Sonoma trip with an infant?

For a 30th birthday present, my wife has suggested we head to Sonoma for a week in February. This sounds like the best present ever, except for one hiccup: we have a daughter who will be 8 months old in February, who would be coming with us. I had a few questions I wanted to run by y’all.

  1. Is this a bad idea? I’d be carrying her everywhere we went, and she is a very happy baby, but… she’s an infant. There will be crying from time to time, and we’ll have to duck outside the tasting rooms to feed/change her. Is it just incredibly gauche? I’ve seen posts here mentioning that tasting rooms tend to be kid-friendly, but a baby is a different story. I don’t want to step on the toes of either hosts or fellow tasters. (Though this will be February, so I’m not expecting huge crowds)

  2. If this is not a bad idea, does anyone have hotel or restaurant recommendations? Most of the higher-end restaurants are most likely out, but I’d love to hear some recommendations for a nice inn that can provide a crib, or someplace you’ve really enjoyed eating that won’t be put out if we ask for a a high chair. The properties I’d like to see (see below) are spread out, so I don’t know whether to be looking in Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, etc–I’m open to suggestions anywhere in the region.

  3. Most of my favorite west coast producers (Zepaltas, Bedrock, Sojourn, Anthill, Copain) are in Sonoma, and I think we’ll have time to squeeze everyone in. Only problem is, a couple of them don’t do tours or public tastings. And yet I see talk all the time of folks who have toured these properties. Is there a secret handshake? [whistle.gif]

  4. Are there any other must-see properties while we’re in the area?

Can’t give you Sonoma advice as I haven’t been there recently enough to be relevant, but by all means take your child there! I did the same thing passing through Paso Robles several years ago, just be sure not to drive so much and don’t be too ambitious with your plans - with a little child, plans can change real fast.

I wouldn’t make your daughter participate in the tastings at all the places. It gets expensive, and she probably hasn’t developed a palate for it yet anyways.

We took our son with us to Sonoma when he was 6 months old. We stayed at the Mission Inn, and we were happy with it. This was before I fell really hard for wine, so I didn’t have a much of an agenda. Most places we stopped at were nice about having a baby around. But those were quick stops. The places you’ve listed are appointment only, and you’ll spend more time there than you would at a walk-in tasting room. Couldn’t hurt to run it by the winery beforehand.

For food, the only meal that really stands out is the Fig and the Girl. It was a nice meal, on the casual side. Our son reached the end of his rope mid-meal, so we took it to go and had a nice picnic on the square.

We took our daughter to Sonoma and Napa when she was 3 months old and then again when she was 7 months old. I tried to pick places where we could do tastings outside. For accommodations, we rented a property via VRBO that was pretty much the same price as a hotel. This allowed us to cook instead of going out to a restaurant at night.

Good luck and enjoy!

Wow! Good luck is all I can say!

Is your daughter crawling yet? I think my 6-month old could possibly handle a trip, but going to more than about 2 tasting rooms a day would be tough. The visits would also have to be very brief. For me the weather would have to be great as he gets way too squirmy (he’s almost crawling) and meals would pretty much have to be picnics where he could stretch out and move. I can’t even imagine the logistics of doing his food though as he creates a giant mess. I guess overall, I just wouldn’t enjoy it enough to outweigh the hassle.

You have to know the kid’s temperament and be willing and able to alter plans if need be. That being said, absolutely do it. I treasure the memory of our 9-month-old charming the pants off the tasting room staff at a couple of highfalutin’ Napa chateaux, then sitting happily through the prix fixe degustation at La Toque. Again, you have to know your kid and her limitations, but do it!
Willi’s Wine Bar in Santa Rosa might be a good spot for dining, by the way.
I would reach out to any producers whom you want to visit, email or phone. Siduri/Novy would be a good one, and Adam is a family man and veteran Berserker!
Bottom line, bringing a kid should be no problem. The only problem is when parents don’t have the common sense to take the kid outside when she’s pitching a fit. You sound more sensible than that, so should be no problem at all.

Do it!

