California wine country and children

Sonoma Square

Sonoma Square

Wine country and children? When you think of visiting California wine country, you think of a weekend away from children, work, life. Taking your children to wine country is not a thought most people would consider. My friends it can be done! And it can be an amazing family vacation spot as well.

We have spent the past three summers taking our children (8 and 3 1/2) to Sonoma, CA. We make this vacation the best of both worlds. My girls adore visiting Sonoma and look forward to this tradition. Many people are shocked that I bring my children to Napa/Sonoma (“don’t they get bored?”). I always think, why not? In Europe families go everywhere together, even through wine villages/vineyards. Why, as American’s, shouldn’t we have the same laid back mentality? I love spending time with them. Why not make it a family holiday doing things we all enjoy?

In Sonoma Valley alone, there are more than 370 wineries. Of course, even without children, it would a challenge to visit every winery. We make decisions to visit Sonoma and Napa wineries carefully when traveling with our children. Below is a list of kid-friendly wineries, restaurants and places to visit with your kids. I am sure there are MANY more, but these are tried from yours truly.

Places to stay:

There are loads of hotels in the Sonoma and Napa Valley regions, many which offer amenities for little ones. However with our children, we rent a house. For the past three years, we have rented the same home outside Sonoma Valley. It comes with a pool, bocce ball court, Ping-Pong table, trampoline and loads of bikes and other kid-friendly gadgets. The home is not fancy by any means, but it suits us perfectly. We spend many hours in the pool and playing games.

Another plus with renting a home, is that you can make your own meals. Taking a family of 4 out to dinner in Sonoma or Napa is very expensive. With a home, you can make a lunch/dinner, drink a bottle of wine, let the kids run around and everyone is happy!

Loma Vista and swimming

Loma Vista and swimming

Being silly on Vacation

Being silly on Vacation

The website that I recommend is VRBO.com. Check out homes in the areas of Sonoma, Healdsburg, Calistoga, and Napa (including St. Helena, Yountville, Oakville). Santa Rosa isn’t that far either and would have good deals.

* On a personal side note: The nice thing about staying in Sonoma, is the family feel of the town. They have a Plaza with many shops, restaurants, Tuesday farmers market, a huge play area for kids, a Whole Foods, toy shops, Train Town, etc. And on the plus side, within the plaza square (where the park is), you are allowed to have beer and wine. How perfect!

Kid Friendly Wineries

This is where I have to admit, I am biased. A few are my most favorite wineries ( I have blogged about in the past).. but what I love about them, besides amazing wines, is they are accommodating with children. I know there are wineries where you don’t bring kids, period (i.e. Napa wineries-  Opus One, Silver Oak and Cakebread are a few that come to mind). I totally respect those that would prefer to keep the riff-raff of children out (and visit them when I am kid-less).

Here is a small list of wineries we have explored which welcome children.

Sonoma Valley region:

Ledsonhttp://www.ledson.com/

Talk about a little girls dream. This winery has a Cinderella-looking castle atmosphere (if Cinderella drank good wine). They have a little deli/picnic area and patience for the little ones. Wines are pretty remarkable as well! My husband enjoys their oaked Chardonnay! I prefer the Bellisimo.

Larson Family Winery: http://www.larsonfamilywinery.com/

Now, the complete opposite feel from Ledson, but extremely family oriented (hence family in the name). Larson winery is on a farm, with plenty of animals. And what kid doesn’t like animals? They also have games and a few bikes for kids to ride as well. This winery has the family-feeling thing down pat, pretty smart. Their wine isn’t my favorite, but a very enjoyable experience (try the Three-Lab Cab… it’s pretty delicious).

Bump: http://www.bumpwine.com/

Bump Winery

Bump Winery

Although it’s a brand new winery and tasting room, the wine maker has been around for ages – making wines at some big known wineries in Sonoma. His tasting room isn’t made for little kids (lots of homemade pottery around), but he has small children himself.. so he is very friendly with those that want to stop by with kids. His wines are simple, but balanced eloquently. A couple of his wines could be on my top 10 favorite Sonoma wines list! Try the Fortune (a white Rhone blend) and Zinfandel when you pop in. Both are divine!

Domaine Carneros (outside Sonoma): http://www.domainecarneros.com/

I have talked about this winery in the past – one of my favorites. They make outstanding bubbles. They have a breathtaking facility and sparkling wines to match. They may not look “kid-friendly” but are very patient with kids (they have kid, non alcoholic wine). This is a place where it’s ok to bring out the IPad/IPhone for the kids. There isn’t much running around for the kids to do. But, totally worth the stop (with or without the rug-rats).

