On a warm, picture-perfect Southern Oregon day, I presented my family with a two-part agenda: a hike to the top of Lower Table Rock for views of the Rogue Valley, followed by a picnic and wine tasting at Cliff Creek Cellars, one of the six local wineries on the Upper Rogue Wine Trail.
They were dubious. Wine tasting with kids? I'll admit I had my reservations as well, right up to the moment we entered through the gates of Cliff Creek, dusty from our hike and loaded down with a full picnic cooler and three hungry kids. The beauty and tranquility of Cliff Creek's corner of Sams Valley opened up before us, and I immediately relaxed. From the vantage point of the small tasting room and patio, the far reaches of the wooded hills beyond the rolling vineyard stretched to the horizon, and the kids were off and running. We didn't worry they'd get lost: they were following Cliff Creek's resident old English sheepdog, who herded them toward a game of bocce ball set up on the stretch of lawn overlooking the outdoor tasting tables.
The wineries of the Upper Rogue Wine Trail are all within easy driving distance from Medford and Ashland, accessible from Interstate 5 and highways 234 and 62.
Although the entire trail can be done in a day, we recommend picking one location to visit with kids to provide plenty of time for exploration and play. Plan to spend your time in the outdoor seating areas; at several locations, including Cliff Creek, tasting rooms are too small for family groups. For the most intimate tasting and picnicking experience, opt for one of the trail's smaller locales, such as Cliff Creek or LaBrasseur. Larger Del Rio can provide more room to spread out and a roomier interior for use during uncooperative weather.
Tasting menus at Upper Rogue Wine Trail wineries start at $10 per flight, and additional foods available for purchase vary from winery to winery. Call ahead to find out what outside foods and beverages are allowed in order to avoid cranky or hungry kids (or both).
We found a picnic table for our food as Cliff Creek's Lesley Hopper greeted us with a smile and the first pour from the winery's tasting menu. If I hadn't already been a fan of pinot grigio, I would have been upon that first sip following the warm descent from Table Rock. Mindful of the equally thirsty kids, Lesley set out chilled root beers, and we ordered a housemade cheese and charcuterie plate to complement our picnic of sandwiches, crackers and fruit.
By the fifth vintage of our flight, the kids had explored the vineyard, raced wine corks down the creek meandering through the winery, and played a game of tag with Max. No one minded our outdoor wear or our less-than-pristine appearance; in fact, the patrons sitting next to us had been out fishing the Rogue pre-pouring, and the couple across the lawn arrived fresh from Interstate 5, midway through their multiday motorcycle tour of Southern Oregon. We compared notes on our day and battle scars from our pre-tasting adventures (that would be my son's skinned knee), and when a late-afternoon rain began to fall, we all sought shelter in the cozy tasting room lined with bottles of syrah and merlot.
Cliff Creek is by no means the only family-friendly winery along the Upper Rogue Wine Trail, which winds from Gold Hill to Butte Falls. Additional vineyard-to-outdoor-recreation pairings can be enjoyed at all of the trail's properties, based on each winery's unique location along the trail.
Del Rio Winery: Spend the morning rafting the upper Rogue followed by refreshment in Del Rio's spacious tasting room.
Kriselle Cellars and LaBrasseur: Visit Crater Lake National Park and end at Kriselle Cellars or LaBrasseur on the way back home to the Rogue Valley. You'll arrive in time for the sunset.
Agate Ridge: Golf as a family in Eagle Point after a picnic lunch at Agate Ridge, tee up before the heat of the day and you'll be sipping wine by late afternoon.
Folin Cellars: Fish the day away on the Rogue in Gold Hill before stopping for a snack at Folin.
Amy Whitley is a freelance writer, travel columnist, and administrator of the family travel website Pit Stops for Kids (www.pitstopsforkids.com). She and her husband and three kids make their home in Medford.