How family friendly should a farm winery be?
By Doug Fabbioli
I am writing this article for the general public, but also for the winery managers and business owners who wrestle with the same challenges. I still remember going to my first winery as a kid. I was probably about 8 years old, with my parents and other family members. We had visited the Fingerlakes region and toured one of the large factory facilities. I still remember tasting the grape juice they had for the kids: It was flavorful and rich, unlike any other grape juice I had tasted before. This experience did not kick me into becoming a winemaker, but I certainly remember it fondly.
The winery we toured is long gone and the wine industry has changed since the 70s. Today the wineries tend to be much smaller and focused on the adult experience. Some wineries have child friendly areas designated so that adults who did not bring young ones in tow can enjoy their adult experience without kids. As a business person, I recognize that my customers are the wine consumers. Some have kids and some don’t. Some don’t bring their kids to the winery while some do. This being a farm first, I feel it is important to show kids how things grow, where we make stuff, and that farming is a great lifestyle that they can explore further if interested. But this general, ambassador style education for the kids does not fit with the wine tasting experience that their parents will engage. For me to focus on educating the kids does not directly help the wine buying customers. When I do a family friendly program, it does not make sense to teach two year olds about farming or wine. The challenge is that wine is by law and by culture an adult product. My kids have grown up with it in their lives as it has always been my passion and career. They got an inside view the way I did going to my dad’s office when he was working on a Saturday. As they were growing up though, I stressed the age appropriate issue with my kids, and I tried not to involve other people or businesses. I look at Disney, which is arguably the most family oriented destination in the world, but not all kids get to do all the rides. Age appropriate is important there as well as here.
My words on this issue may upset some people, and I may lose a few customers, but I cannot help wondering why it might be appropriate to bring a toddler to a winery. Does it make sense to make a play date with other parents so the adults can drink publicly while somebody, hopefully, keeps an eye on the kids? Even the most diligent parents with the best behaved kids will recognize that a working farm winery can present some safety issues for children. In our age of litigation, common sense is much more important than ever before. Many local wineries and breweries work to keep the kids safe while the parents indulge. We do, as well. Some days, with some parents, our efforts are never enough. In the future, I can see some wineries changing their policies to focus on adults only. That being said, there are some guests over 21 who still need to understand what adult behavior is, and I can see wineries changing policies to address that as well.
Sorry if these thoughts stir things up, but I am hoping we can grow together through our challenges and respect each other through the process. The irony may be thick, but there are layers to all of us.