In response to a recent San Francisco Chronicle piece about wineries in Napa and Sonoma no longer allowing minors, Adam, Joanna, and Zach explore why those regions have gotten much less kid-friendly, and whether parents should be able to bring their children along with them wherever they want.
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Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: I’m Joanna Sciarrino.
Zach Geballe: In Seattle, Washington. I’m Zach Geballe.
A: This is the “VinePair Podcast,” Monday edition.
J: Monday edition.
A: I never said Monday edition before, but I felt like — it felt good.
J: Just reminding yourself.
A: Yes, feels good. I’m excited about today’s topic but before we get into it, Zach, what have you been up to, man? What have you been drinking?
Z: I did a thing that I don’t get to do all that often, which is convince my wife to try not one, but two bottles of Pinot Noir. Caitlin is not a big Pinot Noir fan. It’s not her favorite variety. Her general complaint about Pinot Noir that counts to some extent is it’s just too light-bodied for her. She likes a more medium to full-bodied wine on the red side, but sometimes the opportunity arises and we had a family gathering and a charcuterie cheese appetizery deal, so it was not a full-on sit-down meal exactly. The tone of the thing was– it ended up being Pinot Noir-centric. I had a couple of nice bottles both from Oregon. One from a winery, Love & Squalor, their Temperance Hill Vineyard Pinot, and then the other from Big Table Farm, which is one of my favorite producers down there, and this was from I think the Sunnyside Vineyard, if I remember correctly. It was really nice. I really enjoy Pinot Noir. I do have to find my opportunities. Sometimes it’s when I’m out with people who are not my wife, well, if it won’t be out yet– because again, I don’t have to convince her that it’s worth drinking. Just a delight. I love ones from Oregon a lot and just a nice wine because it’s great for that setting too, where there’s a lot to eat, but you really have time, at least in my experience, to think about the wine, enjoy it. For me, at least, good Pinot Noir, you need to be able to devote some attention to. To me, it’s not a wine you drink while you’re doing other stuff because then you’re missing the point. At least as far as I’m concerned. It’s a complex grape and I like to give it the consideration it deserves, at least in my opinion, so that’s what I’ve been drinking.
J: Zach, do you ever get wines by the glass?
Z: When I go out? Yes, from time to time, for sure. We are generally– when we go out, there’s a lot of bringing bottles of wine because we have a lot of it at home and the only way I will ever be able to get more wine is to drink the wine that we already have, that’s actually why I get the wine all the time. The way I convince myself is that if we drink the wine that we currently have. Actually the funniest one is we bring, a lot of times there’s a pizza place near us. It’s very kid-friendly, which for us is a plus and we bring bottles of wine every time and literally every time– and we’ve probably been in a dozen times in the last two years or something. They’re like, “We do charge a fee for bringing your own wine.” I’m like, “Yes, we know, it fine.” It’s $10, which is hilarious to me that they’re like– the servers are always embarrassed to bring it up, but I’m like just– whatever. Sometimes when I’m out, I’ll get a glass of wine. I would say not that often. I’m more of a bottle of wine or cocktails kind of person but sometimes it’s just the thing you need and when you’re getting– It’s more often not when I’m out with Caitlin, but when I’m with other people and it’s just not convenient to solely rely on bottles.
J: Do you ever do the corkage fee thing, Adam?
A: Once in a while.
J: For celebratory occasions when you want to bring your own bottle? It’s just so expensive here.
A: So rarely. I mostly do– We talked about on Friday, I’ll go to Peking Duck House or something like that and bring fun wines where they’re not going to charge anyways. It’s very rare that I’ll go to a fancy restaurant in New York and pay the corkage. I don’t know. I don’t like dealing with the somm. I feel like they’re judging you for what you brought. “Oh, what did you bring that’s so special that you could not pick from our list?”
Z: Oh, 1000 percent, they are.
J: Oh yes?
Z: Oh yes.
J: Funny that makes sense.
A: I don’t need that baggage, man. I don’t need that attitude so I don’t do it. I like these wines, I’ll drink them at home. I don’t need you to judge what I think is a special bottle compared to what’s on your f*cking list. No, I don’t do it.
Z: I think ….
