Ah, the good old days, I remember them well. I was living in Marin County, CA (Sausalito, to be precise), and the trip up to Wine Country was just about an hour and a half north up the 101 (with no traffic, but there is always traffic in the Bay Area). I was teaching at the time, so my funds were limited, but my time was not. I would go up alone or with my girlfriend (don’t mention this to my wife, or she will undoubtedly remind me that my then girlfriend was completely crazy).
On most such trips, we would drive up early, spend the day wine tasting, hitting a good half-dozen or so wineries over the course of the day. We would maybe pick up a bottle or six, and then head home around five when all the tasting rooms would close, usually picking up some In & Out Burger on the way back home.
Yeah, those were the days.
Then I went a did something stupid: I moved to the East Coast. Nothing puts a crimp in your trips to Wine Country more than being three thousand miles away.
Fortunately for my growing wine addiction (or unfortunately depending on how you choose to look at it), my soon-to-be wife’s parents lived in the East Bay Area of Northern California, which was just about an hour and a half away from Wine Country (with no traffic, but there is always traffic in the Bay Area–yes it is worth saying twice) and we would borrow a car from her parents and drive up there for a few days.
Then I went and did something stupid: I had kids. Well, having kids in and of itself is not all that stupid (although I do think having 18 kids is rather stupid), but having kids can really put a crimp on your wine tasting. People tend to look down on those who get loaded during a visit to a winery and they really get perturbed when you do that with a kid in tow (so I have heard).
Kidding aside (at least briefly) there is no reason that a kid or three needs to be a death sentence for your wine tasting self, so, thanks to a suggestion from a former student of mine (thanks Loukas!), here are a few tips to help you moms and dads to still get your drink on when on your Wine Country vaycay….
Plan ahead: Like most aspects of life, once you have kids, unless your name is Britney Spears or John Gosselin, you can not just pick up and do anything you want with no thought given to your brood. Life with kids requires a bit of planning: diaper bags, snacks, car games, Raffia CD–the list is endless. Wine tasting with kids should be no different. Figure out what wineries you want to visit and call them ahead of time to see if they allow kids. That last point is a biggie. They will likely say “of course” but get the name of the person you talk to and ask for him/her when you arrive. Let them know that you spoke to them on the phone and then introduce your little monster (preferably before he starts cramming his crayons up his nose). Believe me, this goes a long way–they might even have some activities for the kid while you are there.
Stick to a schedule: This is closely related to the first: Have one tasting before lunch. Have lunch (preferably at McDonald’s or In and Out–see below), then a couple more tastings. If there is a park in the vicinity, plan in a little time there (37 minutes is usually enough–don’t choose the best park, similar to choosing a wine in a restaurant, choose a park that is not the worst, nor, the best. You do not want junior lingering too long or getting bored too quickly). Kids have no concept of time, but they think they do. If you can give them a running count-down of the time left until the next activity, they will be placated–at least a bit.
- Limit yourself to three wineries a day: There was a time when I would try to hit as many wineries as possible, but once we had kids, I limited myself to three, max. Yes, you want to maximize your time in wine country and the constant search for the perfect $10.99 wine is enticing. But let’s face it, you are not going to find it. Really. Sure, you will have a ton of fun trying, but if you drag your kid around to seventeen tasting rooms before lunch, you might as well know that this is your last such exercise until the last kid packs up and leaves for college (or the Betty Ford Clinic).
- Throw your child rearing rules out the window for the day: You might normally limit screen time (there are so many devices these days, we just classify anything with a screen: phones, iPads, electronic games, television, as “screens”) during the day, or you might have a hard and fast “No McDonald’s, ever” stance, but to keep Junior from staging a full-blown revolt, relax or even suspend those rules for the day. Make a big deal out of it, and let them know that this only applies to when you go wine tasting. And who knows? Your kids might suggest you go wine tasting more often. Let’s face it, most of the rules you have these days as parents were violated regularly by your own parents and you all turned out OK (well, most of you, any way).
Create a goal: “Listen, Herman, if you are a good boy, we will do something special right after this visit…” The good news is that you are not the first parents to ever visit Wine Country, so there are plenty of things to do with kids. Ask the people at the tasting room what there might be to do–many of them have kids themselves and they will have ideas, guaranteed. During one such conversation, I found out about Rock City on Mount Diablo, which my kids love (they start asking about it as soon as the plane lands). There are a ton of things to do, you just have to find one a day. I strongly suggest the Charles Schulz museum in Santa Rosa–great for kids and adults.
That concludes Part One. I will be back in a few days with “the rest of the story….”