By Chef Dad

There are a few important words to learn in each language.  Please.  Thanks.  Sorry. Bathroom?   Check, please.  Most everything else you can figure out by pointing or waiting. The most important word to learn, though, is Cheers!  This is the word  that takes you from seeming like someone who is out of place to seeming like someone who’s bringing the party.


In Hungarian, the word for cheers is Egészségedre, a word I’m glad I heard before I saw.  Hungarians have lots of vowel sounds and accent marks, and after several months of practicing Polish, trying to convert written text into sounds from Hungarian is really hard.  It’s pronounced, roughly, eggy she-gehd-reh, and it sounds more like two words than one.


We learned to pronounce this at dinner on our first night on the town of Eger, Hungary.  We visited a little restaurant downtown, where we had little trouble communicating with our Hungarian host, despite the language barrier.  Pointing at a menu is easy in any language, I suppose.  When we were finished and getting up to leave, he brought us an apertif called Unicum.


Unicum translates to fire-water. Or if it doesn’t, it should.  Before tossing it back, our host taught us how to say eggy she-gehd-reh, and we did our best to keep up.  With the language and the liquor.


Fortunately, Eger would provide us with many opportunities to practice (again, with the language and the liquor), but before you go off toasting your health and showing off your new linguistic skills, you should know that Hungarians don’t clink their beer glasses.


Eger was the highest-ranked small city on our power rankings, and Miss A gave it her top overall spot.  There’s lots to see in town, with beautiful squares, walkable streets and sophisticated wine bars and restaurants.


But the real highlight of Eger is out of town.


No, not the thermal bath resort (which was, in fact, awesome).


The real reason to stop in Eger is the Szépasszonyvölgy which really does translate to the Valley of Beautiful Women.  I don’t know about women, but it’s certainly a valley of wonderful wine.


We were nervous as we approached the valley.  It’s just on the outskirts of Eger, right next to a quiet residential neighborhood (quiet, except for the dogs who barked at us from nearly every single yard as we walked there).  From the top of the road that takes you down into the valley, it’s hard to tell exactly what you’re about to come up on.  We were there during a slow time of the year, and many places along the way were still closed for the season.


The valley consists of about 40 wine cellars contained in an area of about two small city blocks.  It’s practically made for bachelorette parties us.  We visited four of the wineries, chosen mostly at random, beginning with Juhasz Pinceszet.  The wines were excellent, probably the best ones that we tasted on our visit.


Each of the cellars is cut into the side of the valley, and they are set up for you to taste wines from the bottle or quite often from the barrel.  The picture above was taken from inside the cave, but up above in a room that would have been suitable for a meeting of medieval knights.  Most of the cellars evoked that sort of feeling, I suppose, and it is fitting that Eger is best known for the Egri Bikaver (“Bull’s Blood“) wine blend.  Legend has it that invading soldiers during the Siege of 1552 believed the wine was, in fact, bull’s blood, though the story gets decidedly murky after that.


Bikaver is a red blend, which must include three grapes and usually includes Kékfrankos as one of them.  There was a notable difference between the best and the worst, but one thing is for sure–the taste of the wines lingered on the palate for what seemed like the rest of the day.


There are a few restaurants in the valley as well, a couple of which were nice and several of which were cheap.  We picked a cheap one (not shown), and we got what we paid for.  Then we headed for our final stop, Biro et Fia.  There we met Beatrix, and sadly we don’t have a photo, but we won’t need one to remember.


Beatrix, who was probably 75 years young, spoke very little English, but she could tell a tale with her hands like no one I’ve ever met.  We spent probably about an hour laughing and tasting wine, sometimes out of these long fancy glass tubes that somehow Beatrix could aim and fire at our glasses with pinpoint accuracy.  She could hit her own glass too–she was matching us taste for taste, an impressive feat because I’m sure we weren’t the first people to come through that day.  The kids loved it as well–Beatrix hooked them up with corks and toothpicks for making sculptures and merriment.


Alas, all good things must come to an end, but the end of our visit meant we were headed to Budapest.  As we hit the road, Eger had certainly left a pleasant taste in our mouths.

