Experimentation: A Word I’d Like To Reintroduce into the American Wine Lexicon | Catavino
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Experimentation: A Word I’d Like To Reintroduce into the American Wine Lexicon

Children and Wine 2To experiment means to let go of control and to take a risk: to open one’s arms wide to life and to appreciate each and every opportunity provided to you as a means of personal growth and learning. Here at Catavino, we have stood on our high horses for years encouraging you to experiment, not only with wine, but with food, culture, conversation and life in general.

“What wine is your favorite wine?”

Our answer: “The one we’ve never had before.”

It is because of this frame of mind, this mentality, this passion for life that Ryan and I are together as a couple. It is also the reason why Catavino even exists. Every project we embark on is typically one that we’ve never done before in our lives. Create a blog? Host an international conference? Educate on Spanish and Portuguese wine? Move to Spain and have no money, no contacts, no language skills and no job?! Any of these questions will typically be followed with, “Yup, we learn as we go along and rely on the community, both local and international, to lend us a hand when needed.”

I say this because Dr Vino recently posted an article regarding a pamphlet his 6 year old son received from school equating pot and wine as dangerous drugs. To be clear, I agree with Dr Vino that this statement is heavy handed, but I would go further to say that it is also a gross exaggeration. Not surprisingly, work, sugar, pharmaceutical drugs, fast food and various other things can be just as “dangerous” when taken to the extreme. So the argument here shouldn’t be whether wine and pot are dangerous drugs, but whether we should be calling the substances themselves dangerous, or appropriately, the behavior associated with their abuse?

Life is about experimentation and balance. Experimentation is one of the most important values I not only pride myself in having, but is a trait I look for in each and every person I get close to. It is also one of the values that Europeans tend to accept as being human. Therefore, rather than hiding :”tabooed” subjects such as nudity, drugs, money, religion or alcohol, they generally talk openly about it to the point of 4 hour heated debates.

Life is not hidden, it’s accepted for what it is.

“When I was about 4 years old, I first started sipping wine. It was normal to dip bread into a glass of wine mixed with water after school. Aged 2 was the first time I actually remember tasting wine for the first time. It was normal for our family to always have wine around.” – Angel Torbio from Spain

“The first time I tasted wine was with my family was when I was 4 or 5 during a meal. Wine was always a part of my family, so it was quite normal to have it with food.” Filippo Ronco from Italy

“I first tried wine when I was around 12, when my mother and father offered to me some on a Saturday evening. However, I didn’t drink it regularly until I was much older.” Lasse Rouhiainen from Finland

“I really cannot remember exactly, but it must have been somewhere between the ages of 6 and 9. My parents were living in Brussels (Belgium) at the time (1969-1972), where my father worked for three years. Since it is much more customary in Belgium to drink wine with the meals then in the Netherlands, certainly in the sixties and seventies, my parents had wine at their Sunday diners regularly. In those years, (early ’70s) we went on holiday to France too. And my parents bought wine there. Cheap Corbiéres, I think. So either on one of those Sunday meals, or on holiday in France, I must have enjoyed my first sip. My parents allowed me to share in the wine, but diluted it with water.”Mariella Beukers from the Netherlands

“I first drank wine in watered-down form at the age of 8 or 9 with my parents and also with my French Swiss relatives near Lausanne (who are farmers and who produce some Chasselas and Pinot Noir in the Canton du Vaud). I remember enjoying Chasselas especially with hard cheeses such as Gruyeres. Something in the wine’s acidity and steely fruit chimed well with the fat and texture of Gruyeres. This is no doubt my wine-educator rationalization of an early memory. But I remember them going together very well.Edward Ragg from UK

If we as Americans fear that our children will become addicts, then the route to a healthy and normal relationship with wine (sex, work, relationships, money or religion) is to teach them critical thinking skills. A “war against alcohol” will only tempt a child to find out what lies behind the black curtain of social fear, while conversation and good role modeling provide tangible examples of how one makes a healthy choice for themselves as they actively participate in life.

