Wine Tasting with Kids
I'm mildly embarrassed to admit this, but I Megan Yates, have never been to a major wine region. Until last week, that is. How did this happen? Considering that I frequently put on the nerd glasses when it comes to wine, I should be tromping through vineyards around the world, yes? Once upon a childless time hubs and I stumbled upon a small winery in NY, but it was raining so we only visited the tasting room. On the second and final occasion, I went to a winery in my homeland of Wisconsin that was making wine with wild grapes. So, I've had very little real life vineyard experience. Last week, hubs and I packed up the kids and flew to San Francisco to visit family. Being a short drive from Napa and Sonoma, it was absolutely necessary that we go to wine country while we were there and I wanted my littles to experience it too. You can bring your children to a vineyard - and this is how we did it!
Here is my checklist for wine tasting with kids:
- As a courtesy, always check with the winery ahead of time to be sure children are welcome
- just like most outings, pack distractions (snacks, a screen, and a toy)
- bring sunscreen and layers
And for yourself:
- a wine suitcase (I recommend the VinGardeValise)
- sunscreen (the sun is much more intense than I'm used to, especially at a mountain elevation, and I have some strange sunburn lines to prove it)
- snacks (most wineries provide some bites for you, but you might need a little something for the trip back)
Our first stop was Stuhlmuller Vineyards in the AVA of Alexander Valley in Sonoma. I've long been an admirer of their rich, spicy, Cabernet so this was an easy choice to make out of the 400-some wineries in Sonoma County. I was so excited that I actually felt like I was a kid heading to Disneyworld. It's a small operation and very laid back. We all sat outside to enjoy the wines along with some cheese, that California sunshine, and the sound of the nearby Russian River. The friendly hostess introduced us to each wine that she poured and had a short story to tell about every wine, such as what the winemaker, Leo Hansen, thought of that particular vintage, the interesting methods of production (foot treading being my personal favorite), and how the winemaker's background influences his style of wine. I busted out a new small toy for my 3 year old son and he sat on the ground playing happily with it in the stones. Another family was there with their young son and our little dudes quickly became single-serving friends. The kids were even given a balloon at the end of the tasting! I love that they're so accommodating to young families and the experience was everything that I had hoped it would be: relaxing, fun, and delicious.
What I didn't realize or had perhaps forgotten, because I had never experienced it in person, is that many wineries distribute just a few of their wines and the rest of the collection is only available for purchase directly from the vineyard or through their wine membership program. Unsurprisingly, I tasted some really awesome wines at Stuhlmuller that I wanted to take home. Knowing that I either A) wouldn't be able to find it in any store or B) would have to pay to ship the wine home, I opted to bring along a wine suitcase: the VinGardeValise. You may remember this suitcase from my Boozy Holiday Gift Guide. I have the Petite version that holds 8 bottles and it really completed the trip because I could bring home those lovely small-production Estate wines without sending my carefully packed 49.8lb suitcase waaaay over the weight limit. It's both small and durable enough that I was able to easily tout it around with me over the gravel, grass, and concrete terrains of a winery and it kept my wine snug on the return flight. If you happen to be planning a trip to some wineries, this is a no-brainer purchase. It has compartments for less important things like clothing and toiletries too ;)
A few days later, we made a trip to Cade in Howell Mountain - my favorite AVA of Napa. It was such a wonderful experience! The entire property is LEED certified and sustainable, which is really impressive. Throughout the tour our host, Jay, pointed out some of the small details that were either sustainable or paid homage to the terroir: for example, the exterior color of the buildings is stained with volcanic ash rather than painted, and the color of some of the bottle labels is matched exactly to the colors of the manzanita trees located on the property. We received a tour of the facilities, including the wine cellar where my son briefly lost wifi and shrieked as his YouTube videos stopped. Before the echo even subsided, the amazing hubs was already distracting him so that I could snap some pictures and all was well again.
The Cade team consists of only 7 people, including winemaker Danielle Cyrot, whom I will be featuring in a separate post for my Women Winemakers series, so keep an eye out for that! The people of Cade work crazy hours to make some crazy delicious wines for people like me to enjoy and we were able to meet two of them on our tour. After we wandered through the property whilst sipping on some Sauvignon Blanc, we arrived at the tasting room that has a stunning view almost too difficult to peel your eyes from. Jay sat at the table with us and chatted with everyone as we tasted our way through the red wines. It felt like we were guests that had been invited over for some really great wines and conversation and we had such a lovely time. No one even batted an eye as I was multitasking with the kids: I bounced the baby on my leg, tickled her, fed her a bottle, produced some snacks from my backpack for my son, and thoughtfully took sips of wine at the same time. Also, tasting notes make really great baby toys. Cade is the perfect mix of high end and approachable, in both the tasting experience and the wines. It's a must if you're in Howell Mountain.
Now that I have these experiences under my belt, I feel fully prepared to take my entire clan to just about any winery. Spain, anyone?
Full disclosure: I received the VinGardeValise Petite suitcase at a special price and I am being compensated for my endorsement