Snowy Peaks

Our visits to Estes Park, Colorado are filled with hiking, cooking, lively conversations, looking for wildlife and visiting the fun park (A running tradition for the last night of the trip, which is always followed by ice cream!). But to us, a vacation isn’t complete without a visit to a local winery, and we found the perfect spot in town. Continue reading

Joie de Vivre – Pleasant Valley Wine Company

In the Wine Bloggers Conference post, I mentioned I met one of my favorite people from the whole experience while on our Keuka Lake excursion. You might recall we were treated to dinner at the Pleasant Valley Wine Company, where we enjoyed a five course meal in one of the former cellars. Continue reading

Wining Without Whining

From our last several posts you can tell we love the Finger Lakes Region of New York. We’ve been drawn to the area from the first time we stopped in with the kids years ago. While we love the quaint towns, friendly people, scenery, museums, etc., a large part of what drove us to stop in the first place was the wineries.

That's one big tank at Swedish Hill Vineyard & Winery on Cayuga Lake in New York.

That’s one big tank at Swedish Hill Vineyard & Winery on Cayuga Lake in New York.

Mike and I have been visiting wineries since a trip to Southern California early in our marriage. We were on our way from Palm Springs to San Diego, enjoying the desert and mountainous drive along I-15, when I needed a pit stop. We were both hungry, so figured we’d stop to eat as well. We ended up getting off the highway near Temecula, California and stumbled upon a winery. We had never been to a winery before, but we figured there was a good likelihood that it had bathrooms and food (plus we enjoy wine). It was a beautiful, old world looking building called Thornton Winery. While there we did our first wine tasting, enjoyed a snack and decided that since this was so much fun, we’d stop at one more down the road before getting back to the Interstate.

The first of many winery stops in our lifetime.

The first of many winery stops in our lifetime, Wilson Creek Winery.

Our next stop, Wilson Creek Winery, was the one that permanently hooked us on wine and viticulture. We’d apparently just missed the vineyard tour and Gerry Wilson, the proprietor, felt bad. We had no idea that there even was such a thing as vineyard tours, but he showed us around a little bit anyway. We listened, at first to be polite, but before long, we were having a fascinating conversation about wineries and life. We spent quite a bit of time with Gerry that afternoon and from then on, stopping and visiting wineries on vacation has become what we do.

2002 at Wilson Creek Winery.

2002 at Wilson Creek Winery.

We don’t consider ourselves to be oenophiles. We’re still learning how to identify the nuances of wine and couldn’t tell an aroma of currants from an aroma of blackberries, but we’re getting there. Most importantly though, we know what we like and we’ve developed a palate for wines from a wide variety of regions – not just California. In fact, we’ve stopped at wineries in 20 different states as well as Canada. The wine industry has exploded and has made for some fun pit stops on our many road trips throughout the states.

Even the wild west has wine to offer!

Even the wild west has wine to offer!

And yes, this includes trips with and without the kids. You see, Mike and I both recall having to stop with our parents at “boring” historical sites along our vacation routes (like the Sod House), and can each recount our “dreadful” experiences at the Amana Colonies along I-80 in Iowa. (Ironically the Amana Colonies now offer wine making walks!) While these stops are likely not at all boring or dreadful, and our negative feelings surely had more to do with our ages, Mike and I still vowed not to put our kids through such “torture.” Instead we take them to wineries!

A little tech time at a winery in the Niagara region of Ontario.

A little tech time at Stratus Vineyards in the Niagara region of Ontario.

While our kids at times roll their eyes and say the proverbial, “Aw, do we have to?” Mike and I just remind them that it could be a lot worse. “Back in our day…” Truthfully, for as much as the kids might initially complain about stopping to do something we like to do (it is a right of passage after all), we generally all have a great time. Mike and I make sure to make it an enjoyable experience for the kids and we’ve actually had some of our most memorable and relaxed meal time conversations and family games while at wineries. And then afterwards the kids make us stop at roadside historical markers for their enjoyment – oh the irony!

Mr. N was frequenting wineries before Miss A was even born!

Mr. N was frequenting Ontario wineries, like Chateau des Charmes, before Miss A was even born!

Truthfully, that’s how we pull it off. We spend our vacations doing a mix of activities that everyone enjoys. If Mike and I pick a winery, then the kids are on deck to decide what’s next and somehow or another, we all manage to have fun no matter where we end up – winery or a kids’ museum.

Kids love big tanks and barrels!

Kids love big tanks and barrels!

