I remember the very first winery my hubby and I ever visited, on our very first trip to Sonoma, because we joined their wine club. It happened again the very next day at another winery, we joined another wine club. Within the first year of living in San Francisco and frequent visits to Sonoma and Napa, we became members of at least three wine clubs, and rotated yearly after that, averaging about three wine clubs at a time. It became an addiction of sorts. Really, it was more of an excuse to make more regular trips to wine country to "pick up our wine shipments”.
Now that I don’t live so close to a major wine region (as in close I mean a comfortable driving distance for a day trip), I’m left wondering what the value is in joining wine clubs for folks, like myself, who don’t get to reap many of the benefits of joining a winery's club (I’ll get to those later). And it seems lately that not just wineries have clubs anymore. Everybody seems to have a wine club, from publications like Sunset Magazine, Food and Wine, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, to independent wine club companies. Basically there are an unlimited amount of opportunities to sign up and receive regular shipments of wine from multiple sources…. So how do you chose which type is right for you?
Recently I was sent a sample of a typical wine club shipment from a non-winery wine club to review, the International Wine of the Month Club, and it got me thinking about many of the differences between various types of clubs and their features. Let’s break them down.
Winery Wine Clubs:
Winery wine clubs typically work like this. You visit a winery’s tasting room, fall in love with their wines, and are offered membership into their club. Membership is typically free and comes with little commitment. Basically you commit to receiving at least a few regular shipments of their wines (this differs from winery to winery, it can be monthly, quarterly, or even twice a year) and then you may cancel at any time with no penalties. By joining the club you may receive the following types of benefits:
- Discounts on wine (on average anywhere from 10%-20% off retail price)
- Waived tasting fee whenever you visit the tasting room (often for yourself and up to 4 guests)
- Discounts to special events
- Invitations to club only events
- First crack at new releases
- Wine club only wines (meaning special bottlings only sent out to wine club members)
- And more...
In my experience this type of wine club is most beneficial if you live near said winery so that you can take advantage of special events, dinners, etc. You also are invited to pick up your wines at the winery instead of having them shipped, thus saving any shipping and handling fees. I always loved visiting the winery to pick up my wine club wines because it gave me a good excuse to taste the new releases in their tasting room, at no cost. The kicker was that I always left buying more than just my wine club wines (that’s how they get you!).
The other type of person this works for is if you do not live near the winery but love their wines and cannot get them where you live. It is important to note that even if you see a bottle or two of XYZ Winery’s wines at your local wine store in your home state of Arizona it is likely that they do not carry their entire lineup of wines. Many wineries make a variety of small production wines that rarely see the outside of their state let alone the winery, so by joining their wine club you are more likely to receive shipments of these rare and smaller production wines.
The Other Kind of Wine Club: Non-Winery Wine Clubs
These types of wine clubs are pretty straightforward. You sign up at their stated price and receive shipments of wine on a regular basis (monthly, 6x/year, etc). Each company has their specialty (rare and hard to find wines, wines from only CA, NW wines, etc.), and work to find different variety to send to their members on a regular basis. After receiving your shipment you may be offered the opportunity to purchase more of the wines you were sent at a discount for that month.
I was a member of a similar type club for a few years (Bounty Hunter Rare Wine & Provisions) and had no complaints, but honestly found it more exciting to be a part of a winery’s club, mostly for the added benefits. Plus, for someone like myself, I LOVE visiting wine shops on my own to discover new gems. But I know many people who are intimidated of shopping for new wines this way, so for them wine clubs may be a great way to get introduced to new wine styles.
Why to join this type of wine club?
- If you like exploring different types and styles of wines and are looking for variety for your home wine cellar.
- You find a trusted source and really like the wines they select.
- If you want to give a gift to a wine loving friend (most wine lovers won’t turn their nose up at the gift that keeps on giving…. wine).
Word of warning, just do your research first to find out if this club really provides wines that are worth it. Or just email me and I’ll check them out for you.
Example of this type of wine club: The International Wine of the Month Club
According to their website:
“Each month, members of The International Wine of the Month Club receive internationally selected wines from two separate award-winning boutique vineyards, accompanied by our informative and entertaining wine club newsletter. Choose to receive either two reds, two whites, or one red and one white. We offer three different membership types, The Premier Series, Masters Series and Collectors Series.”
