Pairing Otterpops and Uncrustables

“Golf’s big problem: No kids.  Still intimidating for beginners, the game isn’t attracting young people.”  Now that’s a Wall Street Journal headliner you’ll never confuse for a reference to the wine industry.  Can you imagine reading “Tasting room’s big problem: No kids?”  Of course not, although fledgling wine drinkers are often intimidated.  But it’s really the kid part that sounds so audacious.  Because, let’s face it, nobody chooses to wine tour with kids.  They are a cumbersome afterthought, dragged from one tasting room to the next like a whining, complaining, cheerio-encrusted white albatross.  And I understand.  You never even intended to bring them in the first place, until suddenly you had a babysitting crisis or crisis of mindfulness that made gutting it out at a winery with three kids seem like a terrific idea.  Generally I’ll mislead and betray my own kin to lessen the blow:

Start with, “Hey kids, we’re going to a farm!  You guys love farms!”  The forced peppiness is requisite.

“Will there be ponies?”  (Darn it!  She always asks that one, and it always ends badly).

“No, no ponies,” I continue gamely.

“How about cows?  Or chickens?”

“No and no.  This is a very, very special kind of farm.  A grape farm.” 

Be prepared for glum resistance, crestfallen faces, and occasional sobbing.  My kids usually regain composure after they’re strapped into the car.

The other plausible misrepresentation is to play out the picnic scenario.  “Hey kids, we’re going on a picnic…at a winery.”  Armed with coloring books and plenty of candy for bribes, my kids and I have covered much of the Russian River Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Alexander Valley.  But with summer around the corner, I am not sure my one-year-smarter kids can still be baited by last year’s “grape farm” hoax.

Fortunately, Francis Ford Coppola seems to like my children, even if I don’t.  He is reinventing his namesake Geyserville winery as a family friendly enterprise.  It’s scheduled to open July 4thand is just one freeway exit north of our Healdsburg home.  Construction appears on schedule, and a job fair to hire over 100 people was advertised in our local newspaper.  However, exact “family friendly” details have not been fully disclosed.  But to be fair, in the past year, the winery has hosted both Halloween and Easter events as well as the starting corrals for the Healdsburg half marathon.  Friendly stuff.  Once opened, the new facility promises two wading pools with rentable changing cabins, a big courtyard patio, poolside bars, a stage, amphitheatre, and eventually bocce ball.  According to the paper, Mr. Coppola envisions folks “playing freely and joyfully throughout the property” with “music and dancing and puppet shows.”  The winery will even host the summertime Geyserville Neighbor’s Farmer’s Market.

It’s easy to be snarky.  Hey Mr. Coppola, what wine do you pair with goldfish crackers?  Yeah, well what about the colored ones?  Do you provide child care so I can ditch these pipsqueaks and actually enjoy the place?  Are those “uncrustables” or palate cleansers?  But this is the first I’ve ever heard of a winery actively recruiting families.  And it sounds like a smart marketing campaign to me.  The focus is on his more moderately priced wines.  And really, what parent couldn’t use a glass of wine on a weekend afternoon, when our kids don’t have school for entertainment?  In fact I will risk being a pariah and state that most moms will spend more money at wineries that accommodate or even tolerate our kids (low expectations, friends).  I for one maintain an ongoing mental tally of which wineries provide kid-friendly amenities like paper and crayons, old legos, or cookies and crackers without being asked.  I am not expecting Disneyland, but please spare me the disdain.  I don’t always like my own kids either.  I’ll offer up this real life occurrence as proof.  On a recent date night at Dry Creek Kitchen, our favorite Healdsburg sommelier Drew suggested a pinot noir from Arista Winery.  “Oh I know those guys,” I interjected.  “They gave my kids otter pops last summer.”  And yes, we ordered their wine.