Love blooms among the vineyards

Arthur Liao was nervous. He was about to pop the question — a once-in-a-lifetime question, he hoped.

Liao was 95 percent sure his girlfriend, Johanna Sung, would say yes to his marriage proposal, but there was that 5 percent to agonize over. In an attempt to make his proposal fail-proof, the 29-year-old Google engineer from San Francisco played Romeo and rigged up a trip to Wine Country to secure an irresistible backdrop.

With help from locals, he picked a romantic perch: the hilltop terrace at Healdsburg’s Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery overlooking the Russian River Valley. Then all he had to do was wait until sunset and keep the ring a secret, hoping that Sung wouldn’t get suspicious about the box in the pocket of his navy blazer.

A surprised Sung said the proposal was surreal, with the setting and sunset bewitching.

Sung, 29, is the marketing manager for Lending Club, a startup lending company. She’s also from foggy San Francisco, and is a longtime fan of Wine Country because of its sun-drenched views.

Nancy Bailey, general manager at Gary Farrell, said the property is well-suited to romance with its views of the valley, and everyone involved knows the element of surprise is vital when plotting proposals.

While some prefer a well-orchestrated proposal with family and friends, others opt for something a little more low-key or intimate. An avid hiker, for instance, recently proposed at Glen Ellen’s Jack London State Park, concealing the ring in his backpack, along with wine and picnic treats. The couple hiked a mile to the lake surrounded by redwoods and then sat on the stone wall, known as a romantic spot for writer Jack London and his wife, Charmian.

Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves in Healdsburg also offers a captivating view. Ross Clendenen, Bella’s marketing manager, said he has set up at least nine proposals.

“We generally set it up as a tour,” he said. “However, that is usually a ruse to get them up on Lily Hill overlooking Dry Creek Valley. The view is incredible, with the whole north end of the valley below.”

The tour guide often takes couples in his four-wheel drive to the secluded vineyard near a grove of redwoods, having stashed wine and glasses nearby. Clendenen said the modus operandi is to have the tour guide find a way to excuse himself, to give the couple time alone.

Clendenen said he’s only had one “no,” and that it was a bit awkward.

“The guy was pretty upset and asked me for my advice,” Clendenen said. “I told him maybe he should write a country music song.”

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