A: I love that Zach just confirmed for me, “Oh, that is 100 percent what’s happening.”
Z: Oh, if you bring it into any-
J: $10 at a pizza place is different, I think.
A: Yes, totally.
Z: If you bring in a bottle of wine to a restaurant with an extensive wine list, sometimes by judging I should just say it, the somm is going to take a look at what you’re bringing in because they’re, if nothing else, curious. I think it’s one of those things where if you’re paying 30, 40, 50, or who knows more dollars to have that bottle of wine opened, there is that thing, too, of how nice of a bottle of wine are you bringing in to make that added on top worth it versus opening that bottle at home and getting something off the list at a restaurant. Which is why corkage fees exist to some extent and why they’ve continued to go up and up in price because I think they are a way to disincentivize that behavior in a lot of cases. It’s also the case of people sometimes just– It’s baffling to me the things that people would bring in and be willing to pay a fair bit of money to have me or someone else open just so they didn’t order off the list. Including a few times where I was like, “You are paying more for this wine than we would’ve charged– between what you paid retail and the corkage, for what this wine would be on our list, which seems like you’re just making a bad choice here.”
J: I haven’t thought of that, interesting.
A: Joanna, what are you drinking?
J: I had a really good cocktail recently. We went to a new restaurant downtown and had a cocktail with gin along with vermouth, cucumber, ginseng, and absinthe. I think Douglas fir, there was some sprucy, furry note there and that was really good and was served up in a Martini glass, but that’s the extent of my cocktail drinking this past week after the holiday, and I had some mediocre wine.
J: Nothing to speak of. What about you, Adam?
A: I’m in your same boat. I’ve had a dry week this week, or this past week. I felt like Thanksgiving we had a lot of fun and then I had my brother-in-law’s engagement party the Saturday after Thanksgiving, so this entire week I have abstained. I guess going back to when I had a really nice bottle of Hirsch Pinot Noir that I’d say for Thanksgiving. Also at my brother-in-law’s engagement party, his soon-to-be father-in-law is a– I don’t want to call him a tater, maybe a tater in training.
A: He is a big bourbon collector, and he’s getting into it. It’s really interesting, I guess.
Z: Adam, would you call that a tater tot?
J: Oh, my God.
A: Maybe he’s a tater tot.
Z: Sorry, dad jokes are my–
A: He used to be a big craft beer guy and then I guess switched to bourbon when he retired and really likes the hunt. That’s how he got into it, he’s one of these guys that he’ll find out that a store in Vermont has this one bottle and he’ll drive the three hours to it to– if they’re on vacation in Vermont, he was telling me and then he’ll go get the bottle.
J: He’s a dusty hunter. Bourbon hunter.
A: He seems to be into it. It’s one of his things he’s into, which is cool. He had some fun bottles that he opened up, including some really rare Russell’s Reserve stuff. We drank some interesting stuff from Willett. We drank–
J: Zach’s favorite.
A: We also had some really cool Old Forester that’s been on our list before I couldn’t get him to open any of the Pappys. I tried.
J: They’re not open.
A: I was just like, “Come on, your daughter’s getting married.”
J: “Share this with me.”
A: That didn’t happen. It’s fine. I’m not upset about it. I’ll try again at the wedding.
J: It’s done.
A: That’s about it. I think this is a fun one today because I also think it’s very, well I’ll say that–
J: Is it fun?
A: We’ll see.
J: I think it’s interesting.
A: We’ll see what you think fun is. San Francisco Chronicle reported this past week. The headline was very click baity, so click baity some people, some wine writers we know wouldn’t like it because it’s so click baity. Basically, the headline was, Wine Country has never been more inhospitable to children.
J: It’s less kid-friendly than ever.
A: More inhospitable. That’s how I would’ve written it. Anyways, the piece basically looks at what has happened since the pandemic and how wineries in California, specifically, have tightened their policies even more to ban children from being at the winery. Anyone under 21 cannot be at the winery. I think, first of all, I want to say this discussion is focused on California wineries because I know a lot of wineries in other regions of the country where this is not the case. If you go to the Virginia wineries, there’s kids everywhere.
Z: It’s really focused on Napa and to some extent Sonoma.
