This past weekend, I received the Chateau O’Brien at Northpoint Winery newsletter in my inbox. Although I no longer live in Virginia (at least at the moment), I still like to stay in touch with the local wine scene. Chateau O’Brien has been a favorite winery, and always a regular on the wine trail when visiting Northern Virginia. Not only do I enjoy their wines, but their hospitality is unmatched. My last visit to the winery, Howard O’Brien pointed us to the second tasting station, due to the large, boisterous crowd of twenty somethings. We were kindly greeted by Debbie O’Brien, who went above and beyond while guiding us through a tasting of current offerings.
The newsletter highlighted several new announcements, including the expansion of the second tasting room. In addition to the upcoming events and tastings, I noticed a small section in the newsletter titled “Howard’s Corner”, with the following statement:
Effective, January 1st, access to the winery is limited to guests 21 years of age and older. We are a family owned and operated winery and place tremendous emphasis on family. This decision was made with the truest interest in the safety of children. There are numerous liability issues that influenced this decision. For the sake of the protecting our family owned business and our children’s future, we were driven to make this change. We are regretful, but it would be more regretful to our family if a child were injured. We sincerely appreciate your understanding and support of this change!
I’m not 100% certain, but I believe this is the first winery in Virginia to restrict access to a winery, or at least so publicly. I did notice over at VirginiaWine.org a child friendly icon available under the “Winery Features” section. Perhaps this is a new movement in the wine industry? I have several friends with young children who regularly visit wineries, a.k.a. big spenders and return visitors. Complete opposites of the twenty-something crowd who are increasingly visiting tasting rooms and turning a quiet afternoon at the vineyard into a forgettable visit. I’m curious to see how my fellow readers feel about the decision…
31 thoughts on “Family Friendly Wineries”
I myself have visited Chateau O’Brian on several occasions. However, I have never taken my children to that particular winery. Not for any reason other than normally that is the last vineyard on our trip and the children are tired. One of us in the party waits in the car while the others taste. My question to this winery is why are they concerned for my children’s safety? Does their establishment not meet OSHA standards of safety? Are they questioning my parenting because I take my children to wineries? Or is it they are concerned of how my children will behave?
First and foremost let me mention my husband and I are very fond of Virginia wineries and have been going to them for years. We both love wine not because of its alcohol content but because of the beauty of wine. The way you feel when you drive up the road to winery. See the vines and know what goes into each bottle. It is the same appreciation you would have for a fine piece of art. This is something we want to pass onto our children. Do museums and art galleries have an age limit? I know my limits and we always have a designated driver when we visit wineries. As far as how my children behave in a winery, you have the right as a business owner to ask any patron to leave at any time. If a parent is not parenting appropriately in your business, just ask them to leave. Do not punish the rest of the responsible parents.
At this point, I feel no need to ever visit this winery again. I feel the van of 20 somethings that come to your winery on their trail of 7+ vineyards and act like drunken fools are far more dangerous and disturbing then my two children in strollers.
It’s unfortunate that Chateau O’Brien has decided to not be family friendly. This particular winery used to be one of my favorites when visiting Northern Virginia; however, I will never visit it again. I feel as though Chateau O’Brien is punishing all families for an incident that occurred at their winery. Obviously, a winery (or any public establishment) is not a place for a child to run around and misbehave. As a mother, I would remove my child from a situation if I felt as though he was disrupting others or there was a potential for injury.
I have to agree with The Other 46, one of the most annoying situations I have been in while visiting wineries is a limo full of drunks being disruptive while others are trying to enjoy their winery experience. The screams and high fives are enough to make even the most loyal wine tasters remove themselves from the situation (with or without children).
If I owned a winery, I would not discriminate against families. Instead, I would enforce rules and recognize when I needed to ask people to leave. Wouldn’t it be wiser to remove those who are behaving in a harmful manner instead of making a general rule that punishes all mothers and fathers? Just a thought.
