Kids aren’t the first thing that pop into your mind when planning a trip to Wine Country. But times are changing. More and more, parents don’t want to miss out on what’s growing right in their backyard, and the wineries, well, they’re listening. Parents with kids in tow can get a new taste of Wine Country and the whole family’s happy about it.
Half the fun of a visit to Sterling Vineyards is getting there. The calm, tree-lined driveway hides what for kids and kids at heart just might be the highlight of the visit - an aerial tram.
“Just use the handles when it goes upside down through the first loop,” chirped the attendant to my eleven-year-old daughter as we started our climb. For a split second, I think she questioned whether or not to believe him.
The Sterling Vineyards aerial tramway, as they call it, is actually a triangular mono cable gondola. It opened in 1973 and there are no loops or turns for the faint of heart to worry about. The lift up to the winery and tasting rooms takes a little more than three minutes. Every year, more than 200,000 folks ride it for a top notch view of Napa Valley.
When you reach the top of the hill, you take a self-guided tour, which means you can move as slow or as fast as you need, depending on how fast the kids are determined to ride the aerial tram back down. Parents can enjoy tastings along the way. Kids can fill their glass with Sterling’s new Vignette Wine Country Soda. The all natural, non-alcoholic California Brut is a nice change from the standard juice box.
Before you let the kids convince you to head back down, try and get them to take in the view, even if it’s just for a second. They should catch a glimpse of an Italian castle in the distance. Sterling’s neighbor, Castello di Amorosa is your next stop.
Head south on Highway 29 toward St. Helena and in minutes you’ll be making your way through yet another impressive entrance. Castello di Amorosa (Castle of Love) is a 13th century medieval Tuscan-style castle. It’s the vision and creation of Dario Sattui, of V. Sattui winery in St. Helena. Thirty years of planning, including fifteen years under construction, the castle has 107 rooms, 95 of which are devoted to making Italian-style wines. Over 170 containers of handmade antique bricks and tiles were brought over from Europe to build the Castle.
Tours are about an hour and are led by a Castle guide. Along with the expected wine-making essentials, you’ll see hand-painted frescoes, the Armory and even a Torture Chamber. The tour ends in a private tasting area. When we arrived, a special table was set for the kids, including castle-themed coloring pages, crayons, breadsticks and the winery’s own Muscat of Alexandria, also known as California grape juice. Chocolate also magically appeared somewhere around the time the adults in the room were on their third or fourth tasting.
It’s a good idea to make a reservation for the guided tour, but if you simply want to do a tasting, bypass the main area with the kids and head to the smaller tasting area in the Knight’s Room. It’s typically not as crowded and noisy and there’s a large table covered with crayons to entertain the kids while they sip grape juice.
Dana and her family were given complimentary tours, but as always Dana’s opinions are her own.