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Culture,Public Relations,Tales of a Tour Guide,Vineyards,Wine,Winery

Children Should Be Welcomed Here ~ Wine Country

When I worked at Robert Mondavi Winery, I loved all aspects of being there, with one exception. I had a really hard time with the repetition of Wine 101 three to four times a day. I reached the point of feeling like I was channeling Lily Tomlin, doing her Broadway hit of “Searching for Sings of Intelligent Life,” wine country style. I had one lady say to me, “Dear, we can tell that you just love your job.” I smiled and said, “I just love wine country,” keeping it honest. What she didn’t know was that just the day before my husband said to me, after I told him I didn’t know how much longer I could take it, “Your job is to now be a good actress.”

I took a job at Mondavi as a wine educator, so I could get my foot in their PR department’s door. The first interview told me all I need to know, though. After the interview, I was told that I was over qualified… The job being offered was equivalent to what they called “a glorified clipping service.” I was told that I’d “become bored so quickly that we’ll lose me.” Instead of letting me get my foot into that door, they hired an MBA fresh out of college. I planned my escape, and told them what I was doing. Within a very short amount of time, a director of public relations job opened up at Ironstone Vineyards, and off I went to work for a job in the Sierras. Most of it was done through telecommuting and I was back to traveling 60,000 miles a year around the US.

Now, back to this one particular day that offered me great joy and a diversion from what had become so challenging for me to say, “Welcome to Robert Mondavi Winery. My name is Jo, and I’m going to be you wine educator for the next hour.”

I need to preface this, also, with the fact that I love children. So much, in fact, that I spent years as the director of Androscoggin Day Camp for Girl Scouts in Maine. I even created a “Boy” unit in my camp, because the volunteers also had sons. I felt that they shouldn’t have to be left behind, and they created a nice little unit within the camp. I simply adore children.

So, this day delivered a tour with four overly rambunctious boys, whom I quickly called Rumble, Tumble, Fumble, and Bumble in my head.

There were decidedly not happy about being in wine country with their parents; and frankly, if I were a 10-year old boy, I’d be jumping all over my buddies, too, instead of looking at an expertly positioned trellising system with stressed vines.

I began, not with my usual shpeel, but instead with….

“Well, what have we here? Four young men who are pretty awesome to let their parents do something other than Disneyland! Please help me, Ladies and Gentlemen, to welcome these wonderful young boys!”

I started applauding, encouraging with body language that everyone else join me… In others words, “Get your eyeballs back into your heads, please, or we’re all gonna wish we had stayed home today.” (Everyone’s eyeballs had shifted up and to the back of their eye sockets as they watched these kids, realizing they were all about to share the winery tour from hell.)

As an adult tour guide for adult subject matter, I had to do some really fast gear shifting. I reached way back into myself and returned to that director that managed 200 kids each day, completely leaving the adults behind… for a few minutes, at least.

Looking right at them, I said with a smile on my face and in soft voice, “Thank you, Young Men, I know how hard this is. There’s nothing here for you, and this is about to be so boring. But I have to thank you all for being on your absolute best behavior, giving this special day to your parents, who have given so much to you all of your lives. Aren’t they wonderful, Ladies and Gentlemen? Please help me in thanking these adorable young men for being so selfless and generous to their parents!”

Lot’s of applause… and we hadn’t even started yet.

As we went form one place to the next, before I’d begin to talk about whatever segment of winemaking we were covering, I’d start with, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please help me again to thank these young men. Haven’t they just been the best kids you’ve ever met?”

Lots of applause, winking, and smiles.

Ah… we dodged the bullet!

When the adults were enjoying their wine tasting, I ran to the back room, got non-alcoholic grape juice, brought it out for Rumble, Tumble, Fumble, and Bumble, who had now collectively had become Humble, and it was drinks all around.

At the end of the tour, when everyone had left, the parents and boys remained. The mother said, “My sons and I want to thank you. They told me that this was the most fun they had had in a long time, and they learned some things, too!”

It’s amazing what a little spotlight can do…

If you’re a tasting room manager, I suggest that you find out whom among your staff loves children. Put that person in charge of anyone who walks through the door with kids. I know that I was an anomaly at Robert Mondavi. My colleagues would come back from tours telling horrible stories about how ill behaved kids ruined their tours. Yes, it’s the responsibility of the parents to have their children be well behaved, but not everyone takes that responsibility as seriously as others do. If it’s your tour and the parents are lax, or if they’ve visited a couple of places before yours, their guard will be down a bit. Tasting room people are the commanders of their ships, and you will have to navigate through troubled waters occasionally. It will benefit everyone if tasting room people have a few life jackets handy for this one.

