Without naming names, there are more than a few wineries that frown upon kids on the premises. You can tell by the not-so-subtle cringe from a pourer or tasting room manager that reads, “You couldn’t find a babysitter?” It’s almost the same look you get when walking through a casino with kids.
“I’ve definitely seen ‘that look’ many times,” says Shana Bull, mother of a 1½-year-old toddler. By the time he was 1, Ryeson had been to over 50 wineries, breweries “and two cider places.”
“I like wineries that aren’t pretentious,” she says. It’s a crucial part of her job as writer, mom blogger and social media influencer to get out to Sonoma County events, whether concerts or brewery openings or wine festivals.
“My entire life is tag-teaming, with my husband watching for awhile and then taking turns. Literally, I think we do say, ‘tag — you’re it.’”
Over the past decade, more and more wineries have begun catering to the total family experience. Sometimes all it takes is a “kids area” decked out with homemade wine-cork boats, like the one at Gundlach Bundschu’s annual Huichica Music Festival. Or even a hot dog cart at a Red Car rosé release. Or a pool to cool off in at Francis Ford Coppola Winery.
Other times, it’s a relaxed spread like the Sunday jug-wine picnics at Preston Farm and Winery or the goats and chickens at Truett Hurst or the Wednesday night music and food trucks at Paradise Ridge Winery.
With a little strategy and a designated driver, it’s an easy diversion that doesn’t beg for a babysitter. And it means that Mom and Dad can finally unwind and partake in one of their favorite pastimes before they had kids.
“I remember a conversation we had at the marketing committee level about a year and a half ago,” says Ann Petersen, executive director of Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley. “Everyone was saying that kids and families at wineries was really inevitable and that rather than fighting it, they were beginning to embrace it — even if it wasn’t actually being said in a public way.”
After Larson Family Winery co-owner Becky Larson had twin boys in the early 2000s, “our friends that had kids would come to town and we would go wine tasting and worry about the kids kicking up the perfectly immaculate gravel at different wineries.”
Their solution: Driving an RV from winery to winery “and someone would wait in the motor home with the kids while the others went wine tasting.”
It was a creative solution, but one that is no longer necessary. Tapping into a rich family tradition that goes back five generations, Larson says the winery saw a niche opportunity in creating “a place that was family-friendly.” Weekend wine tastings at the former Carneros rodeo ring have evolved into a giant family picnic, with farm animals, coloring tables, sidewalk chalk, a large field to roam or ride wagons and tractors — all topped off with juice for the kids and picnic tables.
“Our customers and members have watched our family grow up, and we have enjoyed watching theirs,” says Larson.
At Paradise Ridge Winery, a larger-than-life interactive sculpture garden has entertained several generations of kids and now inspires thousands of family Instagram moments.
Paradise Ridge Winery: Wines and Sunsets parties offer an easy family escape every Wednesday night, with food trucks and live music through the end of October. Food truck offerings range from oysters to tacos to tri-tip. Tickets: $10, kids 6 and older need a ticket. 4545 Thomas Lake Harris Drive, Santa Rosa. prwinery.com.
Larson Family Winery: Reserve outdoor tastings and picnic tables daily from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. for $15 per adult. The annual Harvest Hoedown on Oct. 22, features horse-pulled wagon rides through the vineyards, pony rides, grape stomps for kids and adults and a jumpy house. 23355 Millerick Road, Sonoma. larsonfamilywinery.com.
Benziger Winery: 45-minute tram tours roll through biodynamic farming country, ending with wine caves and tastings (grape juice for kids). $10. Tip: Normally the sheep are not visible on the tram tour, but in the wet and woolly months of January-March, there’s a good chance you’ll see sheep and their lambs. 1883 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen. beniziger.com.
Francis Ford Coppola Winery: The pool is open until Oct. 28. You can reserve a “cabine” and lounge chairs for 4 people for $170-$215, depending on the day of the week at francisfordcoppolawinery.com/en/visit/pools-andcabines. And just in case you were wondering if you can leave your children at the pool while you go wine tasting, the answer is: “No, children must be accompanied and supervised by a parent or guardian at all times.” 300 Via Archimedes, Geyserville. francisfordcoppolawinery.com
Preston Farm and Winery: Every Sunday, Lou Preston busts out the Jim Guadagni jug wine for a laid-back family picnic that you can cobble together from the farm’s homegrown olive oil, baked bread and fresh and pickled vegetables. Farm tours are available at 11 a.m. every Tuesday-Saturday. $30 for walking tour and tasting. 9282 W. Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. prestonfarmandwinery.com.
Truett Hurst Winery: Kids might not know much about malolactic fermentation, but they know they love goats, chickens and sheep. And they know a nice open space to run around in when they see one. Added bonus: Peer from the banks of Dry Creek at the ongoing salmon habitat restoration. 5610 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. truetthurstwinery.com