My husband and I decided to do a family trip this year, just the three of us. With a 1.5 year old, we felt our options were limited and wanted to do something fun for her… but in the end conceded that no matter where we go, at this age she will not remember any of it, so it wasn’t quite time for Disneyland. We (somewhat selfishly) decided that because of this, why not go to Napa Valley and make our foodie hearts happy?! Don’t get me wrong; there was lots of fun walks in the sun, gourmet milkshakes and time at the pool in this for our little one too… it was a very family-friendly trip.
We did some hardcore research trying to figure out of all the places we were absolutely dying to go, how many were kid friendly. Sadly, the number was not many at all. These were all high-end, fancy places like the Del Dotto Caves, so we did understand why they maintain an age limit to enhance the experience. But at the same time, it hurt a little bit to be cut out entirely!
My hubby did some extensive digging and ended up finding a super sweet little place called Bella Winery that advertised being family-friendly and offered cave tours. We committed ourselves to making a little bit of a drive (it is out near Geyserville and we were staying in Calistoga), and he got us set up in advance for a guided tour. Of course, there are still plenty of wineries to be found out there, so the long drive was worthwhile since we hit a few on the way home including Francis Coppola, which is also known for its family-friendly environment.
To get to Bella, there was a long, steep gravel driveway that took us up the side of the rolling hills. When you pull in, there is just a small parking lot, a little building where they do their production, and a cut-out in the hill into the caves where their tasting room is located.
Inside was small but still fun, and we were offered a complimentary tasting while we waited for our tour guide, Benji. The tour was small, but Benji was super knowledgeable! You can tell he has been in the industry for quite a long time. Plus, there were only four of us on the tour, so it was much more personable and interactive than others we had done at large wineries.
After seeing the caves, we sat down in a lovely candle lit private tasting room, where we tried some wines with chocolate pairings. It was really a knowledge packed session, since he even allowed us to taste wines straight from the barrel, just uncorked, and lastly decanted to really get a feel for what aging and exposure to air do to the palate of the wines. We loved it!
At one point my daughter just decided she wasn’t having fun anymore, so due to how well screams echo in a cave, I took her outside to play on the lawn. When we walked outdoors I was so surprised to see a group of their wine club members picnicking on the lawn while drinking wines – something they encourage their club members to do! They had yard games sitting out, so Vivienne and I played with the hula-hoops until dad finished the tasting. He very graciously relieved me from toddler duty so I could go finish the last tasting that was paired with a homemade peanut-butter cup since he knows those are one of my favorites 🙂
In all, it was a lovely and relaxing experience; not to mention we learned SO MUCH from our tour guide! So, if you are visiting California wine country and searching for a family-friendly cave winery tour, we would absolutely suggest giving Bella Vineyards a shot!!