I’m not surprised with this announcement. We were there with a couple families one afternoon a couple yrs ago. Having been to other wineries where we were free to walk around the grounds (including Napa, Sonoma, the Finger Lakes region, Oregon, and Ontario), we did not hesitate when our sin said he was going to take a stroll nearby. Howard O Brien YELLED at us like we were little children, in front of all the other guests, when he saw our 10 yr old son just walking by the vineyard. Our son was just walking, and not touching any of the vines. We calmly talked to him and explained that we did not see a sign that restricts anyone from going to the vineyard – which was right next to the parking lot. We did not get an apology. We decided to take the high ground and just leave. However, any chance we can, we recount our experiences at Chateau O Brien.
Obviously, I’m swimming upstream here, and I have no love for the throngs of 21 year olds that crowd wineries some days, but what business do children have at a winery? I’ve never been to Chateau O’Brien, but I support their stance. I have no interest in going to a winery just to be tripping over five year olds.
@Tammy In all my years of visiting wineries around the country, I have never tripped on a child at a family friendly winery nor can remember a child being disruptive while I was tasting and/or enjoying the grounds. In my opinion, it’s the groups (not just young people either) that go from winery to winery with the sole intent of getting drunk that are completely distasteful and disruptive.
Perhaps for an instance, you could step outside of your narrow minded box and recognize that there are families that enjoy spending time together. A winery is a great location for a kid to learn and appreciate what the earth provides. It is to be respected by ALL who visit, which includes visitors with or without children.
Lastly, winery grounds are picturesque and provide the perfect setting for a picnic and photo opportunities. I cannot think of a more perfect place for a family to gather and spend quality time together!
Obviously any winery can restrict who visits their tasting room if they’d like. It’s their business, not mine, and it is their choice.
It is also your choice to never go there again — which is the decision I’d make if I lived in Northern VA.
Here on Long Island, there is at least one winery with a restriction like this — and it’s a winery I’ve never been to. There is also a winery at which there was a sign that strollers were not permitted — supposedly a safety precaution. As our little guy was just learning to walk then, they definitely would have preferred him in the stroller. But we never got that far…we walked out.
My wife and I have been taking our son (now almost 4) to wineries since he was two months old. One of us always takes the designated driver role and spits, and we often focus our time on a vineyard-side picnic. I think it it’s important for him to see wine as a part of life, not some forbidden beverage that is meant for intoxication. Our hope is that he’ll have a healthy relationship with wine and alcohol because of it.
And guess what? He LOVES it. He loves our vineyard picnics, is friends with many of the winery owners now and often entertains people in the tasting room. Best of all, we haven’t gotten a single dirty look.
I agree with the comments above — groups in their 20s are much more dangerous (and potentially costly) for a winery. I’ve seen groups like that gulp down piles of wine, not pay for it, steal bottles off of racks, vandalize the grounds…you name it.
Plus, groups like that make me much less likely to visit.
Mom Who Loves Wine, you are as entitled to your opinion as I am. Obviously, we differ, but I can also tell you that your rude personal insult to me will not change my mind. I have nothing against families spending time together, I simply don’t think a winery is an appropriate place. YMMV.
I don’t have a problem with _well-behaved_ kids. MWLW, you must be incredibly fortunate, because in our 100+ Virginia winery visits we’ve seen the full range from perfect angels to threat-level red monsters.
Here’s the thing. Wine tasting is an adult activity. The well-mannered kids I see at tasting rooms are clearly bored out of their minds and look miserable. The rest… I’ve seen kids climbing on barrels in the barrel room, running into people trying to taste, screaming bloody murder, and all other manner of shenanigans. If I want to be surrounded by that while tasting wine, I’ll sneak a flask into Chuck E. Cheese, because THAT is where a kid can be a kid. Or so they say. And I like skeeball.
Now, the Chateau O’Brien policy is a little out there. But then, so is Howard, so no one is surprised. In his defense, he probably had a problem with kids whose parents didn’t insist that the little ones respect the other guests. Working with the public, I’ve learned that parents can get defensive and downright nasty if you DARE insinuate that their little angels aren’t perfect 100% of the time and should stop beating the winery dog/ throwing Silly Bandz at innocent bystanders/ smearing pudding on the wall. He probably had that happen one time too many. I don’t know as that I agree with his response, but it’s his house, his rules.
I personally like Chrysalis’ policy, because we have tasted with friends who have young kids and what Chrysalis requires works really, really well: one parent tastes while the other hangs out with the kid(s), and then they switch off, and then they get a glass, a bottle, a cheese plate, or whatever, and have the family day appreciating all the earth provides, etc. The little ones are way happier because they haven’t had to stand or sit still for half an hour during a tasting, and happy kids are way more fun for everyone.
