We had a great time last week on our Okanagan Mini Adventure and one of our favourite activities was visiting all the wonderful wineries in the Okanagan Valley. While it’s not the Napa Valley or anything, the area is a great little wine region with dozens of small to medium sized wineries within a few minutes drive of the main highway. I imagine it’s a bit busier in summer, and probably pretty slow in winter, but on a long weekend in early October it felt just right; no traffic jams or crowds around the tasting counters, but plenty of customers coming and going and a sort of bustling vibe.
Now, many people wouldn’t think of wine tasting as a family friendly activity. And it’s certainly not as kid pleasing as a trip to Disneyland or even a camping trip, but I feel that we do enough of the things that the kids like to do that it’s only fair to expect them to co-operate with some adult orientated travel once in a while. That said, with a little research and preparation, it’s possible to plan a day out that everyone can enjoy.
I don’t know if there really is an ideal age for a wine tasting trip. Actually scratch that, the ideal age is probably when they’re too young to drink but old enough to drive you around! Any other age is probably going to give you challenges of some sort. Unless of course, you’re the sort who always travels with a nanny.
Our very first trip as a family after our daughter was born was actually to the Okanagan Valley when she was only four months old. It was okay but not great. I’ve heard some people say that travel with babies is the easiest because babies are portable and just eat and sleep. I would have loved to know where to sign up for one of those babies! Our baby had some very definite opinions about where and how she ate and slept and the process of driving five or ten minutes, taking her out of the car and into a tasting room, then going back to the car and repeating seemed to enrage her beyond all reason. The first stop was okay. The second was cranky. By the third she was completely done. We got a few visits in and still managed to have a nice weekend away but any illusions of having an “easily portable” stage with this baby went out the window.
After that our wine tasting hobby went on a bit of a hiatus for a while. We stopped in at the occasional winery while we were traveling, but usually took a tag team approach with one staying outside with the kids while the other tasted. We’d exchange some quick words in passing, but the days of sipping, sharing, chatting with the person behind the counter and generally just enjoying the experience were long gone.
But there’s a light at the end of every tunnel and at four and five, it seems like our kids have turned a bit of a corner. Was it like the crazy, whirlwind weekend we spent in the Napa Valley as newlyweds? No, not even close, but we still had a great time. Here are a few tips I can share on how to make a wine tasting trip fun for everyone.
A) First and foremost, be safe
This is of course the most obvious thing. Know your limit and stay well below it. We have found that most places are just fine about letting us share a tasting which is a great way to try different wines while minimizing consumption. We limited our visits to four wineries per outing which was a good number for both us and the kids and mixing stops at wineries with stops for snacks or other non-wine attractions keeps everyone happy and safe as well.
B) Do some research
I tried to find wineries that would appeal to kids as well as adults. I got brochures from the tourism office, checked out books from the library and Googled “Kid friendly Okanagan wineries” before we went. Some wineries were definitely more kid-friendly than others. We especially liked the castle architecture at Road 13 Winery, the cool modern art at Liquidity, the free juice and great open spaces at Tinhorn Creek and the observation tower at Burrowing Owl. And the friendly winery dogs at a few places were a great bonus.
C) Bring distractions
We were able to let the kids run around on the grounds at quite a few places while we looked around and enjoyed the scenery, but the tasting rooms themselves were often a bit crowded and filled with bottles, glasses and other fragile things. While doing our actual tastings, we found it easiest to park the kids somewhere close with some new cartoons on the IPad. A few places had nearby seating areas we could use, but we could put them up against the bar under our feet if we needed to. It maybe wouldn’t win us any parenting awards, but they were perfectly happy and they weren’t bothering anyone as we enjoyed our samples and compared notes.
All in all, the wine tasting part of our trip was very successful as our now full wine rack will attest. I would recommend a visit to the wineries of the Okanagan to anyone. The scenery is amazing, the wines are great, the tastings are mostly free and the people are just incredibly friendly. And don’t let the kids stop you from popping in for a taste. It will never be as easy as doing it without kids, but it can be done. And after all the trips I’ve made to Disney in the last few years, I feel I’ve earned it!