The Northern California Wine Country is one of the world’s top destinations to visit — without your kids. It’s got a bad reputation when it comes to being family-friendly. I understand how the rumor probably got started. Kids drink milk not wine. The Wine Country has been fighting the bad rap for years, and this summer they landed a knockout punch thanks to Francis Ford Coppola.
The man who gave us Apocalypse Now and The Godfather had a vision of a winery where parents could come with their children, enjoy a glass of wine and and feel comfortable, not concerned about someone across the way giving them the evil eye. His vision became reality in Francis Ford Coppola Winery.
“I’ve often felt that modern life tends to separate all the ages too much. In the old days, the children lived with the parents and the grandparents, and the family unit each gave one another something very valuable. So when we began to develop the idea for this winery, we thought it should be like a resort, basically a wine wonderland, a park of pleasure where people of all ages can enjoy the best things in life – food, wine, music, dancing, games, swimming and performances of all types. A place to celebrate the love of life.”
Francis Ford Coppola
Set atop a hill overlooking Alexander Valley, the location alone is like something out of a fairy tale. After parking the car, your first up close look at the property is the grand staircase. Don’t be surprised if your kids take off running, you’ll want to. At the top of the stairs you get your first glance of the pool.
“They’re on to it,” says Peter Brooks. “They get it.”
Brooks, wife Melissa and 5-month-old daughter Addelyn, came from San Francisco.
“We put her (Addelyn) in the pool for the first time,” says Melissa. “It’s like a day vacation.”
Sold Out Pool Days
Other folks must feel the same way. The pool opened at 11am the June Friday my family visited. By 11:30am all the lounge chairs were taken and by 11:48a pool passes for the day were sold out. So just like a vacation, a little planning can go a long way.
In this case, the phrase sold out deserves explanation. When most hear that a venue like a pool is sold out, crowds and noise come to mind. That is not the case at Francis Ford Coppola Winery. Pool Capacity is limited to 181 guests. Even full it was comfortable and quiet. That said, there are not enough lounge chairs for everyone, so if you don’t want to lounge on a towel on the grass, get there when they open to grab a chair.
The only way to guarantee your ticket into the pool is to reserve a cabine. The cabines, pronounced “ka–beens,” are private changing rooms with showers located steps away from the pool. Complete with lock and key, there are hooks at adult and kid level to hang clothes, and extra towels to use after showering. Are they a must have? No. But they are a great place to store things while you and your family are playing at the pool.
If you arrive and are told pool passes are sold out, don’t give up. If swimmers leave, more spaces become available for those willing to wait. When the Brooks family arrived later in the afternoon, they were told the pool was full but room was expected shortly so they decided to do a round of wine tasting. As luck would have it, just as they were finishing, space opened up.
Folks at the winery park want you to have a good time with your family. They’ve even created a guide to a perfect day. Read it, pack the sunscreen and camera and then get ready to relax!
The pool is actually two pools connected by what the winery calls a “swim-through.” Small fountains shoot overhead, giving you the option of going through and staying dry or getting a pool fountain shower. Most kids opt for the shower, but I saw many adults cooling off the same way.
Though Coppola’s vision was to create a place for families to come and enjoy, families aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the winery park. The park was filled with a diverse mix of people. Seniors, couples, and a group of twenty-something girls in town to celebrate a birthday. It may have been created with families in mind, but all walks of life are enjoying the final result under the watchful eyes of several lifeguards. Pool toys and floatation devices are not allowed.
My girls can entertain themselves for hours in the water, but the allure of four nearby bocce ball courts was enough to convince them to dry off and give the game a roll. It was an instant hit. We played again and again, and may have to invest in a bocce ball game set to call our own. I can easily see a game going full force in my backyard on family game nights.
There are also four game tables scattered around the winery park where you can play board games like chess, checkers and backgammon. Pick up your family’s favorite from the selection of Coppola’s favorites at Guest Services. The bocce ball courts and games are available to use free of charge.
Sometimes the perfect compliment to a day at the pool is a good book to read while you’re lounging in a chair in the sun. If you’re a kid picking out the book might be more fun than reading it. The poolside Teepee Lending Library (yes, it’s really a teepee) has a selection of books for kids of all ages. From Dr. Seuss to Black Beauty, my girls didn’t have trouble finding something they wanted to page through.
My teen worked on a puzzle book from the Teepee Lending Library while we waited for lunch to arrive from the Rosso & Bianco Pool Cafe. Servers deliver your food and drinks right to you at the pool. There’s no worrying about getting the kids dried off and dressed to go eat. It’s not a huge menu, but it covers all the basics and does them well. Sandwiches, salads and delicious pizzas.
My girls devoured the cheese pizza before I could get a taste. I should have moved faster, but I was too busy eating the Pizza Sofia I had ordered. It was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten! My husband’s lunch hadn’t arrived yet so he was digging in as well.
Swim and Taste, Taste and Swim
I watched during the day as some families that were visiting the pool together, swapped off watching the kids to go in a do a tasting. I don’t think that’s because the kids weren’t welcome, it was just the easier than drying everyone off. I made a point to wander through the winery tasting area numerous times throughout the day.
I never saw any kids hanging out while their parents were tasting, but the pourers I talked to assured me kids are the norm. Pourers are armed with juice boxes, but apparently most kids would rather borrow a book from the Teepee Lending Library and sit outside on the deck in a comfy chair or visit the kids’ section of the winery store. This freedom obviously won’t work with toddlers, but older kids, would definitely enjoy it more.
Whatever you do, don’t leave the winery park without taking the kids inside to see Coppola’s Movie Gallery. Five decades of award-winning filmmaking makes for an impressive collection. There’s the original shiny red car from Tucker: The Man and His Dream, costumes from Dracula and several Academy Awards. It’s a slice of Hollywood in Wine Country, not your typical Wine Country, but then again, it’s not your typical winery.
“Why do I care?” asked my 10-year-old when we found Don Corleone’s desk from The Godfather. She couldn’t understand why it was something that made me smile.
I guess that means I’ll have to bring her back as she grows old enough to watch the famous trilogy. Actually that means waiting a while. I think we’ll try and rent Tucker now.
Kid-friendly Napa Valley and Sonoma hotels recommended by Ciao Bambino