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Not So Kid Friendly Wineries, Pink Boa Wearing Bachelorettes, and the Mermaid Winery High Chair Kerfuffle

Finally.  It’s done.  The Election.  The day after — known to many in the middle as Liberation from Hypocrisy and Mud Slinging Day.  Whew.

I have trouble remembering the days before many of my friends polluted Facebook and Twitter with their partisan political pontifications.  Since so few others call my home phone, I wondered this morning over my bowl of steel cut oats (allegedly one daily serving of this stuff will improve cholesterol) if I would miss the eight to ten robocalls each evening to let me know that Governor Romney or President Obama is lying and will destroy this country, the world, and even the galaxy.  And, without all the political junk mail reminding me that Governor Romney or President Obama will be saving or ruining the world, I wonder what I will read with my morning intake of cholesterol-reducing oats.   Guess its back to The Atlantic and NYT for me.

For readers outside North America I offer the following for context: Here in the U.S., election season turns our friends — who otherwise appear sane the rest of the year — into partisan, hypocritical crazies that lose their ability to critically think, enthusiastically slopping up any cutesy talking point or statistic that supports their distorted, one-sided narrative and shines a positive light on their candidate of choice, all the while lusting for any piece of news that depicts the other candidate negatively.

“I never consider a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

The crazies I speak of are easily identified with a quick skim of your Facebook News Feed — many are still at it a couple days removed from Election Day.

In the spirit of the season, I too would like to get in on all this opinion sharing action.  In sticking with the theme of this blog, I won’t be sharing any myopic political rants.  Instead, I’ll keep it to wine and share a topic that is near and dear to me, and one that evenly splits my wine friends — bringing children to wineries, or, wineries that prohibit small humans from entering their sacred grounds.

I feel the need to clarify what I mean by bringing kids to wineries.  Like most sensible parents, we want to be welcomed at wineries — with our kid in tow — to enjoy an afternoon with a glass of wine and conversation with friends, or to attend a winery event.  I do not mean, brining the kids to a winery so they will have a place to run around like little hellions while mom and dad get hammered.

Before our family expanded last May, my wife and I were regulars on the Virginia wine trail, roaming the routes along the rolling hills of central and northern, Virginia, once or twice a month.  And, because of my work travel schedule we were able to visit the Sonoma/Napa area of California a couple times a year.

As every parent knows, a baby does change everything and the first thing to go is non-essential activities like spending long afternoons on a winery patio, taking in vineyard views, sipping a glass of wine while chatting with friends.  The days of roaming the routes along the rolling hills of Virginia wine country once or twice a month are over for a while — well, at least until Kinley is safely out of the meltdown and random loud squealing stage.

I personally have no problem with my little angel’s meltdowns or squealing, but realize others may not be as fond of her expressions of emotion, especially in a place like a winery where people tend to go to relax and enjoy a glass of wine.

Toddler tantrums are the primary reason many of my wine friends cite for not wanting children allowed at wineries.  Many of the wineries that I’ve encountered that do not allow children also cite the same potential disruptive factor.

I get that, but submit that more peaceful afternoons at wineries have been disrupted by roving herds (pun intended) of pink-boa-wearing bachelorettes than any type of rowdiness caused by children.

Of the roughly 200 wineries/cellar doors/tasting rooms that I’ve visited — in seven countries and about a ten states here in the US — I can count on a couple of fingers the times I have witnessed a screaming baby or unruly child running around a winery unsupervised terrorizing patrons.  I have however, on dozens of occasions, had a peaceful and relaxing winery visit interrupted by disorderly bachelorette parties.

Though I am not a fan of the boisterous bachelorette parties, I do feel these folks have a right, as do children, to freely visit wineries.  Not surprisingly, many winery staffers loathe the bachelorette parties but allow them (to disturb everyone else) because, well, they spend money.

There are of course some wineries that try to limit the number of bachelorette parties by not allowing groups over 4 or 6 people and prohibiting buses and limos on their property.  I’m not aware of any winery that has directly prohibited bachelorette parties, but there are wineries that have taken a more direct approach with children.

Chateau O’Brien at Northpoint in Northern, Virginia is one such winery that does not allow children on premises.  Brian Kirby, author of The Other 46 blog (on Twitter: @TheOther46) wrote a piece in February 2009 on Chateau O’Brien’s new (at that time) policy limiting access to the winery only to visitors 21 years of age or older.

In their newsletter, Chateau O’Brien cites the truest interest in the safety of children and the associated liability issues as the reason for their decision.  Eye roll.  My first reaction to their ‘numerous liability issues that influenced this decision’ cop out is to call BS.  However, since I have never invested one penny of my own money in funding a winery operation, have never devoted even one drop of sweaty equity to running a winery, and have no clue about matters of insuring such an enterprise, I put the ‘ol BS card away.