I agree with G.E. Guy. It seems that most with young children think wineries should allow kids and those without think they shouldn’t. For me it comes down to noise and distraction. MOST times we see kids in wineries they are making some kind of noise and distracting others…and I mean MOST times. I think wine tasting is an adult activity. What ever happened to baby sitters? Why don’t parents get someone to watch their kids while they do adult activities? Just curious.
Oh good lord….Tammy I’m with you. Not every place on Earth has to be family-friendly. Recently my husband and I went to a Beer Festival that was crawling with strollers…..just all kinds of wrong imho. What business do kids have at a winery or a Beer Festival? Get a sitter people!
There’s really not a place in tasting room for kids though. OSHA standards and things that are safe for (unattended) children are very different. Rowdy young tasters can be frustrating and should be addressed accordingly, but I can see the stance here. I think it’d be better served on a case-by-case basis but watching other folks’ children while parents taste is not in the job description of tasting room staffers.
Why is a winery visit an adult thing? Because there’s alcohol there? Does that mean kids shouldn’t go to restaurants with bars? Of course not and I’m sure you’d never say that, but here’s the thing — I don’t go to a winery to drink anymore than I go to dinner with my family to drink. Drinking just isn’t the draw for me and my family.
Visiting a winery — for me and my family — is about getting away from the TV for the afternoon, enjoying great weather, enjoying (sometimes) live music out on the lawn, supporting local agriculture and instilling those values in my son. We do the same thing with our local organic farm (where we are CSA members). We go out, see the animals, support the farm, sometimes enjoy music or cooking classes. It really isn’t that different for us.
To act as though visiting a winery is “adult” because there is alcohol there is just silly. If that’s the case, I guess baseball games are for adults only as well?
This idea of quarantining our children from alcohol is one of the reasons that underage drinking is such a problem. Kids want what they are denied and what is demonized by their parents. I want to teach moderation and that wine is food — something on the dinner table every night. Yes, it’s only to be enjoyed by adults, but it’s not a “big deal.”
And I’d definitely take my son to a beer festival — especially if he were still in a stroller.
I find it fascinating that no one on this thread is willing to address the problem of the drunk 20ish crowds at wineries. They are much more problematic than my kid.
Of course, I know that not all parents are as diligent as we are. And not all of them are as responsible. I think the Chrysalis model makes a lot of sense. A best practice if you ask me.
I don’t think anyone but the Ladies Temperance Union (damn them, sneaking into my time machine!) is saying that the problem with kids at wineries is a “won’t someone please think of the children!!!” purity and innocence BS thing. Wine tasting is an adult activity because it is a deliberate, thoughtful activity. The wine is poured, you look at the color, etc., etc., and you form opinions, take notes, and ask questions. If you can do that successfully while some whelp screams, carries on, and bounces his Tonka truck off the back of your legs… well, that’s you. I get annoyed, can’t devote the attention I would like to the wine, and have a crappy experience.
There is nothing wrong with kids AT wineries. As an example, we had a great experience at a place called Veramar, in northern VA. We did our tasting with other grownups, then bought a bottle of wine and retired to the patio with our picnic basket. There were several families there, and the kids were having an absolute blast running around on the lawn and playing soccer and flying kites. We had a long, leisurely lunch in the spring sunshine, chatted with the parents sitting around us, and really enjoyed the friendly vibe.
Let’s be honest, I don’t think anyone here has said anything along the lines of “children and Demon Rum, oh no!” Maybe some clarification is in order: the tasting bar is not an appropriate place for kids. If there’s a big open lawn area where the kids can blow off steam and have fun, that’s great. If the family wants to have a picnic on the deck or patio, no problem. It’s just asking a LOT of a little kid to expect him or her to not be a distraction to other guest at the tasting bar.
I think the twentysomethings argument is just a distraction from the main point here. One of the problems from a hospitality standpoint – and I say this as someone who has worked in a lot (37) of different jobs – it is way easier to toss an unruly drunk 22 year old from the bar than it is to ask a parent to please mind their child.
