Wine tasting was one of the hobbies my husband and I both enjoyed together before we had kids.
While living in San Diego, we loved taking off for the weekend to Santa Ynez Valley or San Luis Obispo or even all the way up to Napa Valley for some wine tasting.
And when traveling we would seek out wine regions whenever possible. Not only do we love wine, we love wine country (that’s why I still went to Napa while pregnant!) and the beauty of its flowing hills of vineyards, the gourmet cuisine that often comes with the territory, and the rural ambiance of the culture.
We knew things would change with our wine tasting ways after our daughter was born, but we didn’t want to completely give up something we both enjoyed so much, plus we moved to the Pacific Northwest and wanted to check out some of the local wineries and wine regions, so…we had to get creative with how we wine taste with a toddler in tow.
(Side note, wine tasting with a baby is easy. Put them in a carrier and time the wine tasting with their nap. I even know a couple who frequented a local wine bar often and got to know the owners, who let them set up a pack n play next to a table in the corner!)
Here are some of my top tips for wine tasting with a toddler.
Research and Choose Wineries in Advance
We only go to wineries I’ve carefully vetted on Yelp or other blogs first that seem to be kid-friendly. How can you tell?
- Plenty of open space outside.
- Lots of tables in the tasting room (you don’t want to be at a bar-only tasting room or one with limited seating options since coloring and iPad watching is likely going to need to be in your wine-tasting-with-toddler entertainment repertoire.
- A kid zone. We went to one tasting room in Woodinville, Washington, that had a little kid area under the stairs with a little table and chairs to color on, some toys, and some books! It was awesome, and needless to say we felt very welcome there.
- A spacious picnic table area.
- Larger, more commercial winery. These tend to be more kid-friendly because they’re generally louder (will muffle out the noises your child makes) with more space to spread out, including often lots of outdoor space.
Be ok with turning around and leaving as soon as you walk through the door of a winery, too. Sometimes reviews are wrong. You’ll probably be able to sense right away if you’ve stumbled into a wine tasting room that is NOT a fan of having kids there.
We experienced that feeling in Willamette Valley when we were the only ones at a winery! We’d just been to a tasting room down the street and I’d heard the garden area was cool and so thought we’d check it out. We knew it wasn’t known for being family-friendly, but we could also see that there were no other cars there.
We did a small tasting (mostly Tom did it while I stuck close to Lulu outside), and the pourer was polite and courteous, but kept looking at Lulu dubiously like she was possibly an alien from Mars. Despite being hyper vigilant parents to make sure she didn’t touch anything she shouldn’t and despite being with a toddler who couldn’t possibly bother any other patrons since no one else was there, we felt awkward being there, so we left that place quickly needless to say! And took no offense; we gave it a try and realized there’s a reason we stick to certain types of wineries with a kid.
Become Regulars at a Winery
When Lulu was a baby we stumbled upon another winery in Woodinville because they were the only ones still open late on a Saturday. It was a family-run winery with the two brothers doing the wine pourings, and they seemed excited to have a baby there and were as friendly as could be.
We ended up becoming wine club members and stop in every few months to pick up our wine shipment and do a tasting. They always remember us and are engaging with Lulu. Last time we were there, they were playing an abridged version of hide and seek with her from behind the tasting room table!
Split a Tasting
My husband and I don’t get our own tastings now if at a winery with our daughter and we share one instead.
This is for three reasons: 1) so we drink less since, you know, parenthood; 2) because one of us needs to have our hands free to quickly grab our daughter if she suddenly decides to take off. 3) whichever one of us is the designated driver just takes a sip or two of each wine to try it and then we get a bottle of our favorite to enjoy at home together after bedtime.
Take Breaks Between Wineries
We never do more than two or three wineries in a day (and typically just one or two) if wine tasting with Lulu in tow, and we visit them pretty spread out over a long timeframe.
This limit is in place for many reasons. For starters, it’s not fair to Lulu to do much more than that, and secondly, whichever of us is not the designated driver doesn’t want to get accidentally tipsy in front of our daughter (our tolerance is much lower these days!).
So we typically do a slow tasting outside while letting Lulu explore the grounds, or inside at a table while she entertains herself on the iPad. Then we’ll go on a walk around the grounds or stop for lunch or coffee somewhere and then go onto the next place.
