You might think kids would be about as welcome at a winery as cork taint. But happily for those who didn't lose their palates when they became parents, there are wineries that welcome all in the family.
Want to tour a castle, picnic under the trees or take a quick dip in a pool? Those are some of the options available, part of a trend that has seen more wineries expanding the visiting experience to include much more than tasting.
At Raymond Vineyards in St. Helena, owner Jean-Charles Boisset has more than a passing interest in making a place for children. He's a new father to twin girls with wife Gina Gallo.
Raymond, which is in St. Helena, has a grove where you can start up a game of croquet or bocce as well as a fruit orchard to explore. A Theatre of Nature is under construction that will feature sheep, goats, chickens, a sensory garden and more and is aimed at explaining the winery's natural approach to wine-growing.
There are ultimately plans to have a child room where children can do art or watch a movie for 45 minutes while their parents taste wines. Meanwhile, for people who want to do some serious wine-tasting minus the small fry, there are other areas of the winery that are for adults only. The idea is to make sure that "everyone has a good time," says Boisset.
It bears mentioning that visiting a winery with children requires planning. You'll know best how long your child can stay entertained and with what. One child might be perfectly happy playing with toy boats; another might be moved to get in touch with his inner Blackbeard.
In general, check first to make sure you're visiting a winery with a child-friendly attitude and look for places that have extensive grounds with features that could amuse a child such as fountains. And be prepared to provide intense supervision. Even the most family-friendly of wineries isn't going to take kindly to toddlers running amok among the stemware.
One place to visit is the Sterling Winery in Calistoga, where you take a short gondola ride up the side of a mountain to reach the winery. Sterling is also close to another wine country attraction that's popular with families, Calistoga's Old Faithful Geyser, a small but reliable water spout.
Here are a few more places in the Napa Valley and neighboring Sonoma County that can be good options when you're traveling en famille.
FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA WINERY: A true resort, this winery near Healdsburg in Sonoma County has a lifeguard-staffed pool and a restaurant, Rustic. Families can rent towels and the use of a small cabine with a shower. Poolside drink service available. There's live music in the Pavilion on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Coppola is a pioneer in welcoming children. His Rubicon Estate winery (recently renamed Inglenook) in the Napa Valley has wooden sailboats children may sail in the fountain outside Mammarella's cafe. It was after seeing children begging their parents to let them jump in the fountain, which is discouraged, that he got the idea of putting in a pool at the Sonoma county property.
CASTELLO DI AMOROSA: And now for something completely different . how about a tour of a 107-room castle built in the style of 13th-century Tuscany. Castello di Amorosa, built by Napa Valley vintner Dario Sattui, has turrets, towers, dungeons and more. Children of all ages are welcome at the castle, which is a real working winery, although you must be 5 or older to take the 60-minute tour or the horse-drawn carriage tours available on Saturdays. Also available, a Family Room where children can color, accompanied by one adult, leaving other adults in the party free to taste wines. The kids get Muscat of Alexandria grape juice, a nonalcoholic product made at the winery. Sattui's other winery, V. Sattui Winery on Highway 29 in St. Helena, is another good choice for families because of its extensive picnic grounds and deli.