(This story appeared originally in the 5/27 issue of Dan's Papers)
Some teetotalers might disagree, but to many, Long Island wine country is the perfect destination for any sunny afternoon – whether you’re single, a couple, or a family. But with so many events and happenings planned all summer, some wineries are much more family friendly than others.
What makes a winery family friendly? Donavan Hall of Rocky Point says, “the key for a successful winery visit with our two-year-old son, Trevor, is wide open spaces and plenty of verjus (unfermented grape juice) and cheese,” when talking about his family’s favorite destination, Jamesport Vineyards. “Trevor had something like four glasses of verjus while we were tasting (wines). We stayed at Jamesport for almost two hours, talking with people and playing with Trevor. The atmosphere there was very friendly. They even turned up the tunes and we started dancing, something Trevor loved.”
Jamesport Vineyard’s owner, Ron Goerler, takes pride in his winery’s family-friendly approach. “We have a big back yard where families can bring picnic baskets and Frisbees and hang out amongst the vines. We also have live music on the weekends, which families love.”
Bob Palmer, owner of Palmer Vineyards and president of the Long Island Wine Council, considers his winery one of the most family friendly because, “we have a number of events designed to attract families, with free hot dogs with a $1 soft drink purchase at our 4th of July and Labor Day celebrations.” Palmer Vineyards also offers hayrides through the vineyard in the fall and Palmer, like Goerler, encourages picnics on the lawn all year long.
When asked why welcoming families and children is important, Palmer answered thoughtfully. “These are important events because the children of today are the wine drinkers of tomorrow. And, it helps show children that there is nothing wrong with moderate wine consumption.”
As the winery with the most active events calendar, it’s no surprise that Martha Clara Vineyards has a lot to offer families too. In addition to kid-friendly features, like a petting zoo and horse-drawn carriage rides, events like this weekend’s, “Make Peace With Animals,” which features retired racing greyhounds, are great draws for kids of all ages.
Chris O’Reilly of New Hyde Park thinks that events are key to a good trip out east with his two kids. “The special events are ideal so that there are other distractions for the wee ones. Regular wine tasting is an invite for trouble with bored kids. But, I have to commend most of the wineries for welcoming our family and making our daughter, Corinne, feel welcome.”
O’Reilly also cautions parents about going to the busiest tasting rooms on summer weekends. “(We usually avoid) the ones that are (crazy busy) in the tasting room. The off season and any day when you’re not shadowing a tour bus are our ideal trip times. It also helps to know what your kids’ limits are and how they interact with a roomful of strangers.”
Laurel Lakes Vineyard is another Long Island winery that keeps families in mind, offering free soft drinks for those under 21. The building and grounds are big and easily navigated by strollers and young children. Children are also welcome to join their parents on vineyard tours, where they can even participate in grape clipping and other vineyard activities.
Some wineries do shy away from encouraging kids to visit their tasting rooms, however. One winery spokesman commented, “they (the winery owners) are sensitive to the idea of mixing children and alcohol. They do not feel comfortable encouraging children to visit when the focus is on alcohol. They prefer to market their winery as a place for mature visitors to enjoy their tastings, occasional live music and picnic area.”
In the end, the best way to find out if a winery is family friendly is to call and ask. Most seem to be open to it, while others actively encourage it. After all, many of Long Island’s 30-plus wineries are family owned and operated. Family is important to them as well.
For a list of Long Island wineries, visit the Long Island Wine Council’s website www.liwines.com.