This might be your last chance. Have tasted (in Sonoma) with kids from 3 months up to 3 years. It only gets harder (impossible) later on, but at 8 months, it is still pretty easy to manage for the most part. Personally, I would probably avoid appointment-based tastings since your schedule will be in flux. Timing can be tricky with the little one in tow. More relaxing to not stress over that side of things. Plan to be very flexible, and set your personal expectations accordingly.

By the time they hit walking age, it gets to be more trouble than it is worth. Crawling age could be a mixed bag, depending on temperament.

What Dave said…enjoy it now while you’re at the end of your sweet spot: no walking and multiple daily naps. Once they walk, the degree of difficulty increases dramatically. I just returned from a trip to Healdsburg with my 2 year/10month-old, and we limited our stops to one a day, and that was enough! After trying to entertain our wild animal for an hour, my wife wanted to kill me after each stop!

Time your tastings to coincide with naps, and use your car seat if possible. We did this with our 4 month old son a few years ago. Stopped at Copain, Wind Gap, and Arnot Roberts. Our son slept quietly through (most) of these tastings, and once he woke, we moved things along to a quick exit. Copain is good example: appointment only with plenty of room to move around.

Don’t plan more than two (or three VERY quick) stops in a day. Logistics of managing a child are just too much to make it enjoyable.

The best plan is to try to taste by appointment, so as not to annoy other random tasters at public rooms. Believe it or not, there are a lot of people who do not want to come into contact with kids as they move through their day, regardless of whether it is a public setting. Since many better producers function by appointment, it should be no big deal. Any tasting room (and their patrons) that frowns upon kids is not worth my time (or money).

Several people made their views on kids in tasting rooms clear in a recent thread about tasting room etiquette. In my experience, this is just a bit bitter, narrow-minded and selfish. Other than NC-17 movies, bars, strip clubs etc., there aren’t many places in our society where kids are not present. On behalf of those of us with kids, please accept our apologies.

For Copain, I think it’s just a matter of calling ahead for an appointment - I’m guessing the same for the others.

Your child may fall asleep in the car on the way; be prepared to stroller her in. Also be prepared for one parent to be focusing on the baby rather than tasting - sometimes one may need to stroll her through the grounds instead of being in the tasting room, especially if it’s loud in there; or be feeding, changing diapers etc. Build in time for delays. Good luck!

+1 on “do it”. We took our oldest from winery to winery many years ago in one of those removable car seat / carrier contraptions, which sits nicely on most bar surfaces:).

Also can confirm Alan’s comment re: Copain. We were out there a few months ago. Can’t remember if I called them or used the link below. Either way should work.

It really only depends on you and your wife. We took our kids on day trips and overnights to wine country (Sonoma, Napa, Paso) all the time as they were growing up. No different than any other kind of excursion or vacation. As they got older, we would have to mix in entertainment for them (parks, Train Town, whatever). They always enjoyed the countryside, looking for different animals, playing with winery dogs, etc. Several wineries got to know them, and would always offer them sodas while we tasted. It’s all a matter of knowing your kids, knowing yourselves, adapting to situations on the fly. Most wineries that we frequented had no problem with having our kids on the premises, of course we had them under control, and found ways to keep them as happy as we were. Some wineries even have a few toys around for kids (I know Siduri used to).

My general advice is to treat your kids like your dogs: they won’t care where they’re running around, as long as they’re running around :wink: Of course as they get older, eventually they’ll roll their eyes and not want to be dragged around, but by that time you can pawn them off on unsuspecting friends for the day, or even the weekend :wink:

I can’t help on the kid advice, but i just got back from Sonoma and would highly recommend Copain! You do need an appointment, but I called them 45 minutes before I got there to add two more people to my reservation and it wasn’t a problem. It’s easy to do through their Web site. I combined that visit with a trip to Healdsburg (great for lunch, walking around, etc.) and a tour of Littorai (which is about 40 minutes away) which was honestly the highlight of my trip! It’s a tour of the farm (they keep the tours to under 6 guests.) It’s fascinating to learn about their biodynamic methods, actually smell and feel the herbs/flowers from their garden and the views are gorgeous… not to mention their wines were some of the best I tasted my entire trip.