*you will meet other families with kids there, which made my girls very happy this time around. They played contently with the others, so this time there was no need for the IPhone!*

Napa Valley region:

Salvestrin Winery: http://www.salvestrinwinery.com/

Salvestrin Winery

Noelle enjoying Salvestrin Winery

My favorite in California wine country. Not because they make the best wines (but, they are pretty stellar) or because they have the biggest Chateau.. but because of who they are. A very unpretentious, small, family vineyard – competing some very big players in the Napa wine world (Mondovi is a few wineries away). Right off highway 29,  you drive up to their 100 year old home (which they still live in), and are welcomed as though you are family. We have been going to this winery for years now, and it really does feel like home. My girls love running through the vineyard’s, playing with the Salvestrin grandkids if they are around, or just hanging out with us on the patio set up against the vineyard. It’s a place of tranquility and amazing wines. They are appointment only, but I would HIGHLY recommend going if you are in St. Helena/Napa Valley area.

Frogs Leap: http://www.frogsleap.com

How can you not take your kids to a winery whose motto is “Times fun when you are catching flies!” This is another winery with impeccable grounds. And they want you to explore them! My girls love finding the chickens, petting the fat cat and playing outdoor games. They even give kids crayons and a frog coloring book. They also recommend making reservations. But another must-see when you are traveling with your kiddos.

Oh, and the wine is delicious too!!! Check out their Zinfandel and Cab’s! The sauv blanc is also very refreshing on a hot day.

Flora Springs: http://www.florasprings.com/

Flora Springs is a little more popular and on the touristy side. But, it is a great place to take a break, get some lunch from Dean and Deluca next door and try some wines. They have a nice patio out back (I wouldn’t recommend having your kids in the tasting room area) where you can enjoy the sun and your lunch. If you are able to taste their Sangiovese… do it! it’s pretty delicious.

Sterling Vineyard: http://sterlingvineyards.com/

This is one of those big, huge places that I often don’t promote. However, if you want a fun experience for your kids.. go visit them! To reach their winery, you have to take a Gondola ride. It’s fun (except for those who may be nervous of heights). Wines are ok… you can find them in about any grocery store throughout the country.

Healdsburg Region:

J Vineyards: http://www.jwine.com/

Bottle of J Vineyards bubbles

Bottle of J Vineyards Cuvee

Another fantastic bubbles place that is kid friendly and on beautiful grounds. They may not have activities for them or places to run around. What they offer though is patience and kindness to little ones (and animal crackers and juice). You will also need to make an appointment to visit them as well. Their rose bubbles (sold out) are killer!

Field Stone Winery: http://www.fieldstonewinery.com/

Another biased winery. My daughter Ava goes to school with the granddaughter of the winemaker. Which means they are used to having their grandchildren come by, along with other children. They are very pleasant and welcoming to kids (it’s a plus they have a horse at the winery). When you visit, you must try their Merlot!

Places to eat with your kids:

(a quick, simple list)

Sonoma:

1. The Girl and the Fig

2. Sunflower Café

3. Chocolate Cow (for dessert)

4. Tuesday Farmers Market in Sonoma Square

5. Olive and Vine – in Glen Ellen

Napa Valley Region:

1. Picnic at V. Sattui Winery

2. Rutherford Grill

3. Dean and Deluca (not a sit down, pick up for a picnic)

4. Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen

5. Gotts Roadside (rated best burgers in Food and Wine Magazine)

6. Pizzeria Tre Vigne

Kids Activities:

To make this a whole family vacation, there are loads of family activities and adventures:

1. Train Town in Sonoma – great for the little engineers in your family

2. Rent bikes in Sonoma/Napa Valley and ride through the vineyards

3. Playgrounds in Sonoma Square

4. Check out some cute shops (and toy shops) in Healdsburg

5. Safari West – outside Santa Rosa – a hit for our family vacation this year. Pricey and takes most of the day but well worth it. And you can drink wine while on the 2 hour jeep safari ride.

6. Sonoma Farmers Market

7. Stay at your rental home and swim

8. Loads of parks all over wine country

9. The Sonoma Overlook Trail (probably best for kids over 10).

10. Calistoga Hot Springs

11. Ride horses at Bodega Bay (and pick up some salt water taffy).

It’s very possible to make California Wine Country the most perfect family vacation. Its about spending time together (and having good wine). Just keep in mind that 1 or 2 wineries with small children is about all they can handle ( I have pushed it to three though). If they still take naps, visit one before and one after. Let them also have a say in what they want to do for the day. There is nothing worse then dragging cranky, tired, crying children to a winery. You will be miserable and not enjoy the wines.

If you rent a house, I would highly recommend one with a pool. It will make your vacation so much more pleasurable, especially in the summer heat. Also, plan on making a few dinners in the house, so you can enjoy the meal, wine and your family – without having to rush out of a restaurant with overly tired children.

And above all, it’s ok to  let them play on the phone/Ipad/Ipod, etc. while you are enjoying a winery. It’s not bad parenting, it’s letting yourself enjoy a little peace and quiet while focusing on the wine you are tasting. It will not rot their brains. Trust me, you will have a lot of family time and activities together. Remember this is about you, them and wine….