The days of hitting up eight wineries in a row in Los Olivos, or joining a multiple-stop wine tasting tour bus are long behind us, and that’s just fine with me. I’m too old and have too many responsibilities to have hangovers these days!
Go Wine Tasting Earlier in the Day
Starting your wine tasting when wineries open in the morning instead of waiting until afternoon means you’ll encounter less people and be more likely to get a table or lawn spot ideal for a toddler. Going earlier also means it’s easier to hang out at the bar and have a conversation with the bartender so you actually learn a bit more about the wine you’re tasting.
Go Wine Tasting with Your Toddler During the Off Season
When we went on a last minute family trip to McMinnville in the heart of Oregon’s wine country shortly after Christmas last year, we didn’t realize we were going during their slowest time of year. As a result, a lot of the wineries were closed. But I’d say at least 50% in the area were still open. This turned out to be great for a few reasons.
First, since things were so slow we got a great deal on an apartment right in the town center on its main street that had two bedrooms and a kitchen.
Secondly, the wineries were practically empty in the mornings and not very crowded in the afternoon either. Though the weather wasn’t so great outside, we had no problem finding a table to sit at and it was easy to get space at the bar to get each new wine to taste. When we did go outside to let Lulu run around we had the entire outdoor space to ourselves (the weather wasn’t the greatest – common at that time of year in the Pacific Northwest which is also probably why it’s a slow week).
The tasting rooms in town were also pretty empty at night, meaning it was easy with a toddler to go do a tasting after dinner before heading back to our apartment (which was only a couple minutes away).
Also, part of the fun of wine country are the great restaurants that are usually in the area. There weren’t as many people there as usual so restaurants weren’t busy. None of them had waits and even one that typically is reservation only had plenty of empty tables and though it was a place we probably wouldn’t have been comfortable eating with Lulu when it wasn’t low-low season, on this night we could tell bringing a toddler into the restaurant wouldn’t be bugging anyone and we had a great meal.
Be Prepared with Toddler Fun
Your toddler is NOT going to just sit there quietly and patiently while you enjoy a flight of wine. When we arrive at a winery, we usually find a place to get situated first. If outside we find a grassy spot if available and put down a blanket. If only table space is available, we find one and get Lulu set up with the iPad, crayons and paper, or books.
Then one of us stays to make sure Lulu behaves and the other goes to get the first glass in the tasting. We take turns going to get the next tasting in the flight. If there’s not outdoor space for her to explore, I usually start with books, stickers, and crayons and save the iPad as the last resort since it then has always worked to buy us 30 minutes of calm toddler time to finish the tasting.
Some Wine Tasting with Toddler Don’ts to Keep in Mind
Those were my tips to ensure a great wine tasting experience with a toddler in tow. Now here are some wine tasting “Don’ts” to keep in mind when visiting winery tasting rooms with a toddler.
- Don’t have the volume on the electronic device your child is playing on be so loud others can hear it. (Really, this should apply to everywhere for all ages. Sigh. But parents tend to be the worst offenders.)
- Don’t let your toddler run around. There are breakables everywhere in wine tasting rooms. Wine bottles, wine glasses, gift shop trinkets. There are also people milling about holding glass objects that you probably don’t want dropped on your child’s head when your toddler runs into that person. So don’t let them run, or wander for that matter.
- Don’t expect to be able to find snacks. Bring your own, or be stuck trying to convince your toddler to eat blue cheese on artisan crackers. (And then trying to contain the mess!)
- Don’t think it’s your right to go wine tasting as a parent. It’s not. Wine tasting is a privilege and an activity that is a splurge for many people. Your child should not be disrupting their day. If your toddler is unexpectedly unruly, then cut your losses and leave. The nice thing about wine tasting (if you split a tasting) is you probably won’t be out more than $10 or $15.
- Don’t do a tasting that includes a tour. This is not the time to learn more about the art of wine making. You’re going to be stressed out managing your kid who suddenly doesn’t want to be in the stroller (if you can even use a stroller on the tour) and everyone else is going to look at you in annoyance if your kid even makes a peep. Just don’t do that to yourself. Make it a relaxing day.
So there are my wine tasting with a toddler tips that come in handy whether wine tasting near home or while traveling! Please remember these are just my opinions on what works well for my family. You may need to modify them to better fit you and your family’s needs. And as always, remember to drink responsibly and have a designated driver when doing any type of wine tasting.