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Traveling Wine Country with Children

“These kids are coming into your lives, not the other way around.”

I interpret this piece of parenting advice to mean that it’s important not to abandon doing the things we love because we have children. This seems daunting when one of those things is traveling to wine country. Nowadays, even with twin 5-year-olds, we still visit wineries, but our approach is different.

Our first experience wine tasting with our children in tow was at our local wine store. I ran in solo while my husband and newborns waited in the car.

The owner welcomed me and asked about our recent absence. “Babies,” I shrugged, gesturing to our car. He insisted we bring them in. “Owner’s orders,” he said. The kids were quiet and adorable; people swooned. I imagined by the time they could walk, we would be frolicking in the vineyards.

But as toddlers, our kids were volatile and headstrong. The first time we took our wobblers to a winery was traumatizing. After a tantrum and repeated attempts to break everything in sight, we rushed out in embarrassment without tasting a thing. Walking them around the vineyard didn’t help. They treated the grapes as if we were in a U-pick field. It was a year before we even thought about entering a winery again.

Eventually, we began stopping at places geared toward kids (playgrounds, farms or museums) between winery stops. We also learned, much like flying with kids, that you’re bound to get the side eye from some people who are quick to judge, especially when you’re towing toddlers.

I imagined by the time they could walk, we would be frolicking in the vineyards.

It’s hard not to be sensitive to the judgers. If my kids made so much as a peep, I was quick to take them outside. And yet, having spent several years working at wineries, I’ve seen adults demonstrate far worse behavior in tasting rooms than my kids have.

Today, when I travel to wine country, I confirm a winery’s policy on children before I go. Some businesses cater to those who come to get away from kids. I love to get away from mine sometimes, too. But I want to teach them that wineries are also farms run by passionate people and families. Wineries that trust I will take responsibility for my children are those I choose to support.

Kids in Oregon Wine Country
Photo by author

We average around two winery visits per trip these days, but we spend substantially more time at each place. (And, subsequently, buy more wine). Large summer events are my favorite, especially those held outdoors where the volume of my kids is lost in the sea of voices and music. If the kids can be a part of the experience, rather than tagging along on your experience, then it’s possible for everyone to be happy.

Our most recent trip to wine country was for a club event at Soter Vineyards: outdoors, with lots of space for the kids to run. And, by chance, they were invited to tour the biodynamic farm and got to meet goats, alpacas, chickens and winery dogs. The kids had the time of their lives. We had great wine and met some amazing people.

We learned it wasn’t about keeping the kids in line. It was about making the experience inclusive and teaching our children that it’s a culture, not just a beverage.

Only now, they expect all wineries to have goats.