Sassafras Springs Vineyard & Winery Makes Creative, Unconventional Weddings a Reality
By Sydne Tursky
Sassafras Springs Vineyard and Winery is ready to make couples’ wedding celebration everything they can dream it to be, with lots of room for creativity and innovation.
Cheryl and Gene Long opened the award-winning wedding venue in Springdale in January 2014. The winery is located on what was former Arkansas Razorbacks football coach Houston Nutt’s horse farm, but the couple turned the old milk barn into a wine tasting room and the stables into a large reception space. Over the past few years, the Longs have continued to add on to the estate, creating a versatile and vast venue for a variety of events but especially weddings.
Sassafras Springs was named the best wedding venue by AY magazine. Miss America 2017 Savvy Shields Wolfe held her rehearsal dinner at the winery last August. The venue is certainly netting more than its fair share of attention, and Cheryl Long thinks it’s all down to the staff’s flexibility and desire to make brides’ dreams come true.
“A bride looks forward to her wedding from the time she is a little girl, wearing her mommy’s high heels, pretending she’s a bride,” she says. “We really focus on whatever the bride’s wishes are. So if she says, ‘I want to get married in the vineyard,’ we’re going to say, ‘sure.’ We want it to be the day that she wants it to be, and we don’t want to have it prefab…where it’s going to be the same thing for every bride. The bride has the opportunity to be creative and original.”
The winery has three primary venues for a wedding ceremony: the open-air chapel ruins; the fully renovated, 3,500 square foot stables and the new covered veranda. However, Sassafras Springs staff is always ready to make accommodations and be innovative about the way they use the space.
If a bride wants to have the ceremony in the vineyard and cocktails at the chapel ruins, that’s perfectly doable. If the groom would prefer the ceremony in the veranda and a reception in the stable, that works as well. When couples book with Sassafras, they have exclusive access to the 60-acre estate from 9 a.m. to midnight – the winery’s staff never book more than one wedding on the same day, Long says.
The venue has a beautiful dressing room, called the Peacock Room, for the bride. They are also building an upscale four-bedroom lodge with a large great room that can be used for rehearsal dinners or other events. Construction should be complete in June, Long says.
Unlike other venues, Sassafras includes a variety of services and decor within the booking fee. Linens and centerpieces are available at no extra cost, while china, chargers, linen napkins and silverware may be rented through the venue for an additional fee. The winery’s two bartenders come in a couple of hours before the wedding to set up all the beverages, she says.
“So basically if someone called tomorrow and said they wanted to get married that day, we could set it up, and all they’d need is food, flowers, a photographer and the music of their choice,” Long says. “And because we have so many inclusions, it affords them the ability to bring in lots of extra stuff. Things that they would normally, maybe, have to pay for are included. So they can bring in really cool lighting or draping or furniture or rentals that are just over and above.”
Bartenders often serve the winery’s award-winning wines at weddings, but the venue also has access to wines from all over the world, and they will happily provide whatever vintage the couple prefers. Sassafras Springs’ produces and bottles these three wines from fresh grapes on site – Rosé, Chardonnay, Syrah, plus other varietals sourced from their partner vineyards on the West Coast.
Though the vineyard’s visitors can purchase food like appetizers, pizzas and salads at the tasting room on regular operating days, Sassafras Springs does not have wedding catering services, and couples are invited to utilize any licensed caterer or restaurant for the big day. However, the winery’s staff has spent the past five years garnering connections with wedding vendors across Northwest Arkansas, and they are happy to provide recommendations to brides and grooms as they plan, Long says.
Sassafras Springs also has three on-site wedding coordinators, whose services are available to couples at an additional cost. There are three different packages, ranging from a day-of coordinator to make sure the event runs smoothly to a full-on planner who can assist with every part of the planning process.
For couples who are eager to personalize their wedding even more, there are ample opportunities to make the day their own. Because Sassafras produces its own wine, they can make bottles with labels that feature the couples’ name, wedding date, and whatever else they would like commemorated, she says.
“And we can incorporate as much of a winery experience as they want,” Long says. “So if they want wine flights for guests, or they want a grape stomp…it’s just really whatever feeling they want, if they want a more formal, elegant feeling [or] a casual party.”
The venue is open year-round, and while the outdoor scenery is unparalleled in summer, Long says he’s been blown away by the beauty of the winter weddings held at Sassafras Springs. Notably, Miss Arkansas USA 2014 and motivational speaker Helen Elizabeth Peters and Miss Arkansas 2012 Sloane Hocker had winter weddings at the vineyard, as did former Arkansas Razorbacks and current Los Angeles Rams quarterback Brandon Allen.
In winter, most ceremonies are held in the stable or on the veranda, which can be enclosed with curtains to provide more warmth.
“Or, with Arkansas weather, you never know if it’s going to be 70 degrees or a beautiful snow. You just don’t know, but either is beautiful,” Long says.