Interesting post and comments… My kids (ages 6 and 9) learned more on our vineyard tours in Paso Robles, CA about agriculture, weather, soil (limestone in particular), vegetation (not just grapes), the science of testing for sugars, how businesses work, and community than they could have ever learned in school or from books.
After reading this article and comments, I am so thankful that the adults in charge of the vineyards we visited treated our children like smart, capable human beings who were interested in the vineyard tour, instead of an inconvenience to their business operations.
When we did our tasting, the children had their own snacks and picnic nearby. They still tell stories about the vineyard dogs, the views, and being allowed to run through huge open spaces in the mountains.
We actually live in Virginia and love the family friendly places around here — try Notaviva, Sunset Hills, and Casanel. Some places actually encourage you to bring the family out for a picnic and to enjoy the scenery.
Not sure that I’ll make it out to Chateau O’Brien, but that is OK. To each their own. And like many others who commented, I do avoid or walk out of the places that don’t rein in the drunk-bus-tour-tasters.
G.E. Guy nails it- it’s very difficult to ask a parent to control their disruptive child politely. Adults, whether they act like them or not, are easy to converse with directly and inform that their behavior is unacceptable. The screaming baby, toddler, or 8 year old is a gigantic elephant in the room that is hard to address specifically because of a feeling that has been mentioned already – nobody wants to tell someone how to parent their child. Tasting rooms are not an adult experience because alcohol is involved; tasting rooms are an adult experience because they are created with the express purpose of entertaining adults in an intimate and hopefully relaxing process, not one full of distraction and discomfort. The options for family entertainment are limitless.
You say “Wine tasting is an adult activity because it is a deliberate, thoughtful activity. The wine is poured, you look at the color, etc., etc., and you form opinions, take notes, and ask questions. If you can do that successfully while some whelp screams, carries on, and bounces his Tonka truck off the back of your legs… well, that’s you. I get annoyed, can’t devote the attention I would like to the wine, and have a crappy experience.”
I’d argue — and this is why I keep mentioning the 20ish crowd — that they have been much more disruptive in my experience than any kid. Maybe that’s because I’m much more likely to see a group of drunk 20ish idiots than I am kids at a winery, but the loud mobs of barely-legals, often smelling of beer from the limo and/or cigarette smoke bother me much more and disrupt my ability taste.
Maybe it’d be more helpful if Mr. O’Brien himself chimed in here with his reasoning. We’re just speculating at this point.
That all said, Jackson is rarely in the tasting room with us, even more rarely at the bar itself and only at wineries where we know he’s welcome there. At some wineries, the owners (who he refers to as his aunt and uncle) take him behind the bar to talk to customers.
One other point (that I’m sure will illicit some response)…I think some people treat winery tasting rooms like bars and expect the same experience — no kids, “fill me up” etc. That’s 100% wrong.
Discrimination sums it up. But that’s fine with me, if Chateau O’Brian and other wineries want to discriminate against families, then I will take my business elsewhere. There are plenty of other options on the Virginia wine trails.
I cannot speak on behalf of all parents, but my spouse and I trade off tasting instead of taking our child inside the tasting room. We keep him confined in a stroller outside the winery and let him enjoy the scenery. If it is quiet, we will let him run in the open spaces obviously respecting the vineyard! We also show respect for other visitors and if he even so much as wimpers, we remove him immediately (we do the same in restaurants and other public establishments).
My best advice to those who have commented about getting a babysitter is to respect the decisions of families. Also, it is not fair to label all children as disruptive brats. No two wines are alike and neither are children.
Jake, I’m sure many people are willing to respect families provided they’re shown the same respect that you state you afford other visitors. Unfortunately, not every parent is so responsible and respectful of others.
Lenn, yes, those boozing crowds are obnoxious. We had a particularly memorable tasting in which some boorish loser bleated “will this wine go with hot dogs?” at the group with each pour. I feel you. However, as stated I have also had some pretty lousy experiences thanks to out of control kids. I think they’re very separate problems. Over-indulging adults are an issue anywhere alcohol is served, and while this is unfortunate, it’s expected to happen occasionally. It’s up to the management to encourage responsible drinking, and I think it’s also the reason behind more wineries turning away limos, buses, and large parties.
