Wine does not pair well with children. Most parents can’t stock their wine racks, as they stand dangerously at toddler height, and Mommy’s nighttime wine consumption is often less about pleasure than serving as a counterbalance against the daytime’s whine.
But Washington state, one of the world’s top wine destinations, with its nearly one thousand wineries, has a few that tipplers can tour with their toddlers. Most are found in Washington’s two great wine regions: Walla Walla in the east, and Woodinville, just a half hour from Seattle.
We begin with the latter…
Woodinville’s tasting rooms, like most in the state, are not attached to estate vineyards. In fact, tasting rooms in Woodinville are little more than storefronts, at best, and are typically found in strip malls or charmless lots. So if you started to have visions of your kids running free while you sampled some cabs, bubble bursted.
JM Cellars, however, does not offer the disappointment of finding a wine tasting room in a parking lot. Perched in the forest and removed from the vintners who are clustered about the city, JM Cellars offers a beautiful setting for tasting, and plenty of space and distractions for the children. The winery has outdoor fire pits, and charming little paths that lead to a pond and bocce ball court, allowing you to remove your deductions from the glower of those snooty tasters who would scoff at the premise of this article.
While most “kid-friendly” wineries don’t offer hours of distraction, and typically provide just enough amusement so the parent can power through a flight, there is one Woodinville winery that could very well partner with Gymboree. Two Vintners dedicates half of its tasting room to children, having converted valuable storage space into a massive kids’ playroom. The curtain hanging down the middle of Two Vintners, separating the worlds of wine and chaos, often jostles when a kid rides the sit-on-top car down the sloped track. And nobody seems to mind when the jostle is bigger and a child shoots wildly into the tasting area. There, even the crash of children’s kitchenware is more common than the sound of corks popping.
Even with Two Vintners, most parents traveling with children will find it hard to justify a full-day trip to Woodinville; likely they’ll remain in Seattle. Today, however, wine drinking parents rejoice. The city has nearly two dozen tasting rooms, many of which also serve as production space. In fact, parents can find seven wineries conveniently located in a former warehouse building, now dubbed SoDo Urban Works. While none scream bring your kids, adults can hop in and out of all seven before your worst child throws his first conniption. Of the SoDo collection, Sleight of Hand has the most space, along with a slightly removed sitting area, and whimsical labels to distract. A few minutes south is Charles Smith’s Jet City. Visit early and the upstairs will certainly be empty. There, families can enjoy exceptional views of Mt. Rainier and the Boeing Airfield, and kids can burn off energy away from the drinkers downstairs.
If you journey east to Walla Walla, the land that produces Washington’s biggest, boldest fruits, it’s worth breaking up the trip. While much closer to Walla Walla than Seattle, J. Bookwalter offers families a fine respite at their winery and restaurant. Parents will be impressed with their literary-themed varietals and kids will enjoy the field, which is close enough to be monitored from the patio, but distant enough for parents to ignore low-volume crying and tantrums. The field also has games set up, like corn hole and bocce ball.
As noted, most vineyards in Washington are not estate. Walla Walla, though, is home to a few. For kids who find peace (or will tire out) among the grapevines, head to Pepper Bridge or nearby Northstar Winery, or the newly opened Aluvé. At Aluvé, kids fascinated by fighter jets and pilots can speak with one winemaker, while parents chat vintages with the other. (Both Aluvé winemakers each served more than twenty years in the Air Force flying combat missions.)
Another option is downtown Walla Walla, which is replete with tasting rooms. While most are a tad stuffy, many have outdoor seating, keeping the two classes–those with children and those without–from passive-aggressively staring too hard at one another. Best about drinking on and around Main Street is that no driving is necessary. So as long as you can push the stroller home, glasses in the air.
If the kids do get antsy, myriad bribes exist in and around town, like a trip to Pioneer Park–with its fields, huge playgrounds, and duck ponds–or stops on Main Street for ice cream parlors, candy shops, or toy stores.
(Side story: My wife and I had promised our three-year-old ice cream, but teased her on the walk over that they only served vegetable- and fish-flavored ice cream. She broke down. We scooped her off the pavement and promised her that we were only kidding. Lo and behold, the ice cream shop had cucumber and corn ice cream on their limited menu. They tasted lovely, but my daughter refused to even sample the flavors, traumatized by the thought of vegetables in her ice cream. Really, you can never win.)
Now, to blow your mind: One of the best restaurants in town has a kids’ play area. Call up Brasserie Four and reserve the table nearest to the play area. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find multi-colored plasticware set up beside your more formal plate and utensils. Then just sit back, select a wine from their extensive menu, and enjoy great food in proximity to your children causing havoc in an acceptable space.