…enormous cross-cultural variations in the way Europeans behave when they drink exist. In some societies, alcohol misuse is often associated with violent or anti-social behaviour, while in others drinking behaviour is generally harmonious. These differences are partly related to inconsistent cultural beliefs about alcoholic beverages, expectancies regarding the effects of alcohol, and social norms regarding drunkenness (ECAS final report, 2002). – Wine in Moderation.eu

This past summer, when stepping off the plane onto Spanish soil, my very traditional brother unexpectedly announced, “Gabby, I just want to let you know that I want the kids to visit wineries with us. I would like to provide them with the cultural experience of being in Spain, meaning speaking a bit of Spanish, eating cured ham, and trying a little Spanish wine.”

Perfectly acceptable tastingMy 8 year old niece eventually did taste a bit of the barrel samples from Bodega Mas Molla and loved the experience, while on other occasions, politely turning away wines that gave off an aroma she disliked, such as cava and port. Her common response to any wine she tried was, “weird”, which is a comment we cherished. Why? Because it meant that she trusted herself to know what she liked and what she didn’t like. And beyond all else, she was willing to be open to life, experimenting in the safe haven of a community that loves and trusts her.

Allow me clear, I am not saying that we should pour a glass of wine for a child and say “belly up”, but I am saying that we cannot make a direct correlation to addiction when a child dips their finger into a glass of wine, smells it, or god forbid, ask questions about it. If anything, it could be argued that the process of being introduced to wine as a child, as seen by the comments above, can help prevent abuse by associating it with positive stimuli rather than negative. Wine becomes an everyday experience, a substance who’s mystery lies in its story, rather than its cultural taboo.

Wine is not the villain. We make wine the villain. Wine is not inherently dangerous and to teach a child such doctrine will only lead to ignorance, fear-mongering and gross generalizations.

Teach children healthy boundaries: to have enough confidence in themselves to know when to experiment. If they feel depressed, frightened or overwhelmed, they should turn to someone they love and trust for help, rather than rely on wine (food, sex, drugs, work, etc) to fill the gaping hole in their soul.

As we wake up at the crack of dawn tomorrow to take a roadtrip to Rioja for the internationally heralded event, Wine Future, I can only hope that we as a global community will start to take responsibility for the way we teach children about life’s choices. Allow us to give them the tools and the confidence to know how to set personal limits, while still remaining open to the magical feeling of discovering life to its fullest. Life is experimentation. There is no manual, and the best we can do for one another is to be honest and open with our experiences.

Please don’t make life black and white for children. Let them learn to choose balance in everything they experience.


Gabriella Opaz

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  • Lovely post. I could not agree more. In my household my wife and I have always allowed our children to taste any wine served at the family dinner table. This has had unpredictable consequences.

    My son is now a bit of a connoisseur. Having traveled with me through South West France tasting all the way, and again in Paris, with dozens of Champagnes under his belt, he only once had trouble with peer-pressure. Tasting good wine made him immune to the binge drinking of his high school and now college friends.

    My daughter is a Champagne snob! She has even developed a tasting vocabulary. And, again, she understands drink as something other than a for-adults-only taboo.

    Wine, integrated into family life, is also a shortcut to many other educational topics. Reading a label we can ask, “Where is this little Italian town?” Or “How is wine made?” “How far can a Champagne cork fly?” “Why does this wine taste so horrible with this pasta?”

    In any event, good post, Gabriella.

  • Kudos Gabriella! I couldn’t agree more with the American notion that we have to hide everything WE see as “taboo.” I was fortunate enough to live in France for several months while I was about 8 years old, and luckily my family members and I were all willing to dive right into the French culture and soak up all we could learn. So while I remember my parents drinking wine and beer (and heaven forbid a cocktail with hard liquor!) back home in the US, it wasn’t until my brothers and I arrived on French soil that we were allowed to taste (and I mean taste, not drink) wine for the first time. My parents never sheltered us from alcohol, they educated us and always had “beer” for us as kids (a nice ginger ale) while the grown-ups enjoyed the real deal. Children need to be educated about things and not sheltered from them, even if they are deemed “taboo” within a certain culture. How else will they learn the positive and negative sides of anything, or in the case of wine or any alcohol, how to be responsible and mature and to enjoy these products, not abuse them?