A: Yes, it is. Napa and Sonoma. It’s focused on Napa and Sonoma. They look at Napa– I guess fine wine regions. They basically say that children have — as Covid hit and reservations became more popular and now what you’re seeing is that a lot of these wineries are not going back on the policies that they had instituted and used Covid almost as an excuse to institute these policies in the first place. There were wineries that always wanted to go reservation-only. Covid allowed that to happen. They’re stating reservation-only. Wineries who always didn’t really love the idea of kids because there was complaints from other patrons, now there’s this excuse to just keep kids not invited. Initially, it was because kids couldn’t be vaccinated. Basically, it was like, “If you can’t be vaccinated, we don’t want you here.” Now it’s just like, “We don’t allow kids at the winery.” There has been some pushback from parents. The thing that the article talks about the most is the trend amongst our generation which is we take our kids everywhere. Millennials have decided that the kid is the new accessory and basically you take the kid to do whatever it is you were going to do. I think in a lot of cases, that is very true. There are some parents that are upset about this, that are like, “This isn’t fair. I want to be able to go wine tasting, but also bring my kids. I don’t want to have to plan a vacation to Wine Country when I’m in my 40s and also a parent at that time, or 30s and a parent, and have to arrange babysitting or have this be an adult-only trip or whatever. “I want to be able to bring my kids along too. This prevents me from doing that and makes this something that I will maybe not do now. I’m going to be less willing to go to Napa or less willing to go to Sonoma if I can’t bring my kids.” I think it’s an interesting conversation to have because I see both sides of this.
J: Me too.
A: What’s really interesting to me is I thought about this when I proposed this to you guys as a topic this past Monday, a friend of mine WhatsApped me. She was like, “Hey,” she’s in Europe. She was like, “Hey, I’m coming to New York for a week,” she used to live in New York, “and I want to see all of my friends and I want a place where I can post up for three to four hours and just tell my friends I’m going to be here and they can come by and see me. By the way, a lot of them have kids. Where should I go?” I immediately suggested a brewery.
J: Oh my God. Me too.
A: That was the first — I was like, “Hey–”
J: I was like Houston Hall?
A: Yes. Finback. I suggested Grimm. If she’s in Williamsburg, I suggested Torch & Crown, all these places were breweries. She was like, “Oh, that’s awesome. My friends are going to love that.” It’s funny that I immediately thought about that. Wine, because I think it’s so different, you don’t ultimately think, “Oh, I would suggest a winery or would ultimately want to see kids at a winery.” I dont know. I’m curious, because again, like I said, I think there’s a lot to talk about here because I do see both sides. What do you both think about this?
J: As the person with kids, why don’t you jump in, Zach?
Z: Sure. I actually don’t see both sides to this and I think I’m going to come down on the side that you might not expect, which is that in places like Napa Valley, don’t bring your f*cking kids. I’m serious about this. I love my children. We do a lot with them. We are 100 percent those parents who, I guess, treat our kids as an accessory. They come do a lot of things with us. We also recognize that part of having children, especially young children, is that you don’t get to do everything you want to do as a parent. You don’t want to deal with– if you want to go to Napa Valley, you want to go to the fancy high-end wine experiences that they’re putting together now. Leave your kids at home or bring them and find a babysitter or something. The entire world does not need to be open to children and to parents with their children. Many things are. There are many great wine regions that will, as we talked about, gladly welcome you in, whether it’s Virginia, whether it’s other parts of California, whether it’s here in Washington State or the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Basically anywhere that’s not Napa and some of Sonoma. If you want to go spend $150 for an experience at a winery, your kids can’t come. That’s okay. I don’t think this hand ringing about I wanted to put together this elaborate event and pay for a driver and set up all these tastings and whatever, but, Oh my God, I have to pay for a babysitter for my kid? This seems ridiculous to me. Even as someone with kids who is generally tolerant of children in a lot of places and does think that there are places that it’s good to take your children from time to time, whether that’s a restaurant that isn’t super kid-friendly. You don’t want to take them somewhere that is actively hostile to children, to occasionally to cultural events, things like that. Kids need to learn how to behave in those spaces. The only way to do it is to put them in them from time to time with guidelines and the willingness to walk out if you have to, because the kid won’t behave. A really high-end wine-tasting experience is just not that space. It’s just not for kids. Trying to make it for kids when the space doesn’t want to be for kids is I think a f*cked-up entitlement that a certain set of parents tend to have because they decide that when they have children, all of a sudden the world has to bend over backwards to accommodate them. I think that is not purely our generation thing. I think it has existed for a while, but our generation definitely seems less willing than ever to accept that having children involves any level of let’s say compromise on what you do and do not get to do, especially when those children are young. If you want to take your 15-year-old to Napa and find something for them to do during the day, fine. Bring your 17-year-old and make them drive you around. I don’t know. Leave your 4-year-old at home. That’s what I would do. We wouldn’t go there. We’re not taking a trip to Napa with young kids. It’s just not happening.
