For Courtenay McDowell and Matt Saunders, planning the wedding of their dreams was a welcome diversion to the destruction of the October 2015 floods. Only one week after they were engaged, the horrific floods wreaked havoc on Columbia, causing extensive damage to the street where Courtenay’s parents lived. While the floods may have delayed planning a bit, they were ultimately no match for Courtenay and Matt.
Courtenay and Matt’s formal, evening wedding ceremony took place at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Columbia.
It had been more than two-and-a-half years since Courtenay and Matt started dating after meeting on a blind date set up by a mutual friend. Things progressed slowly in the relationship as Matt often traveled. He still wonders why Courtenay stuck around since his travels took him away from her. Courtenay knew he would come around and remembers fondly enjoying a glass of wine with her best friend and sharing with her that she knew he was the one. Indeed he was!
It was a shared love of wine — Matt is an avid wine collector — that took them on a trip to Napa Valley in September 2015. In what could have been foreshadowing, the two started the day at a winery, PROMISE Wine, which was founded by a husband and wife, Steve and Jennifer McPherson. Together, Jennifer and Steve had committed to each other that they would fulfill his dream of making wine; PROMISE Wine was the realization of that commitment … a “promise” that they made on their wedding day. It was a very special story that made an impact on Courtenay and Matt — as did the rosé, aptly named the joy, and the pinot noir, the love.
The couple left PROMISE and made a stop at another Napa winery before going to Pride Mountain Vineyards, which straddles the Napa/Sonoma county line. A large rock landmark sits on the breathtaking grounds of the vineyard, and this is where Matt proposed to his future bride. He actually planned the moment months ahead with Tim Bouchet, director of sales at Pride Mountain Vineyards, whom he has known for a number of years from visiting the winery. “Matt and his family are serious wine connoisseurs and have been to California several times,” says Courtenay. “This was my first time going, and I had no idea it would be to get engaged.” As a special surprise, the owners of PROMISE Wine sent the couple a celebratory bottle of wine when they arrived home.
Top left: Jimmilib Harrison of Garden Tapestry helped with all planning details of the wedding. Top right: Bridesmaids Aleka Selig, Kathryn Dinkins, Caroline Taylor, Crissy Moser, Catherine McDowell, Elizabeth Henderson, Jenna Taylor and Leigh Ellen Gray with the bride. Bottom: Courtenay’s dress from Modern Trousseau in Charleston was elegant in all lace and was complemented by a special veil kindly offered by a family friend.
One week after getting engaged, the couple, who now live in Charlotte, traveled to Columbia to celebrate with family and friends. It was that Sunday when the devastation of the Columbia floods hit. The couple had already hoped for an April wedding and, with about six months to plan, they knew they needed to get busy. “We went out that Saturday looking at potential venues for the reception in the pouring rain,” says Courtenay. “We woke up at 5 a.m. on Sunday, and it was a nightmare. I actually remember thinking, ‘There is no way this wedding is going to happen in April.’”
A close friend of Courtenay, Aleka Selig who owns Ally & Eloise Bakeshop, created the perfect wedding cake for her and Matt.
Pam and Phillips, Courtenay’s mother and father, as well as Matt, Courtenay, their two dogs, Selwyn and Daisy, and Courtenay’s sister, Catherine, had to be rescued by boat because of the quickly rising flood waters. Phillips lost three cars, and Matt lost his truck. And still, they consider themselves a few of the lucky ones, as the McDowells’ home was one of only a handful of homes on the street that didn’t lose its entire first floor. The Charleston home design saved the residence.
Because of the floods’ impact on all Columbians, followed by the holidays, it was January 2016 before Courtenay and Matt officially met with anyone to begin the planning of their wedding. At that point, they had to move very quickly to keep that hopeful April date. Additionally, the wedding was the same weekend as the Masters, so hotel rooms were filling quickly — and at an expensive rate.
One thing the couple knew they wanted was a wedding that exuded rustic elegance akin to the gorgeous vineyard where they got engaged. Courtenay brought on Jimmilib Harrison of Garden Tapestry to help with the planning of the wedding. She shared some of the design inspirations she had found on Pinterest and left it to Jimmilib to work her magic. The reception was to be held at Forest Lake Club, and while Courtenay had attended a number of fabulous weddings there in the past, she wanted to ensure that her reception was different in both look and feel.
White, green and pale pink flowers as well as branches of cherry blossoms dotted the beautiful setting, building off of the understated elegance that was so important to Courtenay and Matt.
