Are wineries really a place to take kids? We’ve found that with limited exceptions, a winery can provide fun for all ages, and we are lucky to have the Grand River Valley Wine Region about 45 minutes away. We think it is a hidden gem of the area as we find many of our friends and neighbors do not know much about it or have never actually been.
I grew up in the Cleveland area but never visited the wineries in this region until I was in my 30s. Our seven month son joined us on our first trip there. Since then, Ohio wine country has become a favorite family day trip. We usually go at least once a year to celebrate a special occasion. While it is just a short drive, our favorite wineries have amazing and relaxed settings that make us feel like we have made an excursion. Sipping wine is just the icing on the cake of a great afternoon.
The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake is a family-friendly hotel complex on Lake Erie that can turn a trip to the Grand River Valley wineries into a weekend getaway. I enjoyed a few nights there. The Lodge has expanded in recent years to include indoor and outdoor pools as well as two-bedroom cottages completed in 2016. The Lodge also offers family rooms with bunk beds and a number of fun activities, including bike rental, zip line tours and snow shoe and ski rental.
While the wine produced in Ohio may not be as famous as those made in Napa, Grand River Valley wineries are much more family-friendly than those in Napa, and our kids love winery trips. Many Ohio wineries produce their own grape juice, and my kids absolutely love drinking red grape juice (a special treat) in wine glasses. Also, most wineries in Ohio double as restaurants or permit guests to bring their own picnic. Some wineries have enough green space to relax on a picnic blanket and fly a kite, and the nearby beach in the State Park is an added bonus.
When we planned a trip to San Francisco and Yosemite a few years ago with our two and four year old boys, we tacked on two nights in Napa. While Napa is definitely not a typical family vacation location, my husband and I were not going to pass up the opportunity to go to Napa just because our kids were with us, and we figured that the wineries would be as much fun for them as Ohio wineries. While we definitely all enjoyed ourselves, our experience visiting California wineries with kids was not what we expected after our regular trips to Ohio’s wine country.
We thought our kids would enjoy drinking grape juice and eating good meals at wineries in Napa. However, we learned that Napa wineries do not make grape juice because their grapes are too expensive to “waste” on juice. Only one winery we visited offered my kids juice, and it was served in Capri Sun pouches rather than fancy glasses. Because it is expensive for wineries in Napa to obtain food permits, they stick to serving wine and the occasional free snack. While my boys enjoyed frolicking in vineyards, touring wineries and watching some grape stomping, we did not find any spot in Napa where kids could relax for an afternoon or fly a kite.
Other than designating a driver, there is virtually no preparation needed for planning a trip to the Grand River Valley WIne Region. If you are planning to picnic at the South River Vineyard or adding on a stop at the beach, make sure to bring a blanket, snacks, juice, a ball and a kite.
There are a number of wineries in the Grand River Valley Wine Region area. While we occasionally try a new one, we generally stick to our favorites, including:
- Ferrante Winery and Ristorante: This is our favorite lunch spot in the area.
- Food: The food is particularly enjoyable, and the restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the beautiful vineyard. We particularly enjoy the gnocchi brue, which I order with chicken instead of filet mignon and with lighter sauce. The kids like the pepperoni pizza.
- Wine and Juice: We order the sweet and dry tasting trays to share. Ferrante’s makes their own white and red grape juice. If we are headed to South River Vineyard after lunch, we pick up a bottle for the kids on our way out. Servers will ask you if you would like to add a bottle to your lunch tab, but it’s about half the price if you pick it up at the souvenir shop yourself.
- Tours: Ferrante’s offers free winery tours on weekend afternoons from Memorial Day through Labor Day with posted hours. My boys really enjoy these tours. We were with a large group of visiting family the last time we had lunch at Ferrante’s, and it was our nine year old who asked if we could take the tour.
- Location: Other than the large blue factory building next door that seems completely out of place in the vineyard scene, the setting is truly picturesque. On weekends in the summer, there is usually live music outside.
- Notes: Note that the restaurant is closed on Monday and Tuesday. Ferrante’s offers a lunch menu Wednesday through Saturday, but the dinner menu is used for lunch on Sunday.
- South River Vineyard is one of our family’s favorites wineries.
- Food: The only food sold is a cheese plate, but guests are permitted to bring small picnics.
- Wine/Juice: Wine is sold in flights and by the bottle, and the bartender will cork an unfinished bottle so that you can take it home with you. They do not sell juice, but guests are permitted to bring non-alcoholic beverages.
- Setting: We call it the “church winery” because the tasting room is housed in a Victorian Methodist Church originally built in 1892 that was moved from Shalersville, Ohio and reconstructed here in 2000. Outside, there are beautiful terraces and a pavilion with Adirondack chairs and picnic tables. On colder days, there is an outdoor fireplace. There is a large grassy area next to the pavilion that is perfect for the kids to play ball or fly a kite.
- Laurello Vineyards is a small, boutique winery that opened in 2002. While it is not set in a vineyard like many of the other wineries, there is a large outdoor patio with live music in the evenings on summer weekends. The flatbread pizzas baked in a wood oven are amazing.
- Harpersfield Vineyards is a farm winery housed in a charming French estate. Harpersfield serves soup, sandwiches, flatbreads, cheese plates and desserts. Outdoor seating includes a patio and pavilion. The indoor fireplace is a big draw.
- Debonne Vineyards is the largest estate winery in Ohio with over 175 acres of vines. It is also the most commercial winery in the area.Weddings occur here most weekends in the summer, and we have seen a few ceremonies. Appetizers, sandwiches and pizza are available inside all year. During the summer months, the outdoor Grille at Debonne is open for outdoor dining. Debonne was the first Ohio winery to open a micro-brewery and is open daily 12 pm to 6 pm with longer hours on some days and on a seasonal basis.
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