At wineries, the kids are (mostly) all right: Uncork the Forks

Kids at a burger night at McCall Wines in Cutchogue. (Credit: Randee Daddona)

I’ve written about this before, a few years ago, and the response — not unexpectedly — was mixed. But I still maintain that it’s OK to go wine tasting with your children.

Not at any winery or with any children, mind you. And you need a serious dose of self-awareness to know if you’re the kind of parent who can or should attempt it. But under the right circumstances, I’d argue it’s a good idea and beneficial for all involved. Parents get a little relaxation. Kids learn about local agriculture and responsible consumption. Wineries make some money.

Before we were parents, my wife and I would visit the North Fork nearly every weekend day in the warmer months. We’d pick a handful of wineries to visit, pack a picnic lunch and taste basically from the time the wineries opened until they closed.

Those were the days. (By the way, one of us always spit out our tastes. Always.)

Then we started having children. At times, we were hermits and were lucky to get to one winery a month. Or not even. Since our kids are older now (11 and 6), it’s a bit easier. But it’s also harder, mostly because of lacrosse practice, games and tournaments for our son.

It’s a challenge. But the wines we drink and the connection we feel to those who make them are important to us. Visiting vineyards with our children is important in our lives. You will absolutely see us out on the trail on Mother’s Day — after our son’s lacrosse game.

Despite what some people say — even some within the industry — there isn’t any reason not to bring your children along. My kids, anyway, behave better than at least some of the adults you’ll see in some tasting rooms.

So you can do it, but it requires preparation, planning and some ground rules.

Spit: This isn’t so much a tip as a somewhat friendly directive. Someone — you, your spouse or another adult in your group — must be able to get everyone home  safely. Wineries provide spit/dump buckets for a reason. Use them. Even if I’m not driving, when my kids are with me, mostly spit anyway. Maybe a glass with lunch.  No parent wants to have to explain to a child why they were slurring their words and acting like an idiot.

Come prepared: You know your own kids best, so how you prepare is up to you. Just don’t show up at a tasting room and assume the youngsters are going to sit there quietly while you taste. For my family, being prepared means bringing iWhatevers. Even the best-behaved kids in the world are only going to be so tolerant of a “boring winery.”

Pay attention: Keep an eye your kids. Don’t let them ruin the day for other customers. Don’t let them run into the vines unattended or pick grapes — which might have not-so-great sprays on them. Be aware of those around you. If someone near you is getting sloppy drunk or using inappropriate language, consider moving. Pay attention to how the staff reacts to your children. Do they offer them a glass of water or verjus (unfermented grape juice)? Are they welcoming? You’ll learn quickly if a particular tasting room works for your family.

Know where you’re going: Now, I’ve said there isn’t any reason not to bring your kids to wineries, and I feel strongly about that. But that doesn’t mean you should roll up to just any winery with them. Some tasting rooms just aren’t appropriate for kids, either because they encourage and nurture a Boardy Barn North scene or, at the other extreme, take themselves maybe a bit too seriously. Look for wineries with large outdoor areas for tasting. That’s why we often go to Roanoke Vineyards’ members-only location, Paumanok Vineyards, Macari Vineyards location and Lieb Cellars if there is room on the deck.

Throw the kids a bone: Some might call this bribery, but I like to think of it as a reward system. If your children have (mostly) behaved while you taste wine, do something for them. Stop at Magic Fountain for ice cream or go for a ride on the Greenport carousel.