Family Frenzy in Wine Country

The Case for Kids and Canines

two small dogs riding in car and out the car window is a very large wine bottle and barrels

 By: Susan DeMatei and Nathan Chambers

Let’s kick things off with a dose of reality. We’ve all been there: it’s a bustling Saturday morning in July, you’re bracing for a packed day at the Tasting Room, and Murphy’s Law is in full effect. Two of your staff are out sick; another is off serving the crowd at an art and wine festival downtown. You unlock the door at 10:01 AM, only to be greeted by a frazzled family of five: mom, dad, and three rambunctious kiddos. The younger two are reenacting a wild-west shootout with gravel as ammo, while the third is glued to an iPad, deep in the latest YouTube Kids saga. Mom and Dad look like they’ve just survived a hurricane, and you have a “high-roller” group arriving in fifteen minutes. And then comes the kicker: “Can we bring in our German Shepherd?” You contemplate if it’s too late to call in sick.

Inclusive is the New Black

  If you have yet to hear, exclusive is out, and inclusive is in. Wine Country is in transition. Once upon a time, parents would leave their little darlings with Grandma and Grandpa for a weekend of serene wine tasting. No screams, barks, gravel fights, or corkscrew chases – just pure, undisturbed, oenophile bliss.

  But the landscape is shifting. Gone are the days when only adults graced the vineyards. Millennials and Gen Z are now our primary guests, and they have an entirely different vision of vacation based on their values and lifestyles.

chart reflecting USA fertility rates 1990-2023

The Millennial Way of Life

  Millennials – the primary purchasers of luxury wines – are adulting very differently than their parents or grandparents. Children are no longer “to be seen and not heard.” They incorporate children into their lives rather than revolve their lives around kids’ activities.

  These choices make sense if you consider they marry later, have kids later, and are parenting differently than previous generations. They marry around 30 (compared to Boomers at 23), and the average age for starting a family is between 30 and 34. With 15 years of a career established, they’ve built a firm adult foundation. So, they prefer to incorporate their kids into their activities rather than revolving everything around the kids. “Helicopter” parenting with structured times and schedules has given way to “drone” parenting, where the kids are encouraged to explore and gain confidence with new experiences. The 2023 Annual US Family Travel Survey revealed that 81% of parents plan to travel in the next 12 months, indicating a robust interest in family travel. (Traveling with the family is one of the major tourism trends in 2024). According to Travheir, 44% of millennials with children have traveled together, and 62% have included children under five. Many parents believe bringing along their children is essential for a child’s development. A recent study by the Family Travel Association found that 88% of families believe travel helps children overcome lingering pandemic impacts.

resident population in the united staets in 2022, by generation (in millions)

What Does This Mean for Wineries?

  With these generational changes, families and even pets will become more common at wineries, urban tasting rooms, and, yes, even at events. What is important to realize is that this isn’t laziness, selfishness, or just that they didn’t want to pay for a sitter. Showing up with kids demonstrates their values. They hold their inclusive belief system dear and will not want to see it challenged. In today’s “cancel” society, you might think twice before telling a feisty mom with a large online following that you didn’t want to allow her child on the patio. A quick search on Google will bring you dozens of outraged parents indignantly waiving one-star reviews.

chart showing resident population in the United States by 2022, by generation in millions

Adapt, Don’t Collapse

  This doesn’t mean you need to completely fold to pressure and allow children to run wild. With some forethought, you can make your experiences positive for well-behaved kids and your best adult guests. Wineries are no strangers to pivoting. Rainy day? Clear the bar for indoor tastings. The large group arrives early? Grab that chilled Pinot Grigio and entertain them in the garden while your team preps inside. The same flexibility applies to welcoming families. Happy parents are likelier to join wine clubs, buy bottles, and rave about their experience.

Planning for the Future

  Embrace the chaos and plan for it. Here are some ideas to make your winery more family and pet-friendly:

•    Kid Seating: There are no bar stools for the kids, but maybe some reserved outdoor tables with snacks like applesauce tubes, pretzels, and water. A coloring book and crayons can go a long way in keeping them occupied.

•    Kid Juice Tasting: Offer kids their “tasting” experience with various juices in plastic cups. They can swirl, sniff, and taste alongside their parents, perhaps even jotting down their impressions.

•    Tour Guide Games: Insurance permitting, why not engage kids with a scavenger hunt during tours? Flashlights in the cellar, leading the group – it’s all about making them feel involved and excited.

•    Selfie Stations: Set up a spot for fun photos, including their dog. Parents can share these on social media, and you can create a winery dog calendar as a special gift for wine club members.

•    Doggie Snacks: Go out with dog snack packs, perhaps from a company like Barkuterie. Consider a small, fenced area for dogs to roam off-leash if space allows.

Embrace the Change

  You survived the visit. The family bought four bottles, the kids didn’t set anything on fire, and they’re off to the next winery. Now, it’s time to reflect: what can you do to be more family-friendly? How can you welcome pets while ensuring everyone’s comfort? With some planning, you’ll enhance your guests’ experience and boost your bottom line.

  Susan DeMatei founded WineGlass Marketing; the largest full-service, award-winning marketing firm focused on the wine industry. She is a certified Sommelier and Specialist in Wine, with degrees in Viticulture and Communications, an instructor at Napa Valley Community College, and is currently collaborating on two textbooks. Now in its 12th year, her agency offers domestic and international wineries assistance with all areas of strategy and execution.

  WineGlass Marketing is located in Napa, California, and can be reached at 707-927-3334 or

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