Regarding the children issue, it sounds like we’re in agreement.Smart, responsible parents who respect other guests (like you and Jake, above) aren’t the problem. I just am really bothered by parents who appear to think someone (everyone?) else will watch out for their kid while they do a wine tasting. That’s called being a bad parent and a bad neighbor.
Hi gang…I posted the first comment on this subject last year…so time for me to weigh in again :o)
I think most of us agree….people (of all ages) should be welcome in a winery as long as they are respectful of others.
I just want to address a few points. I have a 3 & 4 year old….trust me…I need the wine!!! :o) But really, it is such a learning experience for everyone. It is agriculture and local business at its finest….if you just go to wineries to taste the wine…you are really missing out!!!
As for festivals crawling with strollers….when I had children, my life did not end. We do everything together. If we want to go to a festival so one of us can taste then we have the right just as much as you do. I think that is probably one of the biggest problems facing today’s world…..too many sitters, not enough parenting!!!
I have found in my short time of parenting that my kids tantrums sound WAY more loudly to me than they do to others. I am one of those parents that would rather walk on burning coal then have my kids scream in public. So if they start to show signs of a tantrum, I quickly leave. That being said, I really enjoy wine and I purchase a lot of it. In fact, recent studies have shown that 60% of the wine market is controlled by women. Now I would love to see the study of how many of that 60% have kids…I would wager quite a bit. As a businessman or businesswoman….the writing is on the wall. Those 20 something’s are there to get drunk…I am there to try wine. I want to find my “date night” wine, my “my kid made it another year without me damaging them” wine or my “my kids have screamed all day” wine. I want that wine to take me back to the day I went to the winery…with my family…and had a GREAT time.
The main topic of this post is Chateau O’Brien’s restriction of access to their winery to only those 21 and up. Like somebody said before, they have the right. And I have the right to take my business elsewhere. And let’s be honest…. we aren’t missin much!!
You know, Mindy, just like it’s unfair to assume that all kids are brats, just because some are, it’s equally unfair to assume that all twenty somethings are just at a winery for a cheap drunk. Some are — but many aren’t and at least they can legally partake of the primary product a winery has to offer.
My apologies…I left out the 20 somethings “that are carted in via bus and limo” I used to be a 20 something without kids who would visit several wineries with my husband and was not a cheap drunk. But I have to admit….it’s different now. Before kids I could stop at several wineries…starting at 11 am!! Now I can make it to one or two before the kids get bored. It’s nice, I can really experience all that the vineyard has to offer. I establish a relationship with the owners and the wine, which means repeat business.
Interesting post that was brought to my attention via twitter. Glad I read this and the comments.
The first thing I thought of was maybe Chateau O’Brien is concerned with the safety of the children that are in the car of those parents that come and “taste” at Chateau O’Brien. When I say taste, I am suggesting that you do as Lenn Thompson said earlier, designate a driver and spit. I very rarely see anyone spit at a tasting room.
I have seen it with my own eyes visiting vineyards, BOTH parents tasting and driving, and neither spitting. That’s not responsible parenting. Could it be that Chateau O’Brien maybe trying to prevent the unfortunate?
That being said, when both parents are enjoying wine, they may get distracted and loose sight of their children. What if they ran into the parking lot and were hurt in any way, what if the child were to get lost, what if the child were to do damage to the vineyard, like it was suggested in a previous comment when folks were going to take a stroll and Mr. O’Brien yelled. Maybe he had an experience with children taking fruit of the vines and playing with them. As innocent as a stroll sounds, it could become destructive. I have heard stories like that.
I am a new father of a 2 1/2 month old and I hope to bring my son to every vineyard that my wife and I can. I hope to educate him about wine and the responsibility that comes with it. I love the comments that Lenn posted and I hope to copy most of his examples of his experiences with vineyard visits. I hope to picnic, attend concerts and enjoy our wine country on the North Fork of Long Island.
I respect Chateau O’Brien policy and I would respect the policy that any vineyard had here on Long Island in regards to children. There are other places I can enjoy local wine with my wife and let my son have a safe and fun afternoon with us, if you have a policy such as this. While I may be disappointed, I respect it.