So since we’re often asked how we end up at so many wineries on our vacations and since it is travel and winery season, we figured we’d share a few tips for visiting wineries with kids in tow. We should start by saying, we don’t recommend planning a weekend evening with friends at a winery with the kids (unless it’s a private event for families); we wouldn’t suggest spending hours drinking the day away (we don’t visit wineries to “drink”); and we certainly don’t condone drinking and driving while intoxicated under any circumstances. However, if you’re looking for a relaxing lunch stop, enjoyable evening sunset or are truly interested in learning a little bit about wine and viticulture, then visiting wineries with your kids is perfectly acceptable, and it can be fun.

Kids don't always need tech to be entertained.

Kids don’t always need tech to be entertained. Baroda Founders Wine Cellar

Tips for visiting wineries with kids (Mr. N and Miss A both started around age 3):

1. Prep your kids for winery behavior.
Having done this more than once now, the kids know what we expect when we say it’s time for “winery behavior.” Basically it’s similar to restaurants, museums, stores, etc. We ask that they stay with us, or in an area we designate as kid-safe, don’t touch things that don’t belong to them, keep their voices lower, no running and be polite. You’re the best judge of your own kids and can determine what they can handle. For us this means we sometimes select the few wines that we want to try, make our purchase and leave. Other times, this means that we have a few minutes to enjoy our tasting, ask the host questions and savor our sips.

Instead of naps in the car, we relax deckside.

Instead of naps in the car, we relax deckside at Fielding Estates Winery.

2. Avoid weekends if possible.
This isn’t always possible, but if it can be avoided, wineries are much less crowded on weekdays. Crowds can be difficult with kids, not impossible, but it’s certainly easier when the wineries aren’t overflowing with groups and crowds. Wine hosts are also less harried (justifiably) on weekdays and it can make the whole experience more enjoyable. You’re also more likely to meet an owner on a weekday. If you’re into wine making and the business of wine, wine owners are fabulous conversationalists. These are some of our favorite visits!

We had this place all to ourselves on a Monday afternoon.

We had Good Earth all to ourselves on a Monday afternoon.

3. If avoiding weekends is not possible, choose places with large outdoor areas, kids’ activities, or restaurants.
Sometimes you only have time for weekend travel and if you’re wanting to stop at a winery, consider places that you know have restaurants or large outdoor areas. Restaurants are great places to enjoy your tasting while feeding the kids, and large outdoor areas can give the kids room to run. Some wineries even have kid’s activity areas that include games, toys, coloring, etc. One of our favorite stops in Estes Park, Colorado, Snowy Peaks Winery, even has a playroom visible from the tasting area where kids can play while you taste. Genius if you ask us!

Wineries with lunch, tables and live music can be an exception to the no-weekend rule.

Wineries with lunch, tables, playrooms or live music can be an exception to the no-weekend rule. Shady Creek Winery.

4. Make sure to have something for the kids to do.
Obviously not all wineries will have playrooms. In this case, come prepared. We bring small games, books and of course electronics – iPods, iPads, etc. to keep the kids occupied. If you plan to have a glass of wine after the tasting on a veranda in the sun, or to watch the sunset, never underestimate the power of a deck of cards and a good game of “Go Fish.”

“Fishy, fishy in the brook…” from the beautiful deck at Contessa.

5. Don’t plan more than 2 to 3 wineries in one day and make sure to stop for kids’ activities in between.
Some trips we’ll plan one winery visit over lunch or for dinner. It allows Mike and I to squeeze in our interests while feeding the kids. On other trips, we travel through wine regions with the intention of stopping at more than one winery a day. In this case, we usually stop for a tasting mid-morning, lunch and sometimes late afternoon. On days like this we’ll make sure to spend the rest of the time doing activities the kids choose – museums, historical stops, hiking, parks, fairs, mini-golf, the beach, etc. No one complains on these days!

This winery had a little park!

Hickory Creek Winery has a little park and hang out space!

6. Limit your time at the tasting bar.
This is one of those where you need to follow your kids’ lead. If the kids are entertained, occupied and content, you can enjoy your tasting a little longer. Perhaps ask the host about the grape varietals, where they’re grown, how they got into the business, etc. Wine hosts and owners are generally very passionate about their wine and wineries and appreciate when people want to learn about what they do. Alternatively, if you want to stop and enjoy a tasting, but also spend some time with the kids, sample a few of your favorites and purchase a glass to sit outside and enjoy some snacks together. However, if you know you’re on borrowed time with the kids, sample a few of your favorite wines and make a purchase to enjoy at a later date.

