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The Meritage Resort and Spa

Written by Jennifer Huffman

When COVID-19 hit in 2020, Emilia Gonzalez faced some of the most challenging days in her work as an infection control nurse. A department head at Pleasanton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in the East Bay, Emilia was on call almost 24/7. “It was the hardest year of my career,” she said. As COVID-19 continued to spread, Emilia and her fiancé Joseph McCloud were forced to postpone their planned 2020 wedding. The couple lives in Castro Valley.

And then something quite surprising happened, something that would make 2021 a year to really remember, and for all the right reasons. The couple won a “dream wedding” at Napa’s Meritage and Vista Collina Resorts. They were married on Oct. 30 at the south Napa resort complex.

“We’re so blessed,” said Emilia. “This is like the most touching thing that’s ever happened to me in my entire life,” said Joseph, who works in security operations for Sony in Foster City.

Emilia said she didn’t realize her fiancé had even entered the contest back in January. In fact, he had to make an Instagram account just to submit their story. Joseph wrote glowingly about his fiancé in his nomination. "Emilia’s 'call-to-arms' fierceness during COVID-19 “has been a source of inspiration during the global pandemic,” Joseph wrote in his submission.

“As the work and infectious cases surged, I saw how it affected her both physically and mentally, even though she would try not to show it,” he wrote. “The sores from the mask and the mental fog are too real to hide.”

“Emilia is a frontline healthcare worker, and she like all other workers deserve nothing but the absolute best of everything, they are real heroes.” His words touched the staff at the resorts, said Joe Leinacker, the managing director at The Meritage Resort and Spa and Vista Collina Resort. The properties are located on Bordeaux Way in south Napa.

From more than 100 entries, the couple was chosen to receive the gift, valued at $30,000.

Their reaction to winning their “dream” wedding, captured via video, shows just how thrilled they are. Upon hearing the good news from Leinacker, the two screamed, clutched each other, and immediately started crying.

“Thank you so much!” they cried.

“You’re kidding,” said Joseph, almost in disbelief. “For a while there, I was so stressed I didn’t know how I was going to be able to afford a wedding that she deserved.”

“Thank you for all of your efforts and sacrifices,” Leinacker told the couple.

Such a “dream” wedding was way more than they’d ever have been able to host, they explained. “Originally we were just going to do a small backyard wedding, and set it up ourselves, for just our immediate family,” said Emilia. They planned to spend less than $10,000.

On Halloween weekend, the two finally got to exchange vows at the Meritage’s Vineyard Deck. A reception followed. About 75 family and friends were able to attend.

Emilia said the resort went above and beyond for their special day.

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