    Great Post- Cheers!!

  • Gabi (say in nasal Chicago accent). You have totally nailed it. No coincidence that US and GB have binge drinking cultures and the alcohol police nanny states are now trying to implement prohibition as a cure.
    Time to treat the problem not the symptoms but we need the patience of a generation or more which politicians sadly will not tolerate in a 4 year election cycle…

  • Ken,
    You must have some wonderful children.

  • Jack

    Sorry, but no experimentation is permitted in our Prison State. We’d much prefer to keeping having the highest percentage of people in jail in the world.

  • I think schools need to be careful about how they phrase things that are sent home. If I received something like that which mentioned “wine and pot” I’m not a happy camper, but if it mentions “alcohol and pot” then I’m completely supportive. I just don’t think putting ones personal tastes into political discussions of a legal entity for people over 21 is a good idea.

    If the author was sent something about beer being a bad idea, I’d guess he wouldn’t be thrilled about it!

    On the topic of binge drinking, having spent some significant time in Latin America, I’m not sure Americans binge drink any more excessively then the rest of the world.

  • LaVaughn Bye

    Well thought, well put!

  • Excellent post Gabriella, and great quote “wine… who’s mystery lies in its story, rather than its cultural taboo.”

    Raising kids, especially in the US, involves negotiating the extremes of violent TV and video games, sugar binges on Halloween candy, competitive materialism and much more dysfunction. We can only try to gauge when a child is ready to explore the contradictions and think critically about an issue. Wine introduced in a family setting with food and love is a positive experience that should undermine any tendency towards binge drinking and addiction.

    Children need to experiment and taste and make mistakes to learn their own limits. We had dinner with a playmate of my son’s this past weekend, a picky eater who wouldn’t eat some pasta because it wasn’t the long stringy kind. My kids were pleading with him that it tasted great, but a switch had been closed in his mind. Without meaning to scapegoat this kid, he represents for me a narrow-minded certainty that prefers black and white answers. My kids were amazed that he could “know” what he liked without touching it to his tongue. How can we really know anything without experimentation?

  • Andrea

    Awesome post Gabriella,
    I’m appalled at hearing such a pamphlet is being given to kids at school! Hasn’t America realized yet that if we completely shield our children from these subjects while not educating about them that it just has the opposite desired effect? I agree with Mark that binge drinking in youths is not solely an American problem, there’s a huge problem with teenage drinking here in Portugal but what I’ve come to learn from my friends here (who had also binge drank as teens) is that it didn’t matter that they grew up having wine at every meal, it was the fact their parents never EDUCATED them about it. The wine was just always there, nothing said, so it gave them the impression that it was ok to drink it and other things at anytime.

    On the hand,I’m an American and I have been tasting wine as early as I can remember, my parents always let me try a sip of their wine during meals and would EDUCATE me about the wines that they drank and where they came from as well as the consequences of drinking in excess. Because of this, I think it is why I never experimented with alcohol during high school or even before I was 21 and never desired to go to any crazy binge drinking parties during that time (or ever really). Instead, I was more interested in learning about wine and was even allowed to write about the history of the CA wine industry for my HS junior year history final! I even hosted a dinner party my senior year and invited all my best girlfriends for a 4 course meal I had prepared (due to my budding culinary skills) WITH wine selections! My parents supervised of course and the ones who were not driving were free to try some (a small, half glass amount) or have sparkling cider instead. I also educated them about the wines they were trying. It was one of the most memorable experiences for all of them 🙂 And later on when I started college up in NY’s Hudson Valley, my parents came up and we toured around to all the wineries in the region for tastings when I was still 20. Of course some wineries would not allow me to directly taste but most were fine ok’d it as my parents assured them this was for my own education and they were driving! But then remember how disgusted I was at seeing some newly minted 21yr olds at one winery buying wine just to immediately chug from the bottle after!!