J: I think what’s smart about– and the article covers this, is that there are a number of places that have family days once a month or have certain allowances and acknowledge that that’s something that people want to do but generally don’t allow children. I think that’s a smart approach because what I was thinking of here was after two really hard years of the pandemic, can these places really afford to lose the business that they might lose by not allowing children? I know we’ve talked about how tasting rooms are changing and the experience is more premium now and they’re charging more. I don’t know, it struck me as something that would be maybe not smart from a business point of view, but then I guess if there are a number of people who are complaining about the children, then they’d be losing their business too.
A: I guess they can afford it. A lot of these places aren’t going back on it. They have happier customers. I guess the thing I think about here — First, here’s why I think kids in theory could work but don’t. This is America and I think there’s a lot of different parenting styles here. In other countries where maybe there’s one more dominant parenting style, for example, France where a lot of the kids all are raised in the same way. They are taught to behave in public in a very different way from a very early age in terms of when they’re already taken out to eat and things like that. Maybe you can expect that most children will be behaved and the parents will know the children aren’t behaved when they take the child away. I think the problem with the U.S. is that — You see it all the time in restaurants. There are always the parents that know when to take the child up from the table when they’re throwing a tantrum and leave the restaurant. They’re the other parents that let the kid run rampant in the restaurant.
J: Cry it out.
A: Cry it out, run rampant. They think that’s because they’re enjoying. We saw it in the airport on the way back from Italy where there were these two American parents who just let their kid run all over basically the restaurant that we were sitting in while other people were trying to relax for a flight because they wanted to have their own meal, which isn’t fun to anyone else when the kid’s coming up to them. I can see that at the winery. If you’re paying $150 and there’s a kid who decides that they want to get to know you and walks over and wants to chat. It’s great the kid’s adorable, but that’s not the experience you want to have at that–
J: That you’re paying for.
A: That you’re paying for. The only way that I could see that this at all would work is if there are either of these designated family days, but it has to be very clear. If I want to go to the winery on that day, I need to know very clearly that there’s going to be a lot of families there. You do what happens at some of these fancy resorts where there is a kid-designated area.
J: I was thinking that too.
A: It is a cheaper tasting. It is outside. It is in this designated area where there’s games and things like that. You’re not going to get to taste the highest-end wines because we also can’t have that one-on-one experience with you. It’s not fair to the staff either to have to try to interact with you and you’re also trying to parent your kids. If you want to come here and have a glass or two of wine in our gazebo, maybe that works. One of the wines I can think of like that in Napa would be something like Ashes & Diamonds, right Zach?
A: They have this huge outdoor space that looks like a brewery. You know what I mean?
J: That’s the aesthetic they’re going for.
A: I think that’s what they’re trying to encourage. The kids should not be allowed inside at all, not even to go to the bathroom. There should be another place where you take– no seriously, where you take the kids. It’s a designated area that doesn’t cross through that room inside that they have that’s very fancy and that is very expensive. That’s the only way I think it works or else you have to think about both sets of people. In a fine-wine region like Napa and Sonoma where the goal is not just the tasting, it’s getting people to sign up for the wine club, the experience is just as important as the wines they’re tasting. If that experience is ruined because you get that one family that doesn’t know when to take the kid away.
J: You don’t get the repeat business.