Cheers to you and your family!

*feel free to leave anymore family-friendly wineries/restaurants you know of in the Napa Valley/Sonoma area. This was just a small list!

Lunch in Petaluma

Lunch in Petaluma

Treats at Chocolate Chow in Sonoma

Treats at Chocolate Chow in Sonoma

Mom's are also good to bring on Vacations

Mom’s are also good to bring on Vacations

Ava on a Safari Jeep ride!

Ava on a Safari Jeep ride!

Sometimes you need a night out.. without the kids

Sometimes you need a night out.. without the kids

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Time for Bubbles

Bubbles, Champagne, Sparking Wine, Prosecco, Cava, etc. It doesn’t matter what your favorite is or what you call it…. just call it often. Even though I am strategically posting this blog this for the upcoming “Hallmark Holiday” (or what some people call it: Valentine’s day), I think that any time is bubble time. I always keep a bottle or two around for any occasion. Even if it’s a I- made- it- through- the- day occasion. It’s always a good idea to keep bubbles on hand. You never know when a glass will call your name…..

It has been a while since I have talked about bubbles, so I thought I would up-date you on a couple of my new favorites. I am not going to get into the differences between Champagne, Sparkling wine, Prosecco and Cava – because if you go back to Sept 2010 on A Wine Journey, you will find detailed descriptions. This is just a quick guide on two amazing bubbles to pick up for the Hallmark Holiday or (if you are me) any day of the week .One is a splurge and another is a mid-priced wine.

Tonights Tasting:

Pierre Peters Champagne Cuvee de Reserve Grand Cru

$54.99, The Grape Choice, Kirkland WA www.thegrapechoice.com

This growers champagne knows how to make good champagne. Pierre Peters has been making delicious bubbles since 1919 – and since then has been killing it with awards in France and the US. This wine is no disappointment. It’s made from Chardonnay grapes and is crisp, dry and dances on your tongue. It has the flavors of apples, apricots and minerals. It’s an intense and expressive Champagne.  At a growers champagne tasting, it was my favorite of the night. It may be a challenge to find, but if you call Perry at The Grape Choice (425-827-7551) in Kirkland, he will be able to find it for you! It’s worth the hunt and the price.. I guarantee you will love it.

Pierre Peter Champagne

Pierre Peters Champagne

Domaine Carneros by Taittinger – Napa Valley, CA

$27.00 www.domainecarneros.com

For a more reasonable treat, Domaine Carneros Brut is a such that…a delticable treat. I tend towards French Champagne’s and Cava’s, but this US sparkling wine is on my top 10 favorite bubbles list. It has crisp, mineral and citrus flavors that lingers in your mouth. It’s a classic sparkling wine made from both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. This wine can be found easier then Pierre Peters. I have seen it at most local wine shops, Whole Foods and of course, its website. I belong to the Domaine Carneros wine club and have not been disappointed in any wine that I have received.

Domaine Carneros

Domaine Carneros

Whether it’s Valentines day or a Tuesday, it’s always a good day for bubbles!! Pop a bottle open and remember to “Keep Calm and Drink Champagne.” Cheers!

On a snowy day… drink bubbles!

Or you could drink a hot cocoa, hot buttered rum, hot toddy, Irish coffee, kahlua and milk, etc. I prefer bubbles. To me, champagne, sparking wine, bubbles are an any occasion drink. Hot or cold weather, special event or a night in watching movies. Sparkling wine creates good moods and let’s you feel fancy. So, after 4 days of being cooped up with a 2 and 6-year-old due to “Snow Extreme 2012” in Seattle, I needed a night to relax with some bubbles.

I appreciate quality bubbles. Ian and I took a “growers Champagne” class – which promotes small, boutique wineries in the area of Champagne, France. I came home with a bottle (or two) of small vineyard Champagne’s. Unfortunately, these champagne’s are not cheap. Each bottle that we tasted during the class priced around $35-$100. I have to say though, worth every penny. I have never tasted such smooth, lively, quality sparkling wines.  On the other side of that, our wallet’s did not appreciate the price of the smooth, lively, quality wines.

Not everyone is able to spend large amounts of money on a sparkling wine. Which is why I am here to help you. Now, I would suggest if you have a little extra money to spend, head to your local wine shop and talk to the owners about a growers champagne. If you are able to find a bottle, snag it. Or if you are at your brother-in-laws on Christmas you are lucky enough to enjoy a 1984 Dom Perignon, then take a moment to really enjoy that glass (because it probably won’t happen again). But, if the mood hits for a nice, inexpensive bubbly, I have one for you!

Tonight’s Tasting

Mumm Napa, Brut Rose, Napa Valley, CA (Safeway, $15.99).

