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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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