    Ok, maybe I might be a bit of an exception to the American youth but I am proof that children will not be doomed to become addicts if properly educated on such “taboo” subjects! I applaud your brother for starting to educate your niece on wine and hopefully her educated upbringing, like mine, will become less of the minority and more of the majority of Americans in the near future 🙂

  • Patti

    Wonderful article Gabriella – I couldn’t agree with you more. We see too much of the damages done when knowledge of drinking any liquor including wine is stifled till one is “legal”. By then it is too late. Go to any college campus and watch the students binge on a weekly basis and so many die from it every year. If they were introduced and allowed to experiment under a watchful parental eye, this would not be a problem. Besides it would make the experience more enjoyable and responsible.

    Keep up the good work, your writing is so much fun to read!

  • Wine is food. Food is life. Wine is life.

  • Cornell

    Great article Gabriella. The following applies to whatever we need to “taste” as we learn and grow in life.

    To taste is to learn, to learn is to grow.
    To never grow means, we will never know.
    Right from wrong and good from bad,
    What makes us happy and what makes us sad.

    How to behave and how to react,
    When to move forward, and when to step back.
    For life requires being able to learn,
    And this starts with a taste of something we yearn.

  • Hi Gabriella:
    Another well written post on a topic we have discussed in the past. And as before, I find myself more of a contrarian on this issue. But it seems to be that more emotion than logic is guiding the debate on this topic. Wine lovers of course don’t want to believe it would be harmful to introduce children to wine. Yet has the issue been critically assessed?

    Let me start by addressing one of your statements: “Wine is not inherently dangerous..” I strongly disagree with this point. Wine is a drug and inherently dangerous, especially to the brain of a child/adolescent. We can just look at AMA research on this matter (http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/no-index/physician-resources/9416.shtml) which concludes there is a definite possibility of permanent brain damage from the early consumption of alcohol. There is plenty of other research supporting this point.

    Gabriella, even the source you cite (Wine in Moderation.eu) states: “Under-age individuals should not drink. Young people are at particular risk of harm from excessive alcohol consumption because it interferes with their growth, nutritional status and personality development.” and “Furthermore, alcohol affects the brain development in young people, thus, drinking, particularly binge-drinking, at any time before the brain development is complete may adversely affect later brain function.”

    Have those who support allowing children to drink wine considered this danger? I have not seen any indication that they have. I believe it is a real danger that should be addressed in this debate.

    Second, where is the research supporting that an early introduction to wine and alcohol is good for children? Gabriella provided some anecdotal support with the quotes from a number of different people. But that is far from sufficient evidence to prove the point. Plus, there is current research which supports that the premise is false.

    Professor John Toumbourou from Deakin University has done much research in this area. He states “his research proved the European model of educating children about alcohol from an early age as a model for reducing binge drinking was wrong.” His research also found that “parents who set rules that forbid their children using any alcohol at home reduce the risk that their children will become alcohol users in their early teens.”


    • Richard, please breathe and reread the post. We never advocated drinking and VERY MUCH do not want to condone or offer up binge drinking as a good idea…

      Truth is many kids “taste” not “drink” wine…and some even drink it…but guess what they still do ok.

      I have a friend too who’s doctor recommended that she have a glass a week during pregnancy to help the childs development. Both of her children are honor students.

      Professor John Toumbourou appears to be neglecting plenty of circumstantial evidence, and the dearth of binge drinking in the USA where alcohol is related to “crack” and other drugs.

      • Hi Ryan:
        I certainly agree that neither you or Gabriella have or would condone binge drinking. But, Gabriella did specifically state wine was not inherently dangerous, and that was the first point I specifically addressed. There was no discussion about the possible negative effects of alcohol on the physical/mental development of children/adolescents. It is a real danger, despite some children who have not sustained a problem due to drinking. Fact is, some children had sustained permanent injuries and that needs to be considered.