As luck would have it, two of Courtenay’s close friends and bridesmaids own local businesses that were instrumental to her planning. Kathryn Dinkins owns Sash, a bridesmaid’s dress shop in Columbia, where Courtenay’s eight bridesmaids purchased their champagne-colored dresses. Matt’s six groomsmen donned classic tuxedos. Courtenay’s dress from Modern Trousseau in Charleston was elegant in all lace and complemented by a special veil kindly offered by a family friend. “The dress was beautiful. And if I could put wheels on it, I could drive it to work,” jokes Phillips.
Another close friend of Courtenay’s, Aleka Selig, owns Ally & Eloise Bakeshop in Columbia, where Courtenay and Matt purchsed their wedding cake. In keeping with working with trusted friends and family, Courtenay and Matt secured the wine for the wedding from Matt’s sister, Crissy, who owns a wine business in Charlotte called Charlotte Fine Wines.
Two of Courtenay and Matt’s favorite things — their dogs — also played a large part in the wedding. Before even meeting, Courtenay had a mini golden doodle and Matt a standard golden doodle, and the two dogs played a pivotal role in their relationship. The couple wanted to ensure that the dogs played a part in the wedding and even featured them on the save the date, where the dogs were dressed as a bride and groom. The guest gift bags also featured the two furry family members, and Courtenay gave a painting of their dogs to Matt for a wedding gift, which was proudly displayed at the rehearsal dinner at City Art the night before the nuptials. Courtenay and Matt had replicas of their dogs made out of flowers that were displayed at the reception, made especially by one of her mother’s friends.
Courtenay’s sister, Catherine, and her father, Phillips, at the wedding ceremony.
April 9, 2016 was a perfectly sunny day, quite the juxtaposition of the skies just six months earlier in Columbia. Courtenay and Matt’s formal, evening wedding ceremony took place at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. “With my Scottish background, I had always wanted Courtenay to have a bagpiper at her wedding,” says Phillips. “They played Highland Cathedral, and it was pretty emotional. I still get emotional remembering our walk down the aisle to it.”
Friends and family came from hundreds of miles away to see Courtenay and Matt say their “I do’s.” “With the shortage and high cost of the rooms because of the Masters tournament, it was a toss up as to who would be able to make the wedding,” says Courtenay. “It was such a blessing to have so many people attend despite all of that.”
Before going into the reception, Courtenay and Matt enjoyed a private meal accompanied by a glass of PROMISE Wine, bringing back wonderful memories of the day they were engaged.
Entering the reception, Courtenay was thrilled with the way Forest Lake Club had been transformed. “I was blown away when I saw the reception,” she says. Large wine barrels lined the entrance of Forest Lake Club and boldly held tall flower arrangements. The couple had a huge wine bottle from Pride Mountain Vineyards on display, as well as some of their favorite wine labels, both of which guests could sign when they arrived to the reception. Jimmilib incorporated wine corks of theirs into the vases on the tables.
Top: Two of Courtenay and Matt’s favorite things — their dogs, Selwyn and Daisy — also played a large part in the wedding. Bottom: Courtenay and Matt had replicas of their dogs made out of flowers that were displayed at the reception, made by one of her mother’s friends.
Building on the rustic elegance that permeated the space, a large farm table was situated in the main ballroom. Lights were strung from the ceiling, adding even more magic to the environment. To add height and interest to the table setting, nice wooden wine boxes from Matt’s collection were placed on the table to hold the various food stations. While all of the food was delicious, Courtenay was particularly fond of the charcuterie table, which added another unique element to the theme of the evening.
White, green and pale pink flowers as well as branches of cherry blossoms dotted the beautiful setting, building off of the understated elegance that was so important to Courtenay and Matt. The appropriately named band, Right to Party, kept guests on the dance floor well into the evening. “The wedding was a lot of planning by Pam and Courtenay,” says Phillips. “To see the culmination of all of the hard work and to have so many friends and family members there to celebrate — it was just a wonderful evening.”
In addition to friends and family, Courtenay and Matt were thrilled to have their dogs attend the wedding reception for sunset photos by the lake. “I was hesitant at first to bring the dogs to the reception, as I knew it might be difficult for someone to coordinate with all of the other things that would be going on throughout the evening,” says Phillips. “But when I saw the pictures of Courtenay and Matt with the dogs, it was all worth it. It was a special night.” The couple exited to fireworks over Forest Lake which left for a fun-filled and exciting memory for Courtenay and Matt.
Contributing photographer: Emily Ann Bonner