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Anna Thompson walks along the vines at Roanoke Vineyards in this photo from 2013. (Credit: Lenn Thompson)

Anna Thompson walks along the vines at Roanoke Vineyards in this photo from 2013. (Credit: Lenn Thompson)
Anna Thompson, the author’s daughter, walks along the vines at Roanoke Vineyards in this photo from 2013. (Credit: Lenn Thompson)

Back before we had children, my wife and I would visit the North Fork nearly every weekend day in the summer. We’d pick a handful of wineries to visit, pack a picnic lunch and taste from when the wineries opened until the closed. We had all the time in the world. We were living the life.

Then we started having kids.

Everything changed. Mostly for the better, of course, but we still long for those fancy free BO (before offspring) days.

Our kids are 8 and 3 now, and at various points in their lives we’ve lived the lives of hermits (the “Awful Threes” are far worse than the “Terrible Twos” as far as I’m concerned) and just not taken them anywhere – winery or not. But we’ve also enjoyed great days together at local v.

The wines we drink and the connection we feel to those making them are important to us. I hope that we can take them out even more this summer.

Here’s what how we’ve learned to make it possible — and even enjoyable — for all involved.

If you’re worried about what people might say about you taking your kids to a winery – don’t. Wineries aren’t night clubs. There is no reason not to take your kids with you. My kids behave better than many adults you’ll see in a tasting room anyway. If they have a problem, it really is their problem.

Here are my five tips for parents visiting wine country with little ones in tow

Spit: This isn’t so much a tip as a somewhat-friendly directive. Either you or 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, if my kids are with me, I’m careful about how much I drink. No one wants to have to explain to their kids why they were slurring and acting like an idiot.

Come Prepared: You know your kids better than I do, so how you prepare is up to you. Just don’t show up at a tasting room and think you’re kids are going to sit there quietly while you taste. For my family, being prepared means bringing baseball mitts and a ball, lacrosse sticks and ball, maybe a kite or two and lots of snacks. Even the best-behaved kids in the world are only going to be so tolerant of a “boring winery.” We even bring iPads in case of emergency. 

Pay Attention: Pay attention to your kids. Don’t let them ruin the day of other customers. Don’t let them run into the vineyard unattended or pick grapes off of the vines. Pay attention to those around you. If someone is getting sloppy drunk or using inappropriate language near you, consider moving. Pay attention to how the staff reacts to your children. Do they offer them a glass of verjus (un-fermented 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 said that there isn’t any reason not to bring your kids to the wineries, and I feel strongly about that. 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 end, take themselves maybe a bit too seriously. Look for wineries with large outside areas for tasting, that’s why we often go to Roanoke Vineyards, Paumanok Vineyards, Macari Vineyards’ Cutchogue 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 kids have (mostly) behaved while you taste wine, do something for them. Maybe stop at Martha Clara Vineyards where you can keep tasting, but they can enjoy feeding the animals. Stop at Magic Fountain in Mattituck for ice cream or go for a ride on the Greenport Carousel.

Lenn Thompson