Mumm Napa

When the mood  calls for bubbles, then this is wine I will purchase. Mumm Rose Brut is a go-to bubbly. This wine can be found in most major grocery stores.  It’s relatively inexpensive, has a dry/sweet/bouncy flavor that lingers in your mouth and a smell to awaken your soul. It is primarily a Pinot Noir grape with a little splash of Chardonnay thrown in. On the nose you smell strawberry, cherry and a slight citrus breeze – all with a taste to match. I have brought along this bottle to non-wine drinkers, which they have enjoyed its pop, fizz and smooth finish. And since Valentines day is right around the corner, you will be a favorite if you show up with pink bubbles. If rose isn’t your color, their other sparkling wines are also decent (try to find the reserves if you can).

I guarantee you will be able to find this wine almost anywhere. So, when an occasion like snow hits, put on your snowsuit and head to the store. Cozy up by the fire and enjoy!

http://mummnapa.com

Cheers and stay warm my friends!

Too much wine?

 Can there be too much wine? Maybe.  I guess there can be too much of anything. Over eating, over shopping, too much TV, too much talking, etc. So yes, there can be such a thing as too much wine, I guess…..

When a 5-year-old tells his mom, as they are coming over to my house at 1:00 in the afternoon, that he needs to bring me a bottle of wine (his 3-year-old brother argues no, she needs a coffee) it lead me to ask the question:  “Am I drinking too much wine?” I mean, if a 5-year-old thinks he needs to bring me a bottle of wine when he comes to my house (prior to that comment, he saved an old Trader Joe’s paper wine bag to give me as a present for my wine) and my own 5-year-old argues she must drink her milk/water/apple juice out of a wine glass at dinner – maybe I am talking about/drinking too much wine.

Some of you may agree, but some may think not. We all have our own opinions, especially the topic of alcohol.  What I do know about my interest in wine, is that I enjoy learning about it, just as much as tasting and drinking it. I have a fond respect for wine, without over indulging in it. So does that mean it is too much?

I feel the history, making, and the process of wine needs more respect than the abuse of it. Yes, I have a glass of wine with most of my dinners, when we go  to a dinner party I make sure to bring a bottle the host will enjoy, random evenings with my husband we will have wine tastings (when kids are finally in bed), I take wine classes and  have a growing number of wine books around my home. Maybe by some standards, yes I do focus too much on wine.  But in no way would I do the wine industry injustice by abusing it. 

My answer on this topic is: I will keep on enjoying wine..I work hard, love my family and friends and have other non-wine interests. However, after a long day there is nothing better than getting the kids in bed and relaxing on the couch with an amazing glass of Cab (or Merlot, Syrah or blend)!  So, if a 5-year-old wants to bring me a bottle of wine, bring it! I just ask that it not be a Carlo Rossi!!

Tonight’s Tastings

In light of my topic, tonight’s tasting will not be on wine – but on Sparkling Wines. Champagne/Sparkling Wines are not my forte, yet. However, I do know a delicious Sparkling wine, Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, when I taste it. I will give you a very brief low-down on the four I mentioned:

Champagne: Carbonated wine from the region of Champagne in France. Legally, it can only be called Champagne if created in that region. Usually, Champagne is medium bodied and will pair well with many different types of foods. Just remember for “real” Champagne, most decent bottles will cost you a decent penny. (fyi – you can find some value Champagnes around the $40 price point).

Cava: Spanish medium-bodied sparkling wine from the Catalonia region of Spain. When I lived in Spain, this stuff poured out of barrels like crazy. It was actually on “tap” at many local restaurants, and it was almost a requirement to have a glass or two during lunch (which is probably why they still have Siestas). Cava has to be one of my personal favorite Sparkling wines (see below for a recommendation).

Prosecco: Italian light-bodied Sparkling Wine from the region of Veneto. You can also find a great Prosecco at a steal of a price in many speciality wine/grocery stores.

Sparkling Wine (U.S.): Many great Sparkling Wines are coming out of California and Washington these days. Some tops wines recommended by Wine Spectator are: Domaine Chandon, Napa $18, Domaine Caneros, Napa $25 and Domaine Ste. Michelle, Lux Columbia Valley $23. These are great deals! Sparkling Wine, Cava and  Prosescco are great way’s to add a touch of class to any dinner party (and obviously you don’t have to spend a lot). If you are going to a dinner party and in doubt about what kind of wine to bring the host – always grab a bottle of bubbly.

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva (non-vintage) –$8.99 Whole Foods

This is a Cava I had the other night – it was clean, fresh and fragrant – with a scent of honied apples. The price is outstanding as well, $8.99,  a can’t beat price for a delicious glass of bubbly.

Segura Viudas - Spanish Cava

I hold up my wine glass and cheers my daughter’s wine glass of milk! And cheers to all of you as well!