It would have been a spectacular setting for their wedding, amid the rolling hills of a vineyard where he was learning the art of winemaking.
Joshua David Ruff and Rachel Manasse had it all planned, from the sparkly toasting glasses to the purple flower petals that would decorate the aisle.
But as they were putting the final touches on the ceremony, their world came crashing down around them.
On Wednesday, less than three weeks before they were to be married, Ruff was killed in an equipment accident while working at David Girard vineyards in Placerville.
Now Manasse is left to contemplate a future without the man she called her best friend and the love of her young life.
"I am hearing words like reception and guest books, which I've been associating with my wedding plans," said Manasse, who graduated this spring from Long Beach State, where she met Ruff. "But things have turned around 180 degrees."
Family and friends will gather this afternoon in El Dorado Hills, where Ruff grew up and was a star athlete who earned a college track scholarship, for his memorial service.
He would have been 23 years old next month. The wedding would have been Sept. 8.
"Josh lived the life that God intended him to live," Ruff's father, David, said of his son. "He pursued his dreams, and he made the lives of those around him better."
An exuberant child, Joshua Ruff took up karate at the age of 8 and became certified as a black belt at 16, his father said. He took part in national competitions, and taught martial arts to other youngsters. He was a huge fan of the Oakland Raiders, the San Francisco Giants and the Sacramento Kings.
He began running when he was a student at Rolling Hills Middle School, and got serious about it at Oak Ridge High, his father said.
"He had played other sports, but he wanted to be a Division I athlete and he felt that cross country and distance running would be his best shot."
His high school coach, Rob Fairley, called Ruff a natural leader who inspired other athletes to work harder and do better. "He became a person who would enliven the whole team. He was a real pleasure to be around," Fairley said.
While working toward his degree in history at Long Beach State in January 2010, Ruff met Manasse, a nationally ranked tennis player, a year younger than he was. They got to know each other at parties and other events, where they talked about athletics and music and became friends. They got engaged just three months after their first official "date," Manasse said.
"He made me fish for dinner that night and he ended up dropping half of it in the grill, so it didn't work out that well," she said. No matter. Later that night, after they danced to Nic Chagall's "This Moment," he presented her with an amethyst engagement ring, mindful that purple was her favorite color.
She accepted "without any hesitation at all," she said.
"It just felt like it was meant to be."
Ruff graduated last spring, and moved back to Northern California while Manasse finished her senior year in college. He became an assistant at Oak Ridge, helping the runners. He also began working full time at the vineyard, and discovered he had a true passion for winemaking, his father said.
"He absolutely adored it," he said. "He fell in love with everything about wine and winemaking, from the harvest and the crush to the bottling and working in the tasting room."
While the younger Ruff had talked about getting his teaching credential, he seemed to have found his life's work at the vineyard, his father said.
"I think it was going to be his new career," he said.
El Dorado County sheriff's officials said Ruff died after his leg became pinned beneath a piece of processing equipment at the winery. The department released no further details about the accident.
Now Manasse, a Southern California native who recently moved north to start her life with Ruff, only has memories of what the couple dreamed the future might have held.
When she thinks of her fiancé, Manasse said, she remembers a megawatt smile that "pictures could never capture, it was so big and wonderful."
"When Josh smiled, you just couldn't help but smile back," she said. "I'll always remember that."