Debating about whether or not children belong in wine country won’t solve anything… Not when the kids are standing right in front of you. What’s the motto of both the Boy and Girl Scouts? Be prepared?

If children are included in adult pleasures that are constructive, they’ll learn how to behave well in the process of enjoying anything, including wine, in this instance.

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8 Responses to “Children Should Be Welcomed Here ~ Wine Country”

  1. Bravo! Great, actionable advice to wineries, so many of which are in need improvement.

    Just last month my sister-in-law’s family (mom, dad, and two girls 8 and 10) went to Napa. They had asked me for some recommendations on where to go. Of all their stops, only one was mildly accommodating of the kids and one was downright inappropriate. For a good laugh on how not to do it, read the last section here http://tinyurl.com/napavisits

    Cheers!

    Steve

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, Winethropolgy.

    I need to make a list, this seems obvious.

    When I worked at K-J, we blew up helium balloons first thing in the morning, and handed them out as kids arrived.

    A Napa gem is my friend Julie Johnson of Tres Sabores. She’s got sheep for kids to pet, chickens scoot through her vines, she’s got an organic garden with lots of flowers. It’s a working farm, and kids have a ball while at her winery – Tres Sabores, Ole!

  3. gdfo says:

    Excellent and well done. I like kids, especially, well done.

    I have to wonder though what were those parents thinking?

  4. Patrick Llerena says:

    Job well done, Jo! Parents deserve to be able to enjoy a visit and that often means bringing the kids along. I totally disagree with wineries and wine events that have an “Absolutely No One Under 21 Years” policy. We should show by example that wine isn’t about alcohol abuse and getting drunk. It is a part of life – as children are. The presence of kids also effectively shames many people into behaving like human beings instead of drunken buffoons!

  5. Jo Diaz says:

    gdfo, Thanks.

    The parents were thinking… “Wine” not “whine.”

    Some people are born loving children, and will do anything and everything for that generation. Others, were sadly like my own parents. They have unprotected sex. Once the kids are born, it takes the village to raise those children, and the parents are just ill-equipped.

    It isn’t right and it isn’t wrong. It just is. Some of us make it out all right, and others can’t bear the pain.

    I don’t wait around for people to do what I might think is right. I just get it done, and see the children of the world as one of my responsibilities, when it’s time to step up. This story is one of those moments. Perhaps the parents also got something out of it… like, children are very manageable when given a little positive attention. ;^)

  6. Jo Diaz says:

    Patrick,

    Well done by you! I agree with all that you’re saying. Parents do need to enjoy themselves, and these – most -probably, had I not taken control early on – would have had to take control eventually. They would have, though, missed all that they could/did learn about vit, enology, and tasting Mondavi’s wines. (So would everyone else have, too.) I had a job to do and I did it. It was actually a lot of fun. I’m betting that Mondavi may have been a highlight of their trip, simply because they were able to relax for an hour.

    I hate (very strong word that I rarely use) the No One Under 21 policy, too. We SHOULD show by example, because wine has been part of life since the first grape fermented. And, yes, perhaps it make other adults be more respectful of the process… Something I hadn’t thought about, but appreciate the heads’ up on that one.

  7. G.E. Guy says:

    I think you showed an amazingly deft customer service skillset there, and that part of the story is great. But as a winery visitor, I’m frustrated by parents who bring their kids and have no real intention of keeping them in line. We had this discussion amongst other Virginia wine lovers when a local winery enacted an incredibly strict policy of no one under 21 on the grounds, ever – including throwing out the 19 year old designated driver! Ridiculous. But, he had had a problem with disruptive kids and he, as the owner, dealt with it in the way he thought was appropriate.

    You’re to be commended, but I think it’s important to remember that first and foremost it’s the parents’ responsibility to keep their kids behaving appropriately so everyone else has a good experience. It shouldn’t be your problem, or mine, or anyone else’s. If the kids act up, the parent should do what mine would have done and remove the child, wait until the kid can be calm and civilized, and come back and finish the tasting. Yes, it inconveniences the parent, but hey – they get the good memories too. All we get are the memories of how that kid acted when s/he was in the same tasting room.

  8. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, G.E.,

    I agree with it all, in many regards. I, like you, raised my kids to be polite.

    In instances when that doesn’t exist, wineries should have a plan B in effect, so everyone has a great time.

    I think banning kids is pretty radical, and the easy way out. I’m a firm believer that it takes a village to raise a child.

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