Outdoor patios are a great place to play and sip.

Outdoor patios are a great place to play and sip like this one at Snow Farm Vineyard in Vermont.

7. At the winery do your tasting at the end of the bar or near a seating area for your kids.
When wineries aren’t crowded, it’s often easy to find a table or picnic bench that’s within close proximity to the tasting area. These tables are a great place to set the kids up with their activities. If it’s a bit more crowded and seating is limited, the kids will stay by us at the end of the tasting bar. They usually end up finding a spot along the wall to sit and read or play their game. The key is to keep them out of the way, but close enough so that the winery staff knows you’re on the ball. This leads well into our next point…

Some wineries have designated kid play places!

Some wineries have designated kid play places like 12 Corners!

8. Do not leave your children unattended.
Wineries are not meant for children. That’s not to say that children aren’t welcome, as we mentioned, some wineries plan for them. However, wineries are intended to be adult establishments. Wine hosts and other patrons will not appreciate your child running a muck through the gift shop or in the vineyard, no matter how cute you think they are. This is not a time to let them test their independence. Keep them close, entertained and behaving.

Winery pets are not there to babysit, but are fun to play with!

Winery pets are not there to babysit, but are fun to play with at Silver Hills!

Miss A was crushed when she realized we only bring home the plush variety of winery mascots.

Miss A was crushed when she realized we only bring home the plush variety of winery mascots. Mackinaw Valley Vineyards

9. Ask if the winery has sparkling grape juice available for tasting or purchase.
Some wineries will have both red and white sparkling grape juice which is always a thrill for the kids. They love to do a tasting and pick which one they want to purchase. It’s a great way to make the kids feel involved and an easy way to keep them entertained.

Kids love bubbles!

Kids love bubbles! Fox Run has it all with grape juice, plush fox toys and food.

10. Reward good behavior.
As we mentioned we often let the kids pick activities in between wineries and let them share in the vacation planning process. It generally keeps things running smoothly and often times makes it more enjoyable for us all. I’m sure the kids have led us to adventures we never would have otherwise experienced! But that said, we’re also not above bribery every now and then, and have been known to let the kids pick a souvenir from the gift shop. You may recall Miss A’s winery mascot collection!

Tasting crackers and biscuits are a fun treat and go great with sausage and cheese.

Tasting crackers and biscuits are a fun treat and go great with sausage and cheese. Did we mention Fox Run has a great balcony too?

11. Don’t push the kids beyond their limits.
Don’t plan to visit a winery when the kids are over tired, and if they are hungry choose a winery with food options.

Did we mention kids like tasting crackers?

Did we mention kids like tasting crackers? Miss A did at Silver Hills Winery in Nebraska.

12. Research wineries ahead of time.
Some wineries will mention kid friendly areas, games or even outdoor walking paths on their websites. Hikes are a great way to get the kids outdoors, exploring and off the beaten path (just make sure to stay out of restricted areas and do not touch grapes or vines!). Our travels and tastings have led us to discover frog ponds, donkeys, Bocce ball and even petting zoos!

This sure beats McD's playland!

Shram Vineyards sure beats MickyD’s playland!

13. Thank your host.
If you enjoyed your experience and your wine, we believe it’s important to purchase a bottle (or two or three). Wineries don’t make a fortune at the tasting bar (in fact many offer free tastings), but rather their income is generated from selling their wine. Purchasing a bottle is a great way to bring a part of your trip home, and most importantly, it’s a way to thank your host. They also make great gifts for family and friends.


While these were purchased on our NY trip sans kids, we’ve been known to bring home a case or two from our travels.

14. Leave it as you found it.
If your kids have a snack or are playing with their toys, make sure to clean up the space before you leave. Wipe away the crumbs, put away any toys or games provided by the winery, make sure your kids’ personal belongings are accounted for and throw away any trash.

Don't leave baby in a corner!

Don’t leave baby in a corner at Four Chimneys!

15. Finally, when you leave the winery, if outdoor space is available, let the kids run.
Before we load back into the car, whether we’ve stopped for lunch on a long drive, or are heading back to our lodging nearby, we make sure to “shake the sillies out.” While the kids are good about “winery behavior,” we realize it’s not their preferred state of being. So we always get a bit of movement back in our bodies. When a winery has a large open area, we run races, play tag or have tickle fights (making sure to avoid crowded areas and be respectful of other patrons of course!). If there’s no outdoor space, we’ll play follow the leader back to the car where Miss A determines when we walk, skip, gallop, jump, or run. In fact, when we pull into a winery now, the kids immediately evaluate the landscape and make our post-visit game plan.

