Wine tasting is usually not a preferred outing with small children. I don’t regularly take my kids to tasting rooms and don’t necessarily recommend that you take your own kids to Napa and Sonoma for a weekend winery tour. That said, after stumbling upon a few wineries while on family vacations, I have found that, in some places, wine tasting with kids in tow can actually be fun for everyone. It has been my experience that vineyards in out-of-the way places are pretty accepting of kids being part of the experience, and, in some cases, quite welcoming. Many wineries off the beaten track don’t seem to mind if your kids frolic though the gardens and vines as long as you are respectful of the property. This is especially true if you purchase a few bottles of wine before you hightail it out of there. Of course, you have to make doubly sure you don’t sip too much before getting behind the wheel, particularly when you’re about to drive on a bumpy Hawaiian road that leads part-way up to a volcano (but more about that in a bit).
I’ve always loved visiting vineyards, especially with my husband who is a wine enthusiast. I also have always relished spending a little time at a vineyard. The lush green landscapes filled with grape vines surrounded by roses and wisteria really appeals to my inner-world fantasy of going back in time and living as a member of the landed gentry. Before our daughters were born, we would occasionally go to Sonoma or Napa, and have since made journeys up there without kids. I had never actually gone wine tasting with our kids until recently, however, and all of our previous visits were planned events. Before we had kids, we took some typical France and Spain vacations with visits to tasting rooms in old cobblestone buildings full of boisterous German tourists -- one group’s fashion ensembles were so eclectic that we weren’t sure if we were a bit dizzy from too much wine or too much plaid mixed with stripes -- but these outings were specifically made to find vineyards and taste wine.
I’ve found, however, that although it’s fun to plan out your visits to the wine country, discovering wineries in unexpected locations can be even more fun. We had two such experiences in the last year. One was at Tedeschi Vineyards, a pineapple winery we found in Maui, and the second Navarro Vineyards in Mendocino County. Although we should have expected to find wine in the latter location, as it’s in the Anderson Valley, we were camping at the time and looking for a fun place to play in the river. We were therefore surprised when we rounded a bend and came face to face with a vineyard whose wines we had enjoyed in the past at a friend’s house.
While we were in Maui last year, we heard about Tadeschi Vineyards on the way to Mount Haleakala. As we had missed the sunrise, were too early for the sunset, and the drive up the volcano was two hours each way, we decided to do a little wine tasting instead. Tadeschi Vineyards is near the end of the main winding highway on the inner part of Maui. I think the road once went through to Hana, but when we were there, the extended road was closed. Although it’s quite close -- as the crow flies -- to Kihei and Wailea, it’s about an hour’s drive to both. So we made our way down to the vineyard, and if our kids hadn’t been moaning about how they were missing a day at the beach the whole time, the drive would have been lovely.
When we got to the vineyard, I was surprised that it was fairly crowded. The wine tasting area is set up to do a brisk business, and there were retired people and families everywhere, buying up pineapple dishtowels, candles, jams and, of course, wine. They make wine made from both pineapples and grapes, and I have to say I liked neither, but we bought a couple of bottles of the pineapple stuff anyway and had them shipped to our house for curiosity’s sake. Although the drive took a while and the wine wasn’t great, I loved visiting Tadeschi Vineyards. The winery itself is beautiful and, once we left the bustle of the shop full of kitsch, we were able to roam around and enjoy the grounds while our kids explored the property.
Even closer is Navarro Vineyards. Although this fairly well-known winery is located in the heart of the Anderson Valley, we were in the area to camp and so weren’t really expecting go wine tasting the first time we happened upon them. There are a few really great things about Navarro Vineyards. In addition to it being near the Navarro River, which is fun to play in, they make every attempt to be a sustainable working farm, avoiding insecticides and herbicides, banding the area with lots of cover crops to keep the beneficial insect population in business, and using chickens and goats to weed and fertilize the grounds. They also utilize solar panels to help power their operation. Navarro also makes really great grape juice, and the tasting room staff is happy to pour some for your kids so they can enjoy something to drink and feel included in the experience while you swirl your Pinot Noir. Finally, they also make some very nice wines which are, for the most part, only available via mail order or in their shop. So, stopping by on your way to raft in the Navarro River has its advantages. Other great wineries are also in the area, such as Scharffenberger Cellars just down the road in Philo.
As I’m always on the lookout for mixing outings with wine tastings, I’d love to hear about any wineries you’ve stumbled upon during your own travels, and if you found them to be kid friendly. Although my budget will not guarantee that I will get to them all, I can always dream.