I was recently asked to review the September shipment of their most popular club, the Premier Series, red and white wine. I must admit I was quite impressed with the wines and presentation. I have been weary of clubs like this in the past, wondering about the legitimacy of the quality of wines they feature, but from my initial observation of this club, they are doing something right. And the fact that they have been around since 1994 with 98% customer satisfaction speaks for itself!
They have multiple levels of membership, basically you can chose what type and price range works for you, and start receiving shipments of their selected wines, accompanied by their newsletter. I was also pretty impressed with the content of their newsletter. Not only did it provide some good background information on the wineries, winemakers, and the wines sent, but also background on the varietals (in my shipment this was Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon), and useful tasting notes, recipes, and information on how to order more of the wine if you so chose.
Not only can you find this information on the newsletter, but their website is pretty thorough and you can find the same info on all past shipments of their wines going back to 1999. Rarely do you even find this type of information on even a winery’s website. Looking at some of their past featured wines, I found that they really do try to specialize in some smaller production wines that you are not very likely to see at your local wine retailer.
What about the wines?
I really enjoyed both wines I received as a part of their September shipment for the price point (which would have been $29.95 for the two bottles).
Domaine Talmard Macon-Chardonnay 2009
Chardonnay is made all over the globe, but for me some of the best quality Chardonnays come from the Burgundy region of France, where it is unlike any other region. This particular wine comes from the Macon, in the southern region of Burgundy where you can find some great values on crisp minerally Chardonnays.
The wine is clean and crisp, with minerals, floral notes, and fresh lemon and lemon zest filling the nose. In the mouth the wine remains fresh and crisp with more lemon and fresh green apple. Overall I kept thinking how “fresh” this wine was, reminding me of springtime with flowers and bright lemon scents. For all you folks out there skeptical about Chardonnay, I always say “drink white Burgundy then call me in the morning”, and this would be a nice representation of that style for a great price point.
Food pairing: Would be good with a light salad topped with chopped roasted chicken and a lemon vinaigrette. Stick with the fresh springtime theme (even though it's fall, I won’t tell).
Cannonball California Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
The Cannonball Cab hails from California. According to their website, a cannonball “is the perfect symbol of freedom. Legs tucked beneath you, soaring through the air - that uninhibited spirit is the soul of Cannonball wines.” In addition, their mission is to consistently deliver the best Cabernet Sauvignon for under $20.
Dark bold black berry fruit on the nose with black cherries, pepper and sweet spice (cinnamon? allspice?). Initially the mouth had some powerful acid and tannins with tight dark fruit, and a little rough around the edges. However, after noticing this I realized it just needed to breathe a bit, so I pulled out my Vinturi Aerator… if you don’t have one of these, and you notice a similar taste to your wines (especially a younger, bold red like a Cab), just decant it first, or open it a couple hours before you intend to drink it to allow it to breathe. Believe me it will make a huge difference.
After aerating the wine, it definitely changed. It became a little fresher, more open, with more variety of berry notes. The mouth became softer, more round, and the tannins were still there but had definitely mellowed out and became more smooth. My favorite thing about this wine was that it makes you crave more wine (as opposed to craving a glass of water which often happens when I drink a young bold red). There was just something about the wine, a savoriness, that made you want to go back for another drink, then another.
Grapes: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Syrah, 3% Merlot
Appellation: California (63% Sonoma,19% Mendocino, 15% Napa, 3% other)
Food pairing: If drinking now, this wine would be best with a good cut of meat to soften those tannins. Anything off the grill would do, or even paired with a hearty winter stew.
Overall I am pretty happy with both of these wines for their price points. This club shipment would have been $29.95 (plus shipping and handling). I would have definitely been pleased if I paid that to receive these two wines and I wouldn’t hesitate to check out more of their offerings. I mean, hey, the holidays are coming up after all! The season of giving!
Now my question to you?
Have you been a part of a wine club before? What did you like/not like about it?
What do you see as the biggest benefits of wine clubs?