A: Yes. Maybe that family doesn’t come back either because they were just there to get a break, man. I think the wineries clearly have realized that there’s more payoff to not allow children than to have allowed children in the past because they’re clearly not going back.
J: I think as long as there are ones that do and that’s nice and people can go to them then that’s fine.
A: Yes, but it doesn’t have to be the fancy ones.
Z: I think the other piece of this to remember, the experience that people are having in Napa and Sonoma by and large setting aside children, in general, is already a very exclusive experience. Given the price point, given the difficulty of securing reservations in some places, given the just general challenges of the cost of lodgings in Napa, et cetera, that region as a whole has already decided, “We don’t really care about being– we’re a wine region for either the very wealthy-
Z: -or the people who want to have a splurge on a trip. In the same way that I bet there are lots of– Adam was talking about resorts. I am sure there are plenty of high-end resorts that I guess maybe they don’t technically forbid children from being there, maybe some of them do, but I do think that it’s not set up for that. Why would you want to pay for a child to be there? If you have the means to do that, find another thing to do with your child or wait until you can find something to do with your child. I come back to this whole piece of even you the parents are not really going to enjoy yourself. I don’t think if you are harried, you’re trying to keep track of a potentially unruly child, you’re feeling bad about the fact that they might be ruining someone else’s experience. Why do you want that for yourself? Find a thing to do. I don’t think it has to be exclusive to wine. I think there are plenty of places that are great places to take kids and whether it’s– Adam, you brought up Europe and we took Saul to a number of wineries when we were in Europe; granted, he was very little so it’s not like he was doing much but they’re also not set up for $150 tasting experiences with very few exceptions. It’s a different vibe. It’s like going to Virginia or the Willamette Valley or something. It’s pretty caj. They just are great. The tasting often is just like– the tasting room such as this, it’s just a table and there’s some bottles of wine. It just isn’t the same scope as what Napa in particular is setting out to do. In the same way that you would generally not take your children to a two- or three-star Michelin restaurant because it’s also not fair to the kid. Who expects a kid to sit through that? The thing about the tasting experiences in Napa now, too, is they’re an hour-, hour-and-a-half-long investment of time. They’re going to a meal, which is great. It’s what they’re setting out to do but that’s just not a reasonable thing to expect of a kid, I guess, unless you stuff them in front of a screen but why are we doing this? I have sympathy on one hand, obviously, as a parent. It sucks to realize that things you might want to do are closed off from you or more difficult to do. It has come up many times on this podcast before. Caitlin and I don’t get to go out to dinner as often because we have kids but we also didn’t– that we knew that when we had kids and we had to take them out sometimes. It’s actually delightful occasionally because especially Solomon, our older child, learns to look forward to those experiences when we go somewhere nicer. He understands that it’s a different expectation and it’s fun to share something that we both love and care about with our children. One day that might be wine and it already is sometimes. For a long time, it might be less fancy wine experiences. Then when he’s old enough to legally do it and if he wants to take a trip to Napa, then we’ll figure that out, or when he and Lila are old enough we’ll all go as a family and we can do that. Just to say that we should be able to bring our children anywhere we want just because we want to, again, it’s not– who is it good for? It’s not good for anyone in that exchange I don’t think.
A: Yes. I agree. I think it’s one of these things where it’s tough to say but it just, it is what it is.
J: It just makes a lot of sense, though.
A: Yes. I don’t know. All these things, I get that you have the money to also do it but it’s being a thoughtful consumer. You have the money to do this thing but for someone else, while they have the money to do this as well it might be more of a stretch. This might be something they saved up for for a very long time and you ruining their experience just because you also want to have the experience is not a nice thing. I think it’s within the rights of the winery to say, “We are going to not allow this.” I think if you’re a thoughtful person then it’s a different thing but most people just aren’t.
J: When it comes to their families.
A: Yes. Therefore they wind up putting themselves first, which is basically human nature but then you wind up ruining someone else’s experience. Again, for the winery, it’s all about the experience of every guest so that they get that sale and they can’t risk it. Maybe even if that family was going to buy– everyone in that family was going to get signed up for the list, it doesn’t matter if three other or four other tables walk out without signing up because they had a bad experience because there was a screaming child.