I respect the O’Brien’s right to operate their winery the way they feel is best for their family.  I hold the belief that small businesses like Chateau O’Brien are the growth engines of our economy and entrepreneurs like Mr. O’Brien that take risks by investing their capital and sweat equity to start a business, should be able to write the rules of their operations.

Though I respect the O’Brien’s right to operate their winery any way they choose, I am also keen on exercising my rights of choice — which in this case means not supporting wineries like Chateau O’Brien that have policies I do not like.  For this reason, I will never visit Chateau O’Brien while their no-kids policy is in effect, I will never purchase their wines, and I will never include their winery in a list of wineries to visit in Virginia (which I receive many such requests for).

I should note that I have not visited Chateau O’Brien to personally to test enforcement of their no kids on premises policy, but I assume this policy is enforced given all the liability concerns. If any readers are aware of a policy change allowing children at Chateau O’Brien, I will gladly amend the aforementioned.

For wine enthusiasts out and about in Virginia wine country looking for a winery where there is no chance of being accosted by a rambunctious toddler, Chateau O’Brien may be a good choice for you.

Other wineries are subtler than Chateau O’Brien in their not-so-kid-friendly approach.  Take Mermaid Winery — which bills itself as Virginia’s first urban winery — in the Ghent section of Norfolk, Virginia.  Just a few weeks ago my wife and I decided to revisit Mermaid to take advantage of their burger and glass of wine for $10 special.

Though the burger and wine were great, our decision to visit Mermaid turned out to be one of more frustrating dining decisions we’ve made in a while.

My entry to Mermaid Winery went something like this…  I walk in to the winery with my baby daughter on my hip and was greeted by a lady behind the bar, “Can I help you with something?

Me:  “Yes, we would like eat outside on the patio.”

Lady behind the bar:  “The hostess will help you” giving a head nod toward the young lady standing at little counter adjacent to the front door.

Hostess lady:   “How many?

Me:  “Two and a highchair.”

Hostess lady:  “We don’t have highchairs…” followed by a squinty-eyed look of incredulity as if to say… ‘O to the M to the G, these suburbanites have dared travel outside the city limits of soccermomdom to be amongst the sophisticated and enlightened folk of the commune of Ghent with their tiny human spawn in tow, who will no doubt be running around like a little hellion terrorizing all of our valuable sophisticated customers.’

Since my wife frowns on public displays of dissatisfaction, I firmly clinched my tongue between by top and bottom incisors, and followed the young lady out to the patio to where my wife had the foresight to sit her suburbanite ass at an empty table since several other parties (likely sophisticated Ghent DINKS) were arriving.

Though I kept my mouth shut, I wanted to ask the nice lady how the hell they could not have a highchair or a booster seat considering Mermaid Winery is more of a restaurant than a winery at this point.  No doubt, such a question would have been lost on her.   Oh well, they are now on my list!

Kinley on patio at Mermaid Winery. Stand and eat little human…

Still at Mermaid Winery… Kinley searching amongst the vines for a high chair.  I’m happy to report that this toddler harassed no Mermaid Winery patrons on this particular visit.

For wine enthusiasts in the Tidewater area that have children, I would recommend the hour drive east, across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge tunnel to visit Chatham Vineyards or Holly Grove Winery on the Eastern Shore.  If you are in search of a local winery, Mermaid is your only choice.  I recommend you consider piling the kids in the minivan — invite the neighbors kids too (the more the better) — and setting your GPS to Mermaid Winery in Norfolk.  Please be sure to tell them Frank sent you! :)

Chateau O’Brien and Mermaid Winery are not alone in the not-so-kid-friendly category.  According to the online Virginia winery guide maintained by the Marketing Office of the Virginia Wine Board, just 117 of Virginia’s ~229 wineries are designated as Child Friendly.  Pfff!

Some of my favorite kid friendly Virginia wineries are: Breaux Vineyards (on Twitter: @BreauxVineyards), Keswick Vineyards (on Twitter: @KeswickVineyard), Early Mountain Vineyards (on Twitter: @EarlyMountain), and Tarara Winery (on Twitter: @TararaWinery).  Please check the VirginiaWine.org list for a complete list of kid friendly wineries.

Wineries — please share your thoughts on why you do/do not allow children on premises.   If you do allow children or encourage family outings at our winery, please share any challenges associated with allowing kids (reports of terrorized patrons, injuries, etc.)?

Consumers and wine blogging friends — I would appreciate your thoughts on this subject.  Do you feel bachelorette parties are more disruptive than children that you’ve encountered at wineries?

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