Dwyane Wade’s wedding to actress Gabrielle Union in 2014 evoked a children’s storybook image, complete with a most un-Miami-like white castle that was, naturally, surrounded by a moat.
Photos of the massive, Gothic-style mansion looked like they had been yanked from a coffee-table book of luxurious French chateaus.
Surprisingly, the castle, named Chateau Artisan, is located miles — literally and culturally — from South Beach, in Redland.
Those green acres and the ones just south in Homestead are an emerging destination for weddings, experts say. Couples seeking venues far from the traditional hotel ballroom scene and close to nature are looking south to Miami-Dade’s agricultural mecca.
Spurred by the popularity of the Schnebly Redland’s Winery & Brewery, about a dozen wedding venues have sprouted across the area. They appeal to an insatiable demand by brides to offer their guests the two magic words: “something different.”
“The appeal of going to Homestead for a lot of the local brides is because it’s almost like a destination wedding,” said Jeannie Montes De Oca, director of business development for Miami-based Inspired Events. “People are being transported to a section of town that they never really go to.”
Wedding industry veteran Maggie Rodriguez, who owns Inspired Events, said that in the past, her company generally organized only a handful of weddings each year in the county’s southernmost reaches. Now nearly 50 percent of the 100 to 125 annual weddings Inspired Events puts on every year are in the south.
Most locals aren’t aware of the agricultural area’s attractions, she said. For them, Homestead offers a mysterious allure that modern brides seek.
I think a lot of people my age are just looking for something different. I feel like I’ve been to the same wedding over and over.
Ashley Bolling, who married at the Walton House in Homestead
Baptist Hospital nurse Ashley Bolling wanted that exact ambiance when she scouted Homestead for wedding venues last year. She and her husband, Michael, originally from New York and Michigan, wanted an outdoor venue that would feel like a destination wedding for their out-of-state guests, she said.
“Driving down there I was like, ‘Oh my God, where are we going?’ because it really is just out in the middle of nowhere. But you find that it’s not really too far from the city and [there are] these little patches of an oasis,” Bolling said. “I had no idea that any of that was down there.”
The Bollings married at the Walton House, a 1917 English-style cottage in the middle of five acres of a Homestead botanical garden. The event space includes a coral rock swimming pool, lagoon and cascading waterfall — as well as monkeys, flamingos, parrots and other birds that roam the property.
The couple married in a four-minute ceremony (“we wanted to get to the party,” Bolling said) that took place amid a canopy of palms. Bolling wore a white lace jumpsuit and orange pointed-toe heels. Local band Gypsy Lane played the reception at a tent set up on the property.
“I didn’t want a traditional wedding. I didn’t want to be sitting in a ballroom,” said Bolling, 29. “I think a lot of people my age are just looking for something different. I feel like I’ve been to the same wedding over and over.”
That sentiment was echoed by more than two dozen brides and locals who contacted the Miami Herald with details on their Homestead weddings or weddings they had attended in south Miami-Dade County.
“I think my generation is allergic to all things ‘traditional’ and ‘ordinary,’ ” said Vanessa Salgueiro, who got married at an avocado farm in Redland called Estancia Culinaria and gave out Homestead-based Knaus Berry Farm cinnamon buns as her wedding favor.
“I’m from the baby boomer generation, but I love the break with tradition and these destination weddings in natural places as opposed to churches and hotel ballrooms,” said Nelly Rubio, of Miami, who attended a wedding at the Walton House in April.
“My guests felt like they were also someplace other than South Florida, and were surprised such a unique venue existed close to home,” said Jackie Somma, who married at Estancia Culinaria in November.
$20,000 Minimum cost for a wedding with an average of 100 guests in Homestead and Redland
The trend follow a national movement for locally sourced food and farm-to-table meals that have reinvigorated interest in rustic country life.
Miami-based caterer Chef David Schwadron said the first thing couples ask when they approach him to cater a wedding is if food is locally sourced.
“I think the brides and grooms today are looking for that farm-to-table experience and try to make the food offerings unique and healthy for themselves and their guests,” said Schwadron. A veteran chef with 25 years under his cloche, Schwadron has served luminaries including President Barack Obama during local fundraisers.
More than 60 percent of the weddings he caters are with farm-to-table locally sourced food, he said.
But just as organic food is generally more expensive (think Whole Foods vs. Publix), so too are the bills for fresh-from-the-farm weddings. Catering costs are about 10 to 15 percent more for farm-to-table receptions than traditional weddings.
Aside from food, most other costs are in line with other Miami-area celebrations. Wedding planner Rodriguez said most weddings in Homestead and Redland cost a minimum of $20,000 for an average of 100 guests, and goes up, depending on the number of guests, the venue and extras such as animals. The average price of a 2015 wedding in South Florida was $39,768, according to a survey by wedding planning website TheKnot.com.
But as more brides head south, prices are ballooning. The Walton House began charging about $5,000 in 2014 and now gets about $8,000 for a wedding that includes the venue and a bridal suite. Palms Estate, a seven-acre home in Homestead, will charge $5,000 when weddings begin on the property in October but go up to $6,500 soon, Rodriguez said, which includes the venue, valet parking and a bridal suite.
Those changes have been part of a growing movement that gradually took off after the opening of Schnebly Redland’s Winery & Brewery in 2008, Rodriguez said.
My guests felt like they were also someplace other than South Florida, and were surprised such a unique venue existed close to home.
Jackie Somma, who married at Estancia Culinaria in Redland
The venue naturally lent itself to weddings, said the winery’s event planner Natazia Rojas: It was family-oriented, with space for events and benefited from the tourism that already came to the area to visit farms.
“There wasn’t really anything so similar here,” Rojas said. “With a beautiful outdoor setting you’re able to get away with more as opposed to a ballroom setting where you really gotta go grand.”
Interest in the winery has spiked recently, Rojas said. It has shot up at the Secret Gardens, too, a serene tropical venue in Redland.
Secret Gardens’ event director Agnes Patterson said that while the venue has been open for seven years, its popularity has grown in the past two years as other spots have opened in the area. A former high-end landscaping showroom, the garden is home to waterfalls and a turquoise lagoon. Organizers can arrange for exotic animals, such as lions and zebras, to be part of the wedding.
“You can do anything here, you could keep it very simple, you could make it very urban — it all depends on what the bride wants,” Patterson said.
Unconventional romance isn’t entirely new here. For seven decades, Homestead has been home to a venue dedicated to one of the most resounding love stories to come out of South Florida.
After his fiancee, Agnes Scuffs, called off the wedding just a day before it was scheduled, Latvian transplant Ed Leedskalnin was devastated. He spent the next 28 years sculpting a moon, rocking chairs, a bathtub, beds and a throne at the site now known as Coral Castle. Today the site is primarily a museum but has hosted weddings since the 1960s and 1970s, said general manager Laura Maye.
Recently, interest has grown, and couples around the globe have been drawn by the mysterious monument to love.
It has never been known how the diminutive Leedskalnin, who weighed but 100 pounds, moved and carved Castle’s enormous stone structures that weigh tons.
“Love is all about the mystery and the longevity and the strength and the commitment,” said Maye. Where better to celebrate romance than in a garden — or temple — dedicated to romance?