Napa is usually considered a playground for grown-ups, not kids. I don’t mean that in a Vegas kind of way, but rather in a sophisticated “I feel so grown up” sort of way. Grown-ups find pleasure in wine country by taking walks in vineyards, learning about viticulture, experiencing the art of food and wine pairings, and basking in the romantic scenery—all things that are utterly boring to a child. And yet sometimes in order for adults to engage this epicurean side of their brain, they have no choice but to take their kids. While Napa will never be as fun as Disneyland, there are some wineries that do welcome adults with children.
NAPA CELLARS: Napa Cellars is located on Highway 29 between Yountville and Oakville. It’s easy to spot, with its hexagon-shaped tasting room. Behind the tasting room is a beautiful lawn area where guests and their kids are welcome to eat a picnic lunch (if they’ve brought one). While Mom and Dad sip on the $10 tasting flight, the kids are welcome to play bocce ball, cornhole, or water ball. It’s a fun, laid-back atmosphere the kids and the adults are sure to enjoy.
INGLENOOK (a.k.a. Rubicon): Inglenook is located in Rutherford at the intersection of Rutherford Road and Highway 29. If you’ve gone to their website, you may be surprised that I’m suggesting a $50 tour and a sit-down tasting. Don’t worry; I’m not. What I’m suggesting is a stop at the lovely little café where they not only sell wine by the glass but also have some of the best coffee in the valley. While the grown-ups soak in the beauty and history of the property, junior can set sail to an old-fashioned wooden sailboat in one of the water-fountain ponds. The staff there is very friendly and will often allow guests with kids to look at the “museum”—that is, Francis Ford Coppola’s personal collection, including one of his Oscars. (Please note that beginning this November, the café will also require an appointment.)
POPE VALLEY WINERY: It’s a bit of a drive out to Pope Valley, but it’s worth it. It’s like going back in time, but with really great wine. Pope Valley Winery is owned by the Eakle family. After deciding they were more interested in farming than winemaking, the parents gave the winery portion of their business to their kids, Diana and David. Diana and David are both in their 30s and have young families. Many times their kids can be seen running around the property, and if they aren’t there, their toys are and can be used by other kids visiting the winery. There is also a bocce ball court and lots of wide-open spaces. With advance notice, you can arrange to have Brunch & Bubbles for $35 per person. If you let the staff know that you’ll have young kids with you, they’ll always make the brunch kid friendly, at no extra charge.
LAVA VINE WINERY: Lava Vine is the antithesis of everything you thought Napa was. The tasting room is the old barn or chicken coop … or some other farm structure. If you go there on a weekday, you’ll get Pete or John as your winery host. Pete’s favorite pair of pants is a pair of khakis that sports a really nice duct tape patch. But for what Pete lacks in fashion, he makes up for in music. He and John will sing you and your child a song while playing the guitar and banjo. I can’t guarantee that the lyrics will be age appropriate, but more than likely, your child won’t notice. Once the kids are bored with John and Pete’s antics, they can check out the farm animals—sheep, chickens, and ducks. It’s a very non-Napa atmosphere with very good Napa wine.
If you’re coming to Napa and have some other wineries in mind, it’s best to call the winery ahead of time to make sure children are welcome. Because of parents who either could not control their children or who tried to sneak their kids sips of wine, some wineries just don’t allow kids, to avoid all problems. Don’t take it personally; just reserve those wineries for when you finally have some truly grown-up time.