Z: The other piece of it, too, is you also have to look at it from the winery standpoint on this, which is a very clear cut “no one under 21 policy” is much easier to enforce than a case-by-case like, “Here we allow kids but only–” I get what you’re saying about sequestering them in some sense and maybe there are ways and certain spaces to do that. It is, I get also, just so much easier to draw that very clear discrete line and say, “This is a place where we sell and serve alcohol. It’s for people who are old enough to legally consume and purchase it only and it doesn’t matter to me.” You don’t have to start being like, “Well, my 15-year-old is really well-behaved, or they’re just going to sit and look at their phone the whole time anyhow. Who gives a sh*t?” I get why you might be inclined to try and finesse that but it’s just– like I said, from a business standpoint, from an operation standpoint it’s just so much simpler to say, “This is our policy and that’s it. We look forward to welcoming you in whenever and your children in when they’re of legal age and that’s that.” Again, there are things that I would like to do with my children that I cannot because they are not old enough in whether legally or just developmentally, but that’s just the deal. Hopefully, Napa Valley’s not going anywhere, so that trip to Napa will be there in the future whether it’s for you and your kids when they’re old enough or you when you can get it together to find someone to watch your children for some amount of time or whatever. I don’t know. Like you said a bunch of times, there are lots of other wine regions that would be happy to have your business and will gladly find something for your kids to do and you’ll pay less money and probably have a nice time without all the rigamarole.
A: This brings me back full circle, though, to the initial question, which is, should we be allowing kids at breweries? Because I wonder if part of the reason that a lot of these parents feel like they can bring their kids to the winery is because they can bring their kids to the brewery and no one ever says anything. I get that it’s a very different experience and a $7 or $8, or maybe not $9 or $10 pint of IPA is very different than a $150 tasting. You can also see how for some consumers, they don’t make that connection. This is a place that makes beer and lets me bring my kid. This is a place that makes wine and should let me bring my kid.
Z: I do think the fundamental difference besides just the cost of the beverage being consumed is the tenor of the experience.
J: The atmosphere.
Z: The closest a brewery will come to a tasting is you can get a flight of beers. Get a flight of taste. I don’t think any brewery in the world, maybe I’m wrong, email@example.com if you know of a brewery that’s done this. There’s no one that’s like, “Here’s our $150 tasting with your walk-around tour of the tanks and stuff.” I just think beer is so different. I don’t doubt that you’re right, Adam. I think that some people who have gotten used to being able to freely bring their children to taprooms and stuff like that are like, “What do you mean I can’t bring my kid to the winery? Why is that any different? I can bring him to the brewery.” I do think that from the brewery standpoint, they don’t have the same business model. They want to sell pints on-site and maybe some stuff to go. They’re not trying to sell $1,000, $2,000, $3,000 club memberships where beer gets shipped to your house every month. They want everyone who will come to be there and if it means that they have to put games in the corner for kids to play with and there’s people running around, well, sh*t, there’s dogs and kids and who knows what else going on in the average brewery. Also, there are some breweries around me at least that are 21 up that are like, “No kids.” Some that are no kids and no dogs, which to me feels like a bold stance in the craft beer world.
A: Yes, no dogs?
Z: This brewery is very particular about their house yeast strain, and I guess they’re concerned that dogs would bring yeast in. I don’t know. That’s their policy or maybe the owners are just really allergic to dogs. I don’t have any idea. The point is there are breweries that do exclude minors. I think maybe for licensing reasons in some cases, but they are few and far between. I don’t think that there’s any reason why we should be telling the breweries, “Well, you’re f*cking it up for Napa Valley. You should cool it on the letting kids in thing.” I think that would prompt two middle fingers and rightfully so.
J: I think it’s an easier comparison to fine dining, like you said before. It’s a luxury experience. You’re spending a lot of money on it. Again, maybe there are luxury beer experiences out there that I’m not aware of, but I think more generally.
A: I agree. Let’s know what you think. Hit us up at the podcast at vinepair.com if you agree. If you don’t agree if you’re a winery that has a policy or doesn’t, that’d be really interesting to hear. I’ll talk to you both on Friday.
Z: Sounds great.
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