By Tracy Weiss, New York City/Long Island Correspondent
Photo by Erika Bocknek

TopsidersA wine tasting experience is a sum of its parts. As I sip and swirl and slurp, the wine can only be enhanced or diminished by the elements around me. The silent quaint town of Bouzy on Easter Sunday brought the liquid gold of Paul Clouet’s Grand Cru to legendary status. A simple table wine in Barcelona was elevated when paired with tapas in a rustic café and shared with the restaurant’s owner.

I’m the oenophile who remembers more than the notes or structure or acidity after sampling. My memory is made cementing details of where I was when I tried the wine and whom I was with.

Therefore, it’s a shame the wines I liked from my first trip to Raphael — the sauvignon blanc, La Fontana and cabernet franc — will be marred by the attitudes I encountered from other patrons. I wasn’t speaking too loud of drinking too quickly. For the first time in my long drinking career, my group visited a winery with a new kind of companions: toddlers.

For the record, I am childless. My husband and I enjoy the freedom of going where we want, when we want. So when two of my girlfriends, their husbands and combined three children visited the East End for the first time last weekend, I painstakingly planned the day. Between Nap #1 and Nap #2, but before kiddie dinner, we’d try our luck at just a single winery.

RaphaelWe chose Raphael in Peconic having had their cabernet franc before and because it was nearby. If one of the kids had some sort of break down, we’d whisk them away as to not harass others enjoying their Saturday. We planned man-to-man defense and how we’d taste while distracting tiny hands from shiny wine goblets. From the website, we noted the venue was large and open. I decided wide enclosed spaces were probably safer than allowing munchkins the run of the deck at Corey Creek or somewhere similar.

Armed with some sort of organic goldfish crackers and sippy cups, we were off.

The chandeliers and ‘castle’ atmosphere of Raphael were a big hit with the almost two-year-old twins. I may have spun some sort of lie about Cinderella living there. The wrought iron tasting tables and chairs were a good fit for our group. Plentiful and not very breakable. We penned the 10-month old inside our circle of chairs and allowed him to crawl on the cold stone floor. He loved crossing the empty space from one parent to the other.

I fought my way to the bar and waited patiently. It took a while, as there were only two people to help hordes, but we managed to snag most of the tasting list. As we took our first sips of sauvignon blanc, one of the kids felt left out without a glass of her own. Water was secured and we all clinked glasses, plastic or not.

Glancing around me, I noticed a four top slightly behind us get up and move tables. Then, we started receiving death glares from a couple across the room. I couldn’t understand what prompted this….and I’m usually on their side! As a non-parent and someone who rankles at badly behaved kids in adult-type places, I sincerely couldn’t figure it out. We went out of our way to ensure the toddlers weren’t wreaking havoc on the tasting room. There was no pulling down of wine bottles or throwing of corks. They barely made a peep. Diapers remained clean. Did they disapprove pre-emptively before any nuisances could begin? Or this a deeper-seeded issue?

I am in awe of my friends turned parents. I appreciated how they kept the brood in check without yelling or calling attention. When they couldn’t contain their energy any longer, we took the walking ones outside to run circles around the winter-bare vines. Rambunctious children hanging out in places other than the playground can sometimes cause disaster, but on this day, the little people were better behaved than some of the drunken bus tasters I’ve seen on the North Fork.

If kids are shown how to act when they’re kids, perhaps they’re more likely to understand social graces as adults.

My beef has very little do to with the winery. I was simply surprised by the whispers and obvious annoyance from the crowd. And sadly, when I look back on my tasting experience THAT is what I remember. Not the blackberry blend of La Fontana or the slight rosemary tint of their cab franc.

Do you think wineries are a place for families? Or do you think kids should be banned?