Some other quick recommendations – I stayed at The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort and Spa and loved it! Rooms were big, had great soaking tubs. The lobby is gorgeous and has a really nice wine bar where they do daily free tastings. For food – The Girl and The Fig was amazing! I think you’d be able to take your child there without too much trouble – while it’s nice, it has a casual, laid-back atmosphere. Sojourn was great! You need a reservation for that. It’s just a tasting room, but it’s right on the square, so easy to access all the other shops and other rooms nearby.

If I think of more, I’ll be back.

I have 5 and 9 year olds, and we’ve often taken them on wine tasting trips and to visit wineries throughout their lives. It not only works fine, but it’s like church, restaurants, sporting events and other things, where if you go about it smartly and stick with it over time, they learn to go along and behave fairly well.

You just have to know things like what time(s) tend to be good with the baby, what to do to keep them okay during the visit (rocking, pushing the stroller, feeding, watching Baby Einstein on the iPad, or whatever), figure out how much the baby can handle, and be considerate. If the baby is fussing, one of you steps outside to walk her around, hold her, whatever.

When my son was 3 or 4, he’d bring a backpack into the tasting room with some Thomas trains and a small amount of track, and he’d sit in the corner and play with them while we tasted. Other visitors really got a kick out of that. Now that they’re 5 and 9, they usually run around outside and play, or maybe do something on an iPhone if they get bored.

I don’t think there was ever a time that we gave any offense to any guests or tasting room staff by it, or got any dirty looks or comments. People seem to enjoy seeing a happy family there.

You should totally go for it, though of course understand you won’t have the same kind of tasting schedule you might have had before. I think more basic visits to tasting rooms probably work better, as compared to the barrel tasting, sit down with the winemaker, tour the property and the caves, taste verticals of back vintages, and those kinds of more intensive and time-consuming visits.

Make a sensible plan, have all the stuff you need with you, adjust as needed, and it will be great. It’s more doable than lots of other vacation things you might try to do with an 8 month old (e.g. golf trip, mountaineering, fishing, scuba diving, etc.).

We recently popped into Merry Edwards, Iron Horse and Wine Guerilla with a 9 month old. He was great the whole time and people couldn’t have been nicer. I think we kind of hit our limit at three though, although your toddler may vary. Of the three, Wine Guerilla is the only one I’d advocate for, but all were nice, if off-the-beaten path.
So many of these places probably see so many drunk jerks, a family rolling in with a well-behaved kid is not going to phase them.
If you’re in Healdsburg, there’s a sausage place called Wurst which is both good and incredibly casual, and thus great to slide into with a kid.

Appts would be tough as you never know the baby’s schedule. Maybe one a day at the beginning. After that just go to a couple more if everyone is in the mood.
Mary’s Pizza Shack (lots there besides pizza). Several locations in the county.
Flavor Bistro, Santa Rosa. It’s already noisy; they won’t notice the baby. lol
Rosso’s Pizzeria, Santa Rosa & Petaluma. Best pizza in town.
Hopmonk, Sonoma & Sebastopol. Restaurant/tavern.

Of course, most any Italian or Mexican restaurant will be kid-friendly.

+1 We didn’t have the opportunity to bring our son to CA wine country, but we visited Niagara wine country (Ontario) from the time he was 6mo old until recently (he’s 14 now). We never had any issues with it. In fact, the wineries were always very accommodating. Even though we’ve always brought items for him, they’d give us crackers for him to snack on, or water, pretzels, etc. (when he was older.) I’m sure they figured, happy baby = happy parents = more time to buy wine!


Todd needs to add a “Like” function to this forum;)

If kids this age are sleeping, there generally is no problem in a general tasting room, but adults come to wineries to do adult things. People I know who plan trips to the valley who have small children leave them at home with grandma so they can have some semblance of freedom and relaxation, even though they call to check on them every two hours. Tasting room staffs see so many different types of visitors, 45 minutes with a baby is par for the course. However, I would be more sympathetic to vintners you may meet one on one. Bringing kids to those tastings is generally considered bad manners.

I would call Judi and Fred Sherrer and explain your situation. I imagine if Fred has the time he would see you and your family without another group and that alone, plus a wintertime breakfast or lunch at Willow Wood, would make for a fine birthday.