Saturday, August 8, 2015

Family Outing: Picchetti Winery and Picchetti Ranch Open Space Preserve

Picchetti Winery and the adjacent Picchetti Ranch Preserve have to be some of the South Bay's best kept secrets. Located in the Cupertino foothills right above Stevens Creek Reservoir, Picchetti is an easy drive from anywhere in the South Bay, but feels a world apart from the busy valley floor. With a wine tasting room, a delightful picnic area, and a pleasant, toddler-friendly hiking trail, any wine-loving or nature-loving (or, like us, both!) family will enjoy a visit to this lovely place.

The Tasting Room and Picnic Area. Picchetti offers a large and pleasant tasting room, where they also sell wine by the glass or the bottle (they'll open it for you and provide glasses to take outside). To taste (which you probably won't be doing with toddler in tow) or to buy a glass or bottle of wine to enjoy in the picnic area, head to the cashier on your left when you enter. You can also stop by the large refrigerator to pick up non-wine drinks (Toddler X was delighted that they had Martinelli's apple juice in the apple-shaped bottle), as well as cheeses and charcuterie plates to pair with the wines. Crackers and chips are located near the register.

Note that you're welcome to bring outside food to the picnic area, but you may not bring outside alcohol, and on weekends they ask that the picnic tables be reserved for customers -- run inside for a glass of wine or some crackers and cheese, and you're good!

Outside, you'll find one of the most pleasant picnic spots around, and one that is very popular with toddler families (a good half of the families there on a Saturday had kids under 5). There are 20 or so picnic tables, many of them shaded, as well as a lovely lawn where you can set up a blanket.

While they request that you not play ball games on the lawn (it's not very big), one family today had a set of stomp rockets, and I imagine other toddler diversions -- maybe a beanbag game or bubbles -- would be fine. Parents can enjoy food and drink while their toddlers play in the sun. Heaven!

One pointer about the picnic area: give the resident peacock a wide berth! While lovely, this big guy is not the friendliest, especially where food is involved -- today, a woman at the table behind us got nipped by his sharp beak because he wanted her cracker. He's scared of nothing -- he came within a foot or two of me while we were having lunch, and was not at all deterred by shooing or swatting. If you see him approaching your toddler, especially if he or she is holding food, drop your camera and intervene.

Hiking trails. If you're looking for a more active pursuit, the winery is actually situated on the Pichetti Ranch Open Space Preserve, which has a few short hiking trails (3.7 miles worth in all). Picchetti also connects to other, larger nature/hiking areas, such as Stevens Creek County Park and Fremont Older Open Space Preserve, if you're looking for a bit more distance.

Several of the trails in the surrounding preserves/parks are pretty intense (fine with a carrier, but not with a toddler on foot). If you're looking for a trail your toddler can walk on his or her own (as we were), stick with the ones in the Pichetti Ranch Preserve -- and particularly the Zinfandel Trail, which we chose today. We walked exactly one mile out (beginning on Zinfandel Trail and, I think, at some point crossing into one of the adjoining parks), and returned the same way for a 2 mile out-and-back. It was lovely, and just what we'd hoped for.

To follow our route, coming from the parking lot, head to the shady trailhead to the right of the winery and proceed past the barn and tasting room. Up ahead, you'll see the winery/preserve bathrooms -- I dare say, the nicest you'll find at any public park ever. (The bathroom on the left, when facing them, even has a changing table, which is (gasp!) actually stocked with liners!)

The Zinfandel Trail heads off to the right of the bathrooms, with a wide and even pressed dirt path that an all-terrain stroller or toddler on foot could easily manage (there is a small hill at the start, but after that it's relatively flat).

At the start, you deal with quite a bit of direct sunlight, but after half a mile or so (just past the dried-up pond), you enter a whole different ecosystem, verdant and cool, with trees, ferns, moss and shade.

The trail there is narrower, with a steeper fall off to the side, but still okay for an older toddler. We paused in the shade to check out some strangely-shaped trees, lichen, ferns and roots sticking out of the hillside -- it was a pleasant rest after the sunny trail.

Sadly, if you keep moving, you'll eventually head out onto a sunnier hillside trail that is a bit less toddler-friendly, with a narrow trail and a sharper drop off to the side. It was soon after that transition back to sun that we hit a mile on our GPS and turned for home.

Note that there are other hikes, both on the Picchetti Preserve and in the adjoining parks, that would be great for parents seeking a real workout with a carrier -- I've heard that the Orchard Loop Trail, for example, has some serious hills. We were just searching for a low-key walk that Toddler X could manage on his own (2 miles being his outer limit), with good terrain and no huge elevation changes. The Zinfandel Trail was a perfect fit. During the winter months, when the pond is filled and the streams are flowing, I imagine the trail will be even more enjoyable.

A word of caution: You're definitely up in the hills at Picchetti, and those hills have as much wildlife as you're going to find anywhere in the South Bay. While today we just enjoyed sightings of rabbits, lizards, birds and lovely Monarch butterflies (sadly no deer, though they're common here), this is also mountain lion territory. You may recall that a mountain lion attacked a child on the Pichetti trails several months ago while the boy was hiking with family and friends -- by all accounts, he was just about 10 feet in front of a large group on the trail when the animal pounced on him. Fortunately the adults were able to rescue him, and while that particular lion is no longer present, it's possible that others are now occupying the territory. We always keep Toddler X within a few feet of us when hiking, usually with one of us ahead of him and one behind, and we're even more conscious of that in known mountain lion country. You should be too. Take a look at the signs at the trailhead and be sure to familiarize yourself with best practices should you encounter an animal on your hike.

The Logistics

Directions. Picchetti is located on Montebello Road, just off Stevens Canyon Road above the Stevens Creek Reservoir. It's easily accessible from Highway 280 (Fremont Expressway exit) or Highway 85 (Stevens Creek Boulevard exit).

Hours. The Picchetti Winery Tasting Room is open daily from 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. The Pichetti Ranch Open Space Preserve trails (and the parking lot) are open from dawn to 1/2 hour after sunset.

Other regulations. Bikes and dogs are not allowed on the Preserve's trails. A list of rules/regulations for the winery picnic area can be found here.

Parking. The parking lot for both the winery/picnic area and the hiking trails is located right off Montebello Road -- there will be a sign on Montebello, indicating that you should take a left ahead. The lower dirt parking area is associated with the winery and tasting room, and seems to be open during tasting room hours. Just a few feet above it, though, is a larger dirt lot which is available to trail users at all times the Preserve is open. Parking is free.

Overall, I'd heartily recommend Picchetti for a picnic with friends or relatives (I think Toddler X's Grandma and Pops would love this place), a short hike, or a combination of the two (like we enjoyed today). It's one of those outings that will make you appreciate how lucky we are to live in the South Bay.

Happy toddling!

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