        Circumstantial evidence is not direct proof, so lacks the same weight. And where is the evidence there is a dearth of binge drinking in the US? I have seen plenty of articles talking about plenty of binge drinking going on, especially in high school/college students.


  • Richard,

    You make some interesting points, however I’m jumping in to contradict your contrarian post. I don’t think anyone is suggesting children should become regular drinkers of wine, or binge drinkers as described in your AMA report. Alcohol can certainly be a dangerous drug and wine certainly contains alcohol; however the size of the dose is the difference between a food, a medicine or a poison. I read Gabriella’s post to suggest that children should be allowed to taste as a way of experimenting with new flavors and sensations.

    The only mention I could find of Toumbourou’s research was from a blog post that contradicted his findings: . We all know how reliable blog posts can be, but this argument seems to be supported by several studies that supported the European model of educating children about alcohol. These are probably the research studies you were asking for.

    Ultimately this is a very personal issue. It draws on our own early experiences with alcohol, our exposure to binge drinking and addiction, and our hopes to protect our kids from our own mistakes. Despite being introduced to wine at the table as a kid, I certainly participated in binge drinking where I grew up in Scotland. For me the education of children about alcohol is no guarantee they won’t abuse it, but it’s a positive influence to be factored alongside other influences including peer behavior, social attitudes about drinking and access. When I choose to drink wine at the table where my kids eat, I also choose to educate them about wine as I do food and the other simple pleasures I hope they will enjoy throughout their lives.

    • Hi Ian:
      I didn’t see anyone though posting warnings or limits about children drinking either. There are clear potential dangers which I think need to be considered in this issue. Your own case shows that introducing you to wine as a child did not prevent you from later binge drinking.

      Introducing children early to alcohol is not a conclusive way to prevent them from abusing alcohol. There are many other factors to consider as well. And based on those other factors, an early introduction to alcohol could do more harm than good.

      My intent is more to show that this is not a black and white issue for adults. There are potential harms to introducing alcohol early to children/adolescents which need to be carefully considered when making such decisions.

  • Hello Gabriella,
    I must comment on this since I think you have written an interesting article on this subject. I grew up in North America as a child of Portuguese immigrants. I remember trying small amounts of wine as a child. There were always clear boundaries set (how much I could have, that my parents were always present etc.) and that these items were always accompanied by food. It should also be noted that I also drank “café com leite” (coffee and milk) with my breakfasts throughout my childhood.

    Although I am speaking to my own personal experience, I found that as I went into adolescence and young adulthood, I didn’t have the same desire to secretly drink alcohol (when underage) or binge drinking since it held no great mystique for me. As an adult, I believe that I have a healthy relationship with alcohol (and with coffee!) as I enjoy to drink wine in moderation, generally accompanied by a meal.

    I look forward to reading more comments on this topic.

  • Thought provoking. I know exactly what Gabriella is describing, growing up in Argentina and from a very young age at the table we were often given a bit of wine diluted with a squirt of soda. However I’m not sure this attitude to wine (or alcohol) is a Europe-wide thing. Mediterranean, possibly, but just go to the Oktoberfest in Munich and you’ll see a very different side to European drinking habits. There is definitely a north-south divide, with northerners tending to start late and then drink in excess. Even in Spain things are changing, there is a fashion for “botellones”, where kids gather, sometimes in their thousands, simply to drink alcohol. Here in Jerez there is a special area set aside for the botellon. I have seen some hideously drunk kids, unable to walk, and very much under-age too. Not healthy or clever. It’s a complicated thing and I think it goes to the heart of society.

  • Great, common-sense post.

    We have, thank God, 4 kids.

    Wine is a part of our family business, a part of our table-talk, a part of nearly every meal. The 3, 8 and 13 year old sample wine regularly in very small doses, primarily during our Friday night Shabbat dinners. They are expected to comment on what they see, smell and taste, learning to make associations, learning to discern, learning to take positions and debate with the rest of us about what they believe tghey have discovered, what’s “good” wine vs “bad” wine etc.

