Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Back in August, I solicited the interwebs for insight on bringing a toddler out to wine country. I was about to head to Oregon's Willamette Valley with a motley crew of parents, kids, wives (well, wife... she's put forth ZERO effort to find any sister wives). Having made the trip to Sonoma with an infant who, well, pretty much slept the whole time, I was unsure how accommodating an industry of escape-from-the-day-to-day would be towards a critter bouncing off the walls.
Turns out, it can be done. In fact, quite easily. Granted, the trip has to deviate a bit from bacchanalian booze cruise, but no one wants to see you naked and dripping with wine anyway. Okay, I do, but for the purposes of this family-friendly post, let's say I don't.
Got kids, but love wine travel? Here are some tried-and-true pointers that make the trip as harmonious as Champagne paired with chicken nuggets:
1) Do a little research. Visit the websites of Vintners' associations in the respective area you plan to tour. Many offer lists of the number of "family friendly" wineries. Some places are just more laid-back than others. In my experience, places like Sonoma County (CA), Willamette Valley (OR), Eastern Washington, and Santa Barbara County (CA) are more down-to-Earth, so they're not as uptight about kids running around. The Napas of the world are great to visit, but may be a little high-strung. Of course, that's a sweeping generalization, so you can always...
2) Call ahead. Find the wineries you want to visit, and simply call ahead or email to make sure they are kid-friendly. Some are very sensitive of their adult guests, and don't want toddlers running around and screaming. Granted, I've seen plenty of adults running around and screaming at the fifth tasting of the day. Not me, mostly because I can't see myself. Anyway, a quick conversation with the winery can eliminate all doubt and apprehension about showing up to a classy joint with a kid on a leash. You don't use those kid-leashes, do you?
3) Rent a house. There are tons of wine country homes for rent on websites like VRBO. By renting a house, you eliminate the need to have to eat out for every meal, so there's no need to worry about kids behaving at swanky restaurants (though there are many family-friendly ones around). Bonus point: wine country is an agricultural area, so there tends to be extraordinary produce and other vittles available. By renting a house, you have access to a kitchen. Just don't screw up those lovely ingredients if you're a terrible cook.
4) Bring activities, and abuse technology. Got an iPad? Invest in Netflix streaming, and some good 3G service. You can plop your kid in the corner with a few Disney movies and let the babysitter do its magic. There are also special earphones for kids with noise protection. Are you a hipster who hates technology? A bag full of coloring books can do wonders. I recommend the markers that can only write on the special paper in the books. Crayon draws anywhere.
4) Solicit traveling babysitters. I know not everyone can do this, but I bribed my parents into coming along on the trip. We rented a big house and they helped chip in to watch the little one. The wife and I even got away for some tastings by ourselves. I only recommend this move if Thanksgiving is a joyful experience for you. Otherwise, there are lots of websites like care.com that can help you find a local babysitter. You can trust that sitter with your kid, but hide those good bottles of wine.
5) Mix in some non-wine tasting days. Wine Country always has so much besides wine to offer. Working farms, nearby oceans, berry-picking, festivals, farmers' markets,
breweries, balloon rides, hiking, etc. seem to always offer creative alternatives to spend your money. We spent a full day out on the Oregon coast (most of it winding through that damn coastal range), and didn't miss wine tasting a bit.
Look at that happy tike. Still not convinced it can be done?
Have fun in Disney World, you flake.