Family Fun in the Wine Country

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By Robert Farmer

fatherBaby.jpgThe trip from San Francisco to California's Wine Country is a quick one. But for several months in my life it might as well have been half way around the globe. The addition to our family of a baby--our beautiful daughter--had countless positive effects. However, there was one drawback. It turned the Golden Gate Bridge, over which we previously had skipped so effortlessly into Wine Country into a Bridge Too Far.

For several months on end, not only did we not make one of our favorite day trips or easy weekend getaways, we scarcely even let the prospect enter our minds.  So recently when we had occasion to try it again--owing mostly to being forced out of our house to make way for some minor construction--we weren't quite sure what to expect.
Wine Country understandably has an "adult" appeal. Though decidedly different than, say, the Las Vegas-version of adult, Wine Country caters to the 21-an-over audience. So what are we going to do, we wondered, with a 12-month old, besides annoy the surrounding 21-and-overs? The first step is to check in to someplace who understands your predicament. There are several excellent options for this in Napa and Sonoma, including several resorts that don't skimp on grown-up amenities in order to make young ones feel at home. Certainly the age of the children in question will impact the decision. With our one-year-old, still fairly self-contained and manageable, we felt the options were a bit wider than if we were traveling with a couple of pre-teeners, for whom the need to provide constant entertainment would prevail.

carnerosInn1.jpgAt one year old, our concerns would be less about keeping the kid entertained than they would about sleeping and crying. We were careful to consider the type of resort and their typical guest. What honeymooner wouldn't glare across the pool at a couple trying to calm their bawling infant? Beyond those considerations was convenience. Just a 45-minute drive from San Francisco, The Carneros Inn loomed large. It's no secret that the Resort is a favorite haunt for my wife and me, close to home yet in the heart of one of the best regions for wine in the state. It's luxurious, unpretentious, and just the right speed. But how would it play with a baby? We would soon find out.

Booking on a weekday in midwinter was helpful, and assuaged our concerns about bothering too many people. *That bit of advice is helpful to any parent looking to travel with kids in Wine Country--whenever possible, plan your getaway for weekdays. Crowds are thinner, and resorts, restaurants, and wineries are much more inclined to welcome you graciously and be better able to grant special requests--like cribs and highchairs.

That's exactly how it went at The Carneros Inn, which looks amazing during winter with its leafless trees and cool gray skies. Our cottage was ideal for a baby--like a miniature version of home--and far enough detached to be outside of earshot of people in neighboring cottages. A crib was waiting and a highchair was whisked in just in time for supper and to avoid an early evening meltdown. The cottage was cozy and secluded and never did we feel that our little addition was another guests little irritation. It's worth noting that for space reasons we stationed the crib in the bathroom, which happens to be about half the size of the living space in this particular cottage. It worked out wonderfully, as the heated tile floors warmed things up perfectly for our little one during the chilly December night.

carnerosInnBoonFly.jpgThe real test came not at our daughter's dinner, however, but at our adult dinner. Of the two top-notch restaurants on property--Farm and Boonfly Café--it's easy to figure out which is more receptive to stationing a highchair alongside the table. Both are casual in the vein of Wine Country Chic, but Boonfly's easygoing nature and incredibly hospitable staff were safe bets for our little one. She slid up to the table and behaved like an angel (lucky us!), and her occasional shrieks of delight drew only friendly smiles from neighboring diners. Never did we feel as though we were imposing on the restaurant or on those in it. My wife and I were able to truly relax and enjoy the classic Wine Country experience--not to mention Boonfly's life-changing fried chicken!

The Carneros Inn is not the only Wine Country resort that makes parents and their kids feel at home, though they do set a high standard for family-style hospitality. Several hotels and resorts have perfected the art of making kids feel welcome without forsaking the needs of parents looking to reconnect with their inner urban sophisticate. Among them are Meadowood and Calistoga Ranch in Napa Valley and the Hotel Healdsburg in Healdsburg. In Sonoma, MacArthur Place features the privacy of individual cottages and convenient proximity to enough distractions to keep any youngster occupied.

Wine Country for kids does of course extend beyond the boundaries of whichever resort you bring the whippersnappers to. And it's worth pointing out that even wineries can be, and frequently are, child friendly. In subsequent features, I'll provide some details about which wineries those are and give some tips for bringing the kids along as you go wine tasting.  But for now, it's good to know simply that it is in fact possible to take the first step outside the house.

To be sure, resort life with a baby is different. And it has got to be easier when they are younger than in the years that are on the way. We'll no doubt find out soon enough. But for now we are happy to have discovered that we can after all grab back a semblance of Life Before Baby. Who knew that it would be even better?

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Please come and visit Landmark Vineyards & Winery especially from May to October. Every Saturday we will offer complimentary live music, complimentary horse drawn wagon ride for kids from 1 - 100, lawn games and bocce, bring a picnic or buy girl & the fig prepared snacks all accompanied with great Landmark wines. We have natural juices and otterpops for the kids who don't drink wine yet!

Thank you so much for this article. My husband and I have a 7 month old and have been wondering how we would be able to enjoy wine country while enjoying her. I look forward to your future articles.

Check out my Sonoma Local Guide for a kid-friendly wine country itinerary!

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