One of the greatest gifts in the universe, besides wine, is the joy that comes with being a parent; from the moment of conception, to the moment of grand parenthood… It’s a long stretch and a complete delight. Now, imagine being a parent (or, as in my case, a grandparent) and going wine tasting to a place where there’s a balance between what a child can do for amusement and what a parent can also enjoy, without completely giving the day over to the kids.
In California, children are pretty much forgotten; in fact, when I had my days working in tasting rooms, most of my colleagues would roll their eyes when parents would arrive with child in tow. Yes, some of the parents were doing it with no regard for their children’s level of interest, but most of them were parents like the one I was when my children were small. My kids came with me because every single moment was an opportunity for learning about the world. It was a time for discovery, and we were all engaged. When I had children in my charge in tasting rooms, I talked to them (not at them). I found juice for them. We handed out balloons at Kendall-Jackson and I was the one who blew them up in the morning with great joy.
I’ll never forget the time at Robert Mondavi Winery when I had three small overly-frolicking boys on an educational tour with 30 adults. I began by thanking the boys for allowing their parents to do something for themselves, because this “Isn’t Disneyland, but I’m betting that your parents have taken you there lots of times, and how nice of you (today) to let your parents do something they like, too. Ladies and Gentlemen, give these young men a hand, because they’re going to be so well behaved on this tour!” (Everyone smiled and applauded, and the kids never stepped outside of that expectation… How could they?)
As a parent, you need to know that if you want to introduce your children to the world of wine in the most natural and welcoming of settings, you’ll actually find this Kodak moment outside of California. You’re going to find it in Asheville, North Carolina at the Biltmore Estate Winery. My daughter Katie and her family just moved there. How could I visit her, and miss seeing the US’s most visited winery, and how could we leave my grandsons behind?
It was an adventure that will remain in my heart forever, as I was able to visit through the eyes of my two grandsons. As we arrived on the sprawling property, I realized the magnificence of what began in 1889, when George Vanderbilt started construction on his 250 room home with its 65 fireplaces, an indoor pool, bowling alley, and priceless art and antiques… George wanted a country retreat for friends and family.
His vision for the Biltmore property more than 100 years ago continues to serve us all even today. The dream was to have a working estate that would sustain itself and benefit the community. America’s largest home has acres of gardens, parklands, and managed forests. Included in this most magnificent property I’ve ever seen is a working winery. And, remember, I live in the heart of California wine country with all of its grand opulence.
As American culture continues to evolve and move further away from our Puritanical roots, we’re more open to seeing what life on a winery is all about. Imagine then, if you can bring your children along, and visiting a tasting room is just one brief moment for parents to have the pleasures of discovery, while children then are swept away to walk in the forest of this 8,000-acre wood (Winnie the Pooh would be so proud!), visit gardens and a farm village, where children can enjoy an ice cream cone and discover farm equipment of antiquity.
My grandsons loved this open barn area, as much as they did the open, equestrian area where horses and riders were jumping hurdles with great proficiency. This sprawling estate more than held the kids’ attention, and they didn’t want to leave… really. We had to promise them that they’d be back… and in the middle of that, Katie and I got to taste some world-class wines.
Many of the grapes that go into their award-winning wines are handpicked from their own lakeside vineyards, and carried to their state-of-the-art winery. Under the watchful eye of their French winemaker Bernard Delille, great wine is becoming a new Biltmore tradition. Rosemary Carter was our private guide through all parts of the winery, which was once a working dairy. The winery is constructed in a gravity-flow style. The most remarkable part of our tour was that Rosemary took the time to keep the children engaged, so even though this was an adult tour, the children were never left out. Understand that Jonathan is six, and Nate is only three… Challenging, but as Rosemary proved, quite doable. We visited every part of the winery, and the kids managed to get through what was for them, their least favorite part of the day (I’m sure), but for me, the most important for my own education.
When it came time to taste wine, as that always follows a tour, the children were offered sparkling (nonalcoholic) fruit juice. It was complete. I could give you all my notes on how exquisite the wines were, but I’m going to leave that to wine reviewers. What I love on my palate is going to be drastically different on yours; after all, most of you love fish, and I hate it… We’re all different. All I will tell you, however, is that in my job I get to taste some really wonderful wines, and these Biltmore wines fit right into what I know to be excellent.
Everything created at this estate was world-class, and so it should come as no surprise that the clock tower was crafted (at the time) by the same clock master who created Big Ben. Back then, only three sides had a working face. The fourth side faced the cows, and George was astute enough to know that the cows didn’t care what time it was.
The Inn on the Biltmore Estate is very beautiful, and a way to enjoy your stay right there without ever leaving the property. I know that a visit is in my future, as my family and I have to spend at least one evening, even though they live within minutes of the Biltmore. There is so much to explore. With the enriched enviornment that the area has to offer, being there in the still of the evening has to be exquisite! (No sounds of the freeway, boys and girls, for those of us who have that constant drone.)
Dining is absolutely scrumptious. Again, they’ve paid attention to entertaining children in this white table cloth atmosphere. Jonathan and Nate were each given a Biltmore coloring book and crayons while they waited for their pizza (children’s menu). This wasn’t just a one sheet book. Its was a full-blown activity book with so much to do in it that the kids forgot that they were hungry, until the food came. Also, we were strategically placed before the pizza making area, where if their minds wandered for a moment away from their book, they got to watch pizza making first hand. Every single detail of our visit was enjoyable and most engaging.
And, oh yes, remember that we were visiting a winery… Unless otherwise noted, the pictures on this page are property of the Biltmore. I was too busy being with the boys that I didn’t take any pictures this time, but rather enjoyed watching them with their own cameras!