Denise Tirado and Luis Gamboa met in college in 2009 when they had a chemistry lab together at the University of California, Davis. “At the end of the quarter, Luis decided to invite Denise to one of his fraternity parties,” the couple shares. Within a year, they were official.
A few years later, they were dating long-distance while Denise was on an optometric clinical rotation in New York. “The first time Luis visited, he went to orchestrate and plan the proposal,” they recalled. Then on August 09, 2017, Luis got down on one knee in front of the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park.
For their wedding—planned, postponed, and replanned for November 6, 2021—Denise and Luis knew they wanted to celebrate not just their love, but their heritage. “Our vision was to have a modern yet traditional Mexican wedding,” they shared. “We wanted to incorporate elements of our culture, yet put a modern spin to it.”
They found Greengate Ranch & Vineyard in San Luis Obispo, California, through online research and it seemed to fit the bill. “We were in the area for another wedding, and decided to visit the venue,” the couple says. “It was definitely love at first sight. Because both of our family backgrounds are rooted in ranch settings, we knew the venue would tie into our theme perfectly.” They hosted a full weekend of events on the property, from the rehearsal dinner to the welcome party to the ceremony and reception.
“Initially trying to plan this wedding on our own felt like a massive task,” the bride and groom share. At times, “it almost felt like the wedding would be unreachable.” So, they hired a planner, Sarah Strausser of Embark Event Design, to help bring their vision to life. “She made the process so easy. She was able to put together the best list of vendors for us, and allowed us to make the final decisions. We could not recommend hiring a planner enough.”
Read on to see all the special details of Denise and Luis’ cultural celebration, planned by Embark Event Design and photographed by Kelley Williams.
The couple worked with Minted on an invitation suite and signage for the big day. “Our color scheme includes dark red, burnt orange, and subtle blue hues,” they shared. “The theme was al fresco and modern, with a strong nod to traditional Mexican elements.”
For her wedding day beauty, Denise wanted a “timeless yet elegant look,” she says. “After my makeup trial, I asked my makeup artist to let me know the lip color she used so I could continue reapplying throughout the night. I used Huda Beauty liquid lipstick in Rendezvous and MAC gold gloss.” Leading up to the wedding, the bride prepped her skin with a regimen of SkinCeuticals retinol and Triple Lipid Restore treatment on alternating days at bedtime, and CE Ferulic serum in the mornings. The bride feels the most confident with her hair down, so that’s how she wore it on the big day, adding a hair vine from Untamed Petals.
While Denise and her bridesmaids were getting ready, all of a sudden, a mariachi band came into the suite and started playing. “That’s when I had the ‘Oh my god, I’m getting married’ moment,” she remembers. “I began to shake uncontrollably with nerves—prior to that I’d felt completely fine!—so my maid of honor brought me a shot of tequila and the mariachi continued to play in the background.”
Denise decided early on that she would have to buy a dress the first day she went shopping. “I am so indecisive that I knew if I tried shopping multiple days I would only make it more difficult on myself,” she recalls. Luckily, she fell in love early on, with the beaded embroidered lace Finlay gown by Blue Willow by Anne Barge. “Once I put the dress on, I knew that it embodied an elegant and timeless look that would coordinate well with Luis’ traditional charro suit.”
Yet, she decided to make it her own. “Having a background in fashion design—my major at UC Davis—I decided I wanted to incorporate my sewing skills into my wedding dress,” she says. “What better way than to sew my own overskirt?” She designed and sewed a tulle skirt, using the same Anne Barge lace appliqué from her dress.
In addition to her stunning autumnal bouquet, Denise accessorized with a Toni Federici veil, an understated Swarovski tennis bracelet, and glittery Manolo Blahniks. “I wore the earrings that one of my aunts from Mexico wore at her wedding ten years ago.”
Luis infused his culture into the nuptials by opting for a traditional Mexican wedding suit, a traje charro de gala. He paired it with a modern accessory: a sleek black Movado watch Denise gifted him for the wedding. “Denise got my parents, my sister, and me personalized handkerchiefs with a special message embroidered onto the fabric,” Luis says. “They were delivered to us prior to the ceremony and definitely served their purpose throughout the whole day.”
“We kept the focus on autumnal blooms for the ceremony, letting the beauty of the setting speak for itself,” the couple shares. “Because we wanted to have a religious ceremony, Denise’s father and brother were able to build a cross for the ceremony, which was decorated with flowers.”
They decided not to do a first look, so Denise’s walk down the aisle alongside her parents—while the Mariachi played a classic Mexican song, “Mi Razón De Ser”—was extra special. “One of the biggest decisions we made was to do our entire ceremony in Spanish, including our vows,” the couple shares. “We thought it was important that our family understand the deepest and most emotional aspect of our wedding. Although we could have done a bilingual ceremony, we felt that doing an all Spanish ceremony would immerse our friends in our culture.”
“Since the groom was wearing Mexican traditional attire, we wanted to keep the groomsmen’s attire simple and timeless—traditional black tie—helping bridge the Mexican modern traditional theme we were going for,” the couple shares. Meanwhile, bridesmaids wore luxe charmeuse dresses by The Dessy Group in a variety of silhouettes, but kept the color consistent. The deep orange shade “complemented the autumnal hues of the rest of the design,” Denise says.
As guests sipped spicy jalapeño margaritas and a classic Mexican cocktail called Vampiro—made with tequila and a red additive juice—the newlyweds soaked up golden hour in an intimate portrait session with their photographer. It was a moment to bask in the bliss and take it all in.
“We loved designing the reception to fit the outdoor al fresco setting, while keeping a focus on Mexican-inspired elements and fresh autumn-inspired blooms that complemented our neutral linens with subtle texture,” the couple says. Set against the backdrop of the venue’s beautifully rustic barn, tables featured pops of blue and were lit with strings of bistro lights above.
The vision we had planned for over two years finally came to fruition, and it was perfect.
“We both have a precious memory of walking in for the first time as Mr. and Mrs.,” the couple recalls. “As we got handed our specialty drinks, we looked at each other, smiled, and cheered. We were able to look out into the reception area, filled with family and friends, and realize that the vision we had planned for over two years finally came to fruition, and it was perfect.”
A live mariachi band provided the music for the couple’s first dance to “Motivos” by Vicente Fernández.
“We decided, like our wedding style, to go with a traditional Mexican menu with a modern twist,” the couple shares. “We worked with the head chef at Field to Table and he ensured our menu was carefully curated to capture our vision.” Hors d’oeuvres included halibut ceviche and al pastor street tacos. Dinner was braised short rib with chipotle roasted heirloom carrots and avocado chimichurri, or chipotle and citrus crusted salmon with charred corn and avocado salsa. “Both dinner options were accompanied by Field to Table’s amazing cornbread,” added the newlyweds.
Their chic and simple almond wedding cake had mixed berries and buttercream, and was adorned with florals in the same warm autumn colors as the decor. After cutting the first slice, the newlyweds hit the dance floor and kicked off the party. “As cliché as it sounds, it does go by so fast,” Denise remembers. “During the wedding, as many times as you remember, try to stop and observe everyone around you, take mental photos, and enjoy!”