I originally commented a year and a half ago and well… my son is now 2 1/2 years old and can instantly go from being the sweetest little angel to the worst tantrum throwing toddler you’ve ever seen. When he was a baby, it was easy to just strap him inside his infant carrier and go tasting. I could NOT even imagine taking him to a winery now, not even confined in his stroller.
I personally could not enjoy myself or the wine tasting experience with my toddler present. I am one of those parents that worries about those around me becoming irritated so I prefer not to even take a chance. Now, once he is older I may have a change of heart but at this stage of the game…I would prefer to stay home, sit in the car while my spouse tastes, or just run in and grab our favorite bottle to enjoy at home.
Now, this family process that Chrysalis has sounds like something I’d be interested in. I’ll check them out on my next trip to Virginia. It definitely should be a best practice!
For the most part, my kid is really good in public and we never have any issues. It is my choice not to take him to a winery, but I respect other responsible parents’ decision to bring their children.
It is also difficult for me to speak on behalf of a winery, so I respect policies whether they are family friendly or not. While it is can be expected for a young child to lose control in public, it is not expected for those wine enjoyers who are 21+ to behave this way while wine tasting. A winery is not a bar and for those who go wine tasting just for the thrill of becoming drunk, they are really missing out on everything a winery has to offer. Just my 2 cents worth.
Half the fun is seeing each winery’s character … some encourage dogs, some have play areas for kids, I think both are fine and trying to accommodate the various situations of their guests.
Personally, now that I am a grandma of 10 I vote for being unobstructed. Popping into wineries is one of the fun things we like to do with our children even when grandchildren are visiting with them. Most have outdoor seating or kids areas and I am old enough to know when it is appropriate to stop and when it’s not. I have never seen a kid gone awry!
Thanks to those wineries who trust us to make the decision to come or not to come for a visit:)
Brian – great post! As timely today, as the day you posted 18 months ago (the true test of a great article).
Since my wife is currently pregnant, this topic has been the subject of some discussion at our house. I am, of course, late to the party with this comment, but perhaps someone 18 months from now will read this and consider the following words brilliant (as I consider them).
First, in the spirit of supporting ones freedom to make their own decisions and not be infringed upon by my sensibilities – I support Howard O’Brien’s right to implement an ‘over 21’ policy at his winery. Since most of our friends (couples) do not have children, this has also been a subject of conversation when we get together. The reason most cited by our friends without kids as to why the small humans should not be allowed in tasting rooms (and other places) is – noise, any noise made by the small humans. Of all the wineries I’ve ever visited, I can not recall one instance where a small human was running around untethered raising havoc. Not once.
However, as someone who flys weekly, I am unusually sensitive to even the slightest wimper, cry, random noise from a child – so I get why some of my friends would prefer no children in wineries. I get that people want to have a good time with out having to deal with someone else’s children (screaming, running around, generally being a kid). As GEG point out above, parents make this very difficult on others because we all think our kids are the cutest little darlins in the world, and we tend to get all offended when someone attempts to ask us to control our kids and stop disturbing others. I get that.
Anyway, with that being said, I will likely not be visiting Ch. O’Brien or any other winery with a no children policy – just a personal choice.
Interesting read over at Hagarty on Wine about our friends at Chateau O’Brien, http://www.hagarty-on-wine.com/OnWineBlog/?p=7254.
A quote from Howard O’Brien, “We want our guests to concentrate on the wines when they come here. I got tired of telling people not to let their kids run around and scream. I’m not their babysitter. My best customers don’t want to see kids in the winery. Ultimately, a winery really doesn’t have anything for kids to do,” explains O’Brien.”
It’s obvious that no one that has posted here owns a winery. I do. You have no idea what goes on, on a day to day basis. To make this short and sweet, parents do not watch their children in general. Most just turn them loose to throw rocks, pick grapes that have been sprayed, get into landscaping, screaming and throw fits, not to mention women breast feeding while at the tasting bar! When I politely ask that the parent mind their child, they tell me to mind my own business which is what I’m trying to do. Yes there are some respectable parents that do watch their children but those are far and too few. We have changed our policy of family friendly winery to adults only thank you very much. As for the twenties drunks, that is a non issue for us. We do not serve drunks. Trying to make us feel guilty for this policy and taking your business somewhere else, won’t work.