Many Napa Valley wineries are beginning to welcome visits from families, and they're making a serious effort to keep the kids engaged. Lest we forget, wineries are farms, and in many cases they have farm animals, game birds, fish ponds, picnic grounds and other kid magnets. Not all of wine country is kid-friendly, mind you, but you can find ample attractions to make this a satisfying destination for serious wine lovers … and grape juice lovers too. The tab: We spent about $647 for a family of four, including $315 for one night at the Villagio Inn, $260 on meals and $72 on a castle tour and wine tasting.
When traveling with kids, it's all about the pool. The Tuscan-inspired Villagio Inn & Spa (6481 Washington St., Yountville;  944-8877) in the heart of Yountville has a perfectly heated pool surrounded by cabanas with beds where parents can stretch out and relax. The hotel also offers a complimentary Champagne breakfast (don't miss the customized omelets or the banana bread pudding) that can fuel the entire family until late afternoon — which is precisely when it offers a late-afternoon spread of coffee, tea, scones and sandwiches.
Although a family of four could sustain itself entirely on complimentary fare from the Villagio, what's the fun of that? Midmorning snack: Walk from the hotel to Bouchon Bakery (6528 Washington St., Yountville;  944-2253) for buttery almond croissants and the "Oh, no, you didn't" chocolate-covered macarons. Grab a seat outside so your kids can feed the blackbirds. Lunch: double cheeseburgers made from 100% Niman Ranch beef and milkshakes from Gott's Roadside (644 1st St., Napa;  224-6900), next door to the Oxbow Public Market. Dinner: If you can get into Ad Hoc on buttermilk fried chicken night, it's a no-brainer (6476 Washington St., Yountville;  944-2487. $52 price fixed).
We took our 5- and 7-year-olds on a tour of Castello di Amorosa (4045 N. St. Helena Highway, Calistoga;  967-6272), a 121,000-square-foot Tuscan castle. You must see the castle's torture chamber. Rest assured the tour guide delicately skirts details of skull crushers and iron maidens when kids are in tow. At the end of the tour, parents can taste high-quality wines while the kids sip grape juice, nosh on bread sticks and color princesses and dragons at a kid-size table.
The lesson learned
With so many legendary wineries, it's tempting to just drop in for an impromptu visit. When you have little ones with you, you could regret it. We gambled on Ravenswood and lost. On the pathway into the winery, they posted a "Danger: Rattlesnakes" sign. When I glanced out the window of the tasting room to see my 5-year-old clambering around the rattlesnake-loving bushes that lined the path, this stop became the tasting that wasn't.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun