Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Children on the Go in Wine Country

Last year on our annual camping and wine tasting trip is where myself and a group of friends spun Child on the Go to life. A year later and we were embarking on our annual trip again with more experience and with the kids another year older.

The trip destination was the Kenwood region of Sonoma Valley. Our campsite this year was to be
Spring Lake Regional Park on the east side of Santa Rosa and less than 15minutes from some of our wine tasting venues.

We headed out of town on Friday at about 2PM. It took us about 2.5hrs. We opted to go up through Napa, Glen Ellen, etc to avoid the 101's Friday after work traffic. We got a little turned around in Santa Rosa getting to the campground. Definitely print the directions to the campground as there are two entrances to this park. There is a day use only on the exact opposite side of the park from a day-use/campground entrance. And there is no way to get around the lake, via car, that is from one to the other. You also get a little leery as to if you are on the right path as getting there you actually go through quite a bit of residential. But by 5PM we were cranking up our pop-ups trailers and the kids were off exploring. The staff was great at the entrance and we learned it was full for the weekend and learned it generally is. So you definitely want to reserve in advance.

We stayed in sites #18 & #19 trying to follow my rules on being on the outside of any loops, but close to the bathrooms. These were pretty perfect sites...a few trees and definitely more privacy than others. I would say the only small downsides were a mountain bike trail came right up through #19, but most folks saw us and created a new trail between #18 & #19...and we should have done some rock moving. The kids tripped over them quite often, but they definitely enjoyed bouldering as well.

Night one was pasta and salad. The pasta was pre-cooked al dente and then all it took was a little heating up with the sauce, some cut-up bread, bag-o-salad, and brownies and cookies for dessert. We got firewood for $8 a bag from the office after 7:30PM and had a nice one that evening. And the kids cracked open their first bunch of glow sticks...a must have for camping that can be picked up at any dollar store.

Morning one was cold breakfasts of yogurt, fruit, banana and carrot breads...ok, and some coffee for the adults. Then we were on our way. Our first stop was
Matanzas Creek Winery. Just outside the tasting room we set the kids up with crayons, coloring books, juice boxes, snacks, etc and half the adults headed in to start grabbing tastes. The staff was wonderful...letting us wander in and out checking on the kids and even coming out to meet them. The kids got antsy after a bit and enjoyed some water features, their lavender fields, and exploring the picnic area. We adults enjoyed their '02 Chardonnay, '07 Sauvignon Blanc, '05 Syrah, '07 Rose, and Dessert. Next we moved on to Family Wineries Tasting Room. We were really hoping with such a grouping of small wineries we might find a gem, but the only gem was really their picnic area outback which had a child-sized table as well and we had it to ourselves. There was a huge lawn for the kids to play hide and seek and red light-green light, but other than our token Viognier buy for lunch we left empty-handed. Wanting to get the kids back for naps and swims we opted for one more stop at Chateau St Jean. Definitely the busiest, but also the least kid-friendly of the bunch. My youngest was asleep in the car with Daddy napping as well, so we took the older ones up and let them play with a digital camera taking pictures of complete strangers while we took turns tasting. The tasting room to me just represented a huge "you break it, you buy it" sign and the staff was definitely over-stretched in their ability to attend to us. They were friendly when they did get to us, but that lack of customer service and timely attention left us walking away with no purchases.

Back at the camp the kids' enjoyed the incredibly clean and well-life guarded swimming lagoon. My family drove the 3 minutes to it while others took bikes. The lagoon drops to approx 4ft where there is a circle of buoys and then inside those it was about 6feet deep. All the bathrooms were clean and well-stocked. There was also a concession stand, lots of picnic and barbecue areas. Other activities enjoyed while there were bike rides and runs along their well-maintained paved and unpaved trails.

Dinner that evening was burritos for the adults with the meat and rice already cooked and just needing reheated, black beans, salsas, lettuce, and tomatoes, chips, and salad. For the kids it was quessadillas done in a frying pan in the pop-up on the gas stove. And of course for dessert we had the ever popular samores....and more glow sticks.

The next morning we cleaned up and showered. The showers are large rooms, so our family of four went in and were clean for a $1.50 for 5 minutes. Always, always have quarters on hand while camping. We also enjoyed a warm breakfast of egg english muffins. On our way out of town we hit one more winery, Kunde. They have a wonderful picnic area overlooking a water-featured small lake. We had lunch and tasted. With lunch we enjoyed their '07 Viognier and the kids enjoyed their Gewurztraminer Grape Juice. We continued to trade off tasting and kid duty until they joined the Dad's on a tour of the wine caves. Employees went 50/ wonderful. One well... Nice grounds...and some nice wines as well. We left with their Block '06 Sauv Blanc, '06 Chardonnay, more Viognier, '07 Blossom Rose, their wonderful Chateauneuf-du-Pape style '04 Vallee de la Luna.

All in all another good trip. Destinations tossed around for next year were the Murphys/Arnold area of Calavaras county or perhaps the Santa Cruz appellation.

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