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 you.” 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 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 your 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. And, I was also a Girl Scout leader for about 10 years, and a Camp Fire leader for another few years.
So, this day delivered a tour with four overly rambunctious boys, whom I quickly called Rumble, Tumble, Fumble, and Bumble in my head.
They 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 from 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.
Below is what we’re trying to avoid in all realms of life, an experience that’s just wrong… even with an adult and a small child in this room… This, versus a child in a tasting room with its parents learning about wine? You decide.
[Image courtesy of the CHIVE Website.]