    Seem like good practice for being out in the world to me.

    Wine for our family is partly religious ritual, partly GPS system for all 6 of us to “tour” the world, part of our family’s business, and

    Wine is NOT the villain – our approach to it and other positive pleasures in life can be, though.. Properly positioned it elevates life, bringing people together across cultures, countries and backgrounds.

    We are put here in part to experience the available pleasures. Wine was not invented by Mankind but merely discovered by us. It’s not-to-be-missed. The best time to get comfortable with it is during one’ youth with one’s parents around the supper table.

    Thanks for elevating the conversation on this important topic!


  • George Sandeman

    Hi Gabriella,

    The issue that you raise is very important. It is deeper than enjoying wine or drinking alcohol. It has to do with the culture of our civilization, “the peoples of the Mediterranean began to emerge from barbarism when they learnt to cultivate the olive and the vine” (Thucydides). Different forms of beer, ale, mead and distilled spirits can be historically traced through the centuries in Europe. Curiously the incident of abusive drinking is also traced through history – along with the advice to drink in moderation “good wine is a good familiar creature if it be well used” (W. Shakespeare).

    Today, the strong pressure to control the drinking of any beverage containing alcohol is largely driven by a northern European culture which harks back to the Viking times. The cultural imbalance between abstinence and abuse has little understanding of “moderation” – it is night and day, with no prolonged sunsets or dawn sunrises. These cultural pressures aim to instill in Europe a legislation that will protect us from ourselves, removing the pleasures of enjoying the flavors and social effects of sharing a bottle of wine and some good food with friends or family.

    Education? Considered ineffective in the struggle to avoid the damage caused by the inappropriate use of alcoholic beverages – the best thing is to restrict, tax, defame, and equate to illicit drugs. In this way the “risk” can be removed.

    But will this legislative environment so desired by these fundamental northerners work? There is a noble experiment launched in 1919, and, which after creating an infrastructure of illegal distillation, distribution and violence, was repealed in 1933. Even today in some countries with monopoly distribution and high taxes the abuse rate is higher than countries with cultures where wine has been part of life for centuries.

    If one is to believe The Devil’s Picnic: (Around the World in Pursuit of Forbidden Fruit) by Taras Grescoe there are teenagers in Norway who cut the gasoline lines of cars to inhale the fumes as an alternative to drinking alcohol.

    The question is (and I am not qualified to answer) : is it alcohol driving teenage binge drinking? Or are they seeking a solution to their problems in alcohol?

    The WINE IN MODERATION program (www.wineinmoderation.eu) is based on the belief that wine, when consumed sensibly, moderately, within a balanced diet, can be part of a healthy lifestyle. We believe that education and information is more effective than legislation, restriction, taxation and prohibition. There is nothing more desirable than the forbidden fruit.

    Wine has been a part of European heritage for millennia. Each wine is a natural, unique product. To ensure its authenticity and quality, European wine is subject to comprehensive and strict regulation from the vineyard to the consumer. Appreciated for its flavors, textures, body, color, nose and variety, wine is the ideal complement to good food.

    Only by savoring wine moderately and slowly can its complex flavors be fully appreciated and enjoyed. Although there are beneficial effects to drinking wine there is no doubt that alcohol abuse and misuse damages health and can cause a variety of social problems. (visit http://www.wineinformationcouncil.eu for more information)

    Teaching our children through example is a more civilised approach than creating desires by establishing bans. However we must be responsible and drinking wine requires maturity so underage people should not drink. It is also strongly recommended to avoid alcohol altogether whilst pregnant. As well as avoiding drinking and driving one should always respect the law on drinking and driving .

    So the next time you open a bottle with family or friends remember that wine has heritage, enjoy the flavors in moderation and be responsible in the way you drink, setting an example to the young people around you.

    Wine In Moderation

  • Hi Gabriella,

    Glad this sparked a lively discussion! It’s an important issue.

    Btw, I just posted some comparative pictures of wine education materials from the US and Italy.



    • Great, I’ll check them out. Thanks!