisfier works better. Because if the satisfier says, “Just do your thing,” I’m going to tell a story that’s unique to no one but them.
Q: What’s your favorite moment to photograph?
A: What I think is super important—now more than ever, as I have two girls—is the exchange between the father and the daughter. I have to hold back [tears] because I think, Whoa, that’s going to happen to me.
Q: How important to you is getting to know the couple before their wedding?
A: I want to show up at your wedding as a friend, not a vendor, so I have a personal responsibility because I know you and invested in you. I usually have “love and coffee” engagement sessions. If you don’t want to do an engagement, I take you out to lunch, and we spend time [together]. I also take you to the venue about a month before so I’m comfortable with you, you’re comfortable with me, and it’s not just a job.
Q: What do you love most about being a wedding photographer?
A: Being part of someone’s special moment in time. In watching the happiness, everyone is happy. Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that? It makes me want to marry my wife again. —R.C.
Editor Pick: Livermore Wine Trolley
Planning a bachelor or bachelorette party can be tough. You have to decide where to go, what to do, whether alcohol should be involved, and who’s going to drive. But that stressful task just got a little less complicated thanks to Brian Luke, owner of the Livermore Wine Trolley. Round up the group, and book the trolley for a guided visit to three Livermore wineries—no designated driver required. Lunch is provided, and tunes are encouraged. Or spend a day hopping on and off at the wineries—a new feature that the trolley began offering last summer—to create your own wine adventure. —R.C.
Wedding season is upon us, and many a bride will be looking for something unique to add to her flowing white gown. Enter Atzi Bridal, a line of handmade couture headpieces and the sister company to Atzi Designs, both created by Maritza Regalado. Pearls, flowers, and Swarovski crystals are often used—so it’s no wonder that Trend Privé Magazine photographed actress Mena Suvari in Regalado’s creations. With a studio in Emeryville, a booming online store, made-to-order/customizable
options, and pieces sold in Walnut Creek’s La Soie Bridal, there’s no shortage of these gorgeous masterpieces. —C.M.
Linen and Lilac
Sisters Linda Lathrop and Leslie Yrueta opened their wedding-planning business back in 2014. Since then, the duo has won a Best of the East Bay award, received a WeddingWire Couples’ Choice award, and been featured in online bridal magazine Style Me Pretty. But perhaps what sets this team apart is its commitment to the community: Linen and Lilac encourages couples to incorporate sustainability into their weddings and, starting next year, will donate a portion of earnings to nonprofits. The women have also partnered with other Lafayette wedding businesses (including Lace and Bustle Bridal) to bring an intimate bridal fair experience to local brides: Lafayette Bridal Social offers a fun afternoon of pampering, handpicked bridal experts, cocktails, nibbles, and tips for wedding planning—no rows of booths and pushy vendors in sight. (Brides: Reserve your spot
at the next social, happening in January 2018.) —R.C.
Claremont Club and Spa
With vistas of the Bay Area, manicured grounds, and historic elegance, this grand property makes for a beautiful backdrop to your wedding. The Claremont will impress your guests and make you feel like a princess on your big day.
By The Numbers
3: Number of years catering manager Alexis Garhammer has been organizing nuptials at the Claremont.
4: Ceremony venues, including the Pool Arbor and Lanai Balcony (both outdoor), and the Claremont Ballroom and Sonoma Room (both indoor).
9: Months in advance you should reserve your wedding day at the Claremont—though Garhammer advises at least a year.
15: Number of the Claremont’s preferred vendors, including Linen and Lilac, another Best of the East Bay winner.
25: Number of weddings the Claremont hosted in 2016.
220: Largest number of people the Claremont can accommodate for a wedding ceremony. (Largest reception: 300 people.)
276: Maximum number of rooms you can block out for wedding guests (the entire hotel). —R.C.
Walnut Creek, kinsleyjames.com
“I bought my wedding dress at Kinsley James. They do such a wonderful job listening to your vision and pulling dresses that fit your wants and needs. They truly go above and beyond from start to finish. Also, who doesn’t love sipping on champagne while shopping for a dress?” —Chelsea Estrada, Danville
Katrina Rozelle Pastries and Desserts
Alamo and Oakland, katrinarozelle.com
Thirty-three years ago, Katrina Rozelle Topp opened her first bakeshop in Oakland. Her Alamo shop celebrates 26 years in business this month, and both create customized wedding cakes and cupcakes (including gluten-free options), as well as cookies. While you won’t find her experimenting with dairy- or egg-free options, her intentions are pure: “We won’t compromise the quality of our products.” —R.C.
Walnut Creek, florali.com
When a shop has been around for almost 15 years and won a few Best of the East Bay awards, the owners must be doing more than a few things right. First, Florali is a family tradition. The shop is run by Darwin Harrison; his mother, Susan, first opened the business from a home studio. Second, the shop emphasizes seasonal—and local—flowers. Harrison grows his own flowers, including unusual varieties that aren’t available at the market, in a home garden and greenhouse. Third, Florali isn’t afraid to improvise when necessary. In the winter, Harrison imports New Zealand peonies because of the flower’s popularity. Finally, when you’re in the shop, you’re family. Swing by in the winter, and you might just find a pot of warm cider waiting. Or take a flower workshop at Harrison’s wife’s new business, Rebel Art School, right around the corner. —R.C.