Cartwheels only need a small amount of grass.

Cartwheels only need a small amount of grass but Snow Farm had plenty.

Who can get to the end of the row fastest?

Who can get to the end of the trail at Hidden Bench fastest?

Tag! You're it!

Tag! You’re it! Americana has room to roam.

What do you think? Is a winery now a part of your family vacation game plan? I know it’s a part of ours! In fact, we’ve got an opportunity to head back out to the Finger Lakes for a bit of family fun this month and I would say the kids are just as excited as we are – and we’re excited! Amazing how a few stuffed animals, games of tag and grape juice can change their perspective. Truthfully though, it really is all about quality family time. Whether we’re doing something Mike and I enjoy, something the kids love, or something we will all have fun at, it’s about being together, making memories and seeing the world; it just so happens we learn a little bit about wine making in the process.

Turning your kids into photographers makes for fun memories too!

Turning your kids into photographers makes for fun memories too! Miss A found lots of photo opps at Dancing Dragon Fly.

We’ll be back next week with a special birthday boy’s recipe request and then we’re off on our travels where we hope to share a few more recipes with local New York fare. Happy June everyone!

Donkeys, Frogs and Wine

If I said this was a busy summer, that would be an understatement. Particularly these past few weeks. Last week was an extended holiday weekend complete with three BBQs and a sleepover. This weekend we’ve just wrapped up two of three birthday parties with one more to go. Whew. It’s a little how Toronto felt for us too – one big whirlwind of fun. So when we left Toronto to head back home, we opted for the scenic route. wine route

It was time to slow down for a bit, take in some of the outdoors, some wine and even some grape juice. Mr. N and Miss A became quite the aficionados. grape juice drinkers

We began the next leg of our adventure on a wine route on the southern side of Lake Ontario – a great recommendation from Barb. She even pointed out a few great places along the way to stop for lunch and tastings, the first of which was The Good Earth for lunch. It was a gorgeous day and we were able to dine outside. The food was delicious, but the view was what we were lost in. The Good Earth

Good Earth Beamsville

They even had some chickens, so Miss A was in farm heaven. Feeding chickens

After lunch we found a few other wineries along the way – several of which were accessible by hiking a little trail. Now how clever is that! This was by far one of our favorite afternoons. hiking

wine run

father and son

There was even some wildlife along the way. frog pond

And of course some grapes…Hidden Bench


It was one of those days you didn’t want to end. Fortunately we had several more ahead of us though as we headed back toward the Finger Lake region of New York. We had passed through the area a few years ago and really enjoyed it. The lakes are a the quintessential summer getaway with small, friendly towns, rolling hills and scenic drives. (And of course more wineries!) New York wineries

Now don’t worry, while Mike and I were most certainly enjoying ourselves…the kids were too. Many of the wineries are kid friendly (or perhaps our kids are just winery friendly) and most of them have something interesting aside from wine. The Swedish Hill Winery, for instance, has Doobie the donkey. He of course came over to see Miss A. Doobie

Swedish Hill

And a trip through the Rochester area be complete with a visit to the National Museum of Play and the Sesame Street stoop! 123 Sesame Street

Check out how much Miss A has grown since the last time we were here: Miss A in 2011

Miss A 2013

So after a few days of wining, dining, playing and relaxing in the Finger Lakes, it was time to head home. This time we took a slightly different route though and made one last stop – Allegany State Park. It was just a gorgeous area. Lush with trees, wild flowers and beautiful old forestry building. allegany state park

Sitting room

After a picnic lunch we took a short one-mile hike that made a nice loop through the woods. Red Jacket Hiking Trail

We passed remnants of an old zoo, old zoo

and old ski lifts. old ski lifts

The kids especially dug all the caterpillars we saw though. caterpillars

It was the perfect way to end the trip. Relaxed. mom and kids

I think we could use another one of these. 😉 Until then, I’m just going to try and adopt Miss A’s happy-go-lucky style. Life is good. happy

Next week we’ll be back with a stateside recipe from New York…it only seems fitting after all. Have a great week!