Want to visit Napa Valley’s legendary wine country, but not sure you should bring the kids? Won’t they get restless while you go on and on about something they won’t even be able to drink until they are adults? And what if they start pulling each other’s hair and in loud voices start asking you (and your fellow wine tasters) if it’s time to GO HOME yet?
Admittedly many opt to leave the kids at home, but if you are travelling from abroad you probably don’t have a grandparent handy to take the kids for the weekend. And why shouldn’t you bring the kids to this gorgeous and historic California county?
In 1976 Napa helped to catapult California wine to the world stage with the Tasting of Paris where a Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and Stag’s Leap Cabernet beat their French cousins in a blind taste test. One French judge was so horrified she tried to change her score when she found out the California wines had won. This was all good news for Napa and indeed all California wines, and in the nearly 40 years since, Napa wine and related industries have grown to add $50 million to the US economy each year.
While I want family holidays to be something we can all enjoy, for years our holidays have centred around the kids and what THEY want to do. This time I felt the kids were old enough to let mum and dad do something they enjoyed (I was going to write make them “suck it up” but thought that was too crude).
One of the keys to a successful trip to Napa involving children is to find a family friendly place to stay. You might want to avoid romantic / couples focused hotels. A resort with lots of amenities will give kids something to look forward to after a visit to a winery. For us, The Meritage Resort and Spa ticked all those boxes – with a family swimming pool/water play area, bocce ball and a 6-lane bowling alley!
But with nearly 400 wineries in Napa, which ones do you choose to visit? The next thing you must do is find one with a welcoming attitude towards families. Some wineries in Napa don’t even allow children! I know shock, horror. I emailed several wineries in my search, and it was very telling which wineries responded, and which didn’t!
In my family friendly winery search I found everything from winemaker owners (with families of their own) that welcome kids to a few properties that really go the extra mile to make families feel welcome and involve children in the whole experience. Which btw, is what all the marketing savvy wineries are about these days. Your positive memories of visiting the winery play a big part in if you purchase/recommend the brand again.
If you haven’t been wine tasting lately, you’ll be blown away by the experience options. It’s not just the old-fashioned roll up to the counter and try a few vintages before you buy. Now you can have everything from a “seated” tasting in a picturesque setting to a tour (wine in hand) to a cask tasting. Many wineries also pair food with their favourite wines. It’s all pretty amazing. Expect to pay between $15 to $40, depending on the experience. Some can be more.
With a family visit I suggest focusing your time on one or two wineries per day. Any more and the kids will kill you. My children usually behave if they know something fun is in store (such as swimming at the hotel, a train ride, or a cycle or kayak trip). You could go one step further and make official bribes (Napa has a Michael’s craft store which my girls love). And if all else fails – most wineries have wifi the kids can log on to while you sip away.
Also it’s worth noting that many wineries require reservations – so make sure to check beforehand.
You can see my suggested itinerary for families visiting Napa Valley here.
A Modern Mother’s list of family friendly wineries in Napa
Ratings: Our family rated the wineries for family friendliness aspects on a scale of 1 star (least favourite) to 5 stars (loved it!).
Sterling Vineyards 1111 Dunaweal Ln, Calistoga, CA 94515 +1 (800) 726-6136 sterlingvineyards.com Sterling goes the extra mile to make kids feel welcome and parents at ease. Take the gondola 300 feet above the valley to the gorgeous winery (with English connections, including being owned by Diagio). Adults get a glass of vino in a souvenir glass as soon as they get off and kids get a “tram pack” full of treats to keep them busy on the self-guided tour. There are 5 pouring stations with educational videos around the property and most have stunning views overlooking the valley. It’s a nice opportunity to try their quality wines (Wine Spectator recently awarded their Rutherford Cab a 92). During harvest you can do a “grape stomp” and personalise a T-shirt with your footprints. But the piece de resistance is frozen slushies for kids. Reservations needed. Family rating: 5 stars *****
My 10-year-old’s perspective on Sterling Winery
We went to Sterling Winery and it was actually VERY fun. In line there was a big board where you could fill in things you want to do before you die. I said I wanted to surf in Hawaii and own a dog. Then we got on the tram which was like go skiing but without having to lug around heavy skis. The tram ride was pretty and really fun, like a slow roller coaster. We got a voucher to get a box which had CHEESE-ITS, a colouring book (was actually fun I mean who doesn’t like colouring?) and a cool water bottle you could put around your neck. We also got $2 off a slushie. I would recommend getting the slushie because the time went REALLY quickly with it.
Frog’s Leap Winery 8815 Conn Creek Rd, Rutherford, CA 94573 +1 (707) 963-4704 frogsleap.com Frog’s Leap owner and winemaker John Williams worked at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars helping to bottle the famous 73′ Cab before buying the former frog farm and starting his organic, dry farmed winery. While you enjoy a Signature Seated Tasting on the peaceful plantation deck overlooking the vineyards and gardens, the kids can get involved in the experience with a DRY soda tasting (organic sodas from Washington State). Younger kids get a custom colouring book and juice box. Then wander the grounds as a family and enjoy the gardens, chickens and pond. Reservations needed for seated experiences. Family rating: 5 stars ***
My 10-year-old’s perspective on Frog’s Leap Winery
We went to Frog’s Leap Winery and it was amazing. While my mum and dad tasted wine we tasted DRY soda (organic soda from Washington State). They gave us 4 sodas each to taste and we had to guess what flavours they were. They all tasted really good. We had lemon lime, cherry, lavender and juniper berry. They also have a friendly winery dog called Abie and lots of outdoor space and chickens!
Castello di Amorosa 4045 St Helena Hwy, Calistoga, CA 94515 +1(707) 967-6272 castellodiamorosa.com We didn’t visit as it sounded very gimmicky, but I chatted to several families that did and they said the kids loved it. It really is a castle (with imported stones from Italy). There’s a full-size fortress with a dungeon, moat and Great Hall. The animals are a big hit with the kids (sheep, emus and peacocks). The parents I spoke with didn’t rate the wine, but if the kids are happy who cares. Family rating: 4 stars ***
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 5766 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558 +1 (707) 944-2020 cask23.com The winery’s 1973 Cabernet beat French reds in the 1976 Paris Tasting (don’t confuse this with Stags Leap Winery which is down the road). They offer several experiences, including tasting elite estate wines. Kids can jump on the wifi or read/relax in a gorgeous outdoor patio that overlooks the vineyard while mum and dad sample the fine wines. Family rating: 4 stars ****
My 13-year-old’s perspective on Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is special because it won the red wine category in the Judgement of Paris, which my parents kept talking about. Whilst they tasted wine we enjoyed the panoramic views over the vineyards and read our books. At least that’s what we wanted mum and dad to think. We actually snuck onto the wifi!
Chateau Montelena Winery 1429 Tubbs Ln, Calistoga, CA 94515 +1 (707) 942-5105 montelena.com Made famous by 1976 Paris Tasting and subsequent film Bottle Shock, Chateau Montelena is a lovely late century stone winery set in Japanese gardens with lake and koi fish. Book a tasting and the kids can log on to the wifi and try popsicles made from the estate Cabernet grapes. Family rating: 4 stars ****
Nicholson Ranch Winery 4200 Napa Rd, Sonoma, CA 95476 +1 (707) 938-8822 nicholsonranch.com Technically Nicholson Ranch is not in Napa, but it is right on the border! Their Tasting Room offers an assortment of meats, cheeses, crackers and spreads to go along with a bottle of your favourite wine. Take advantage of the picnic tables with shade umbrellas or spread a blanket out on the lawn. The lake has largemouth bass, catfish, and the occasional river otter. Blue Herons, White Egrets, and an assortment of ducks visit regularly. All this, and a glass of fine wine made by the owner who has teens of his own … it’s really hard to beat. They also have two winery dogs. Family rating: 4 stars ****
V. Sattui Winery 111 White Ln, St Helena, CA 94574 +1 (707) 963-7774 vsattui.com Great deli for family friendly picnics outside on the grassy grounds (good for cartwheels too), V. Sattui has everything you need for a wine country picnic! Family rating: 3 stars ***
Hall Wines 401 St Helena Hwy, St Helena, CA 94574 +1 (707) 967-2626 No reservations needed. I’ve included Hall Wines because their cabs are out-of-this-world good and they have a welcoming family friendly attitude. There’s loads of funky modern art to admire, including a massive 30-foot stainless steel Bunny Foo Foo, and inviting gardens to explore. Family rating: 3 stars ***
Heitz Cellars 436 St Helena Hwy, St Helena, CA 94574 +1 (707) 963-3542 heitzcellar.com It’s famous Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet (named after the couple, not the Massachusetts beach!) was one of the wines included in the famous 1976 Paris Tasting/Judgment of Paris – the blind tasting event that put California wines on the map. Welcoming family attitude and free Wifi! No reservations needed. Family rating: 3 stars ***
Other suggested family friendly wineries we didn’t get a chance to visit:
Hunnicutt 3524 Silverado Trail N, St Helena, CA 94574 +1 (707) 963-2911 hunnicuttwines.com
Robert Sinskey Vineyards 6320 Silverado Trail Napa, CA 94558 +1 (707) 944-9090 robertsinskey.com
Regusci Winery 5584 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558 +1 (707) 254-0403 regusciwinery.com
Reynolds Family Winery 3266 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558 +(707) 258-2558 reynoldsfamilywinery.com
Robert Mondavi Winery 7801 St Helena Hwy, St Helena, CA 94574 +1 (707) 226-1395 robertmondaviwinery.com
A word on family winery etiquette
Nobody wants to hang out next to loud obnoxious kids – not even other families! This is a little reminder even though you are taking the kids to a family-friendly winery, don’t forget to respect those around you. Young children cannot roam unattended, many of the wineries are working farms/entities and it can be a safety issue. Encourage your kids to keep their voices down and use their manners. Everyone will appreciate it.
Have you visited any family friendly wineries in Napa that I should add to my list? Please leave any suggestions below and we’ll check them out!