Are wine clubs a good value? Do they make good gifts? I will explore the various benefits, but in a short answer, for the wine aficionado there are a number of reasons to consider. These make an excellent gift for parents, kids over 21, people in far reaches of the country, as a way to expand their horizons, and get them off of ‘plonk’.
There are a variety of types of wine clubs; generally you can categorize them into Three:
- Wineries Clubs that are Direct to Consumer (DTC)
- Wine Shop Wine Clubs
- 3rd Party or Aggregator like Wine Clubs.
Winery Wine Clubs
The most common of wine clubs; these can vary significantly by winery, but have numerous advantages.
- Club members get discounts. Wine Clubs often have multiple tiers, and the higher the commitment, generally the larger the discount. (This is less of a benefit if you are already receiving Industry discount; although I have one wine club that doesn’t give Industry, a bit irksome, but love the wines.) If you aren’t Industry, and buy a case or more a year of wine from a winery; consider joining the club if for no other reason to save money. Wine Clubs like Quivira offer a large discount, on par with Industry, for the First 30 days of a new Wine Club release.
- Access to Releases for Wine Club Only. Many of my clubs will do very small releases, perhaps 25-50 cases. These wines maybe reserved for Wine Club only and not for sale. Often this is a compelling reason why I join; lesser know varietals like Cinsault, a Rhone red varietal I am fond of; is the only way I can get it from Preston Vineyards. Similar with Paso Robles Rhone producer Tablas Creek. Even very large producers like Kendall Jackson, who ship hundreds of thousands of cases a year; have wine clubs that offer small, under 20k case a year productions, available only in the tasting room and/or to Club members.
- For Locals: Wine Clubs offer pickup events with music, food, and of course wine, often free pour. Sometimes these are free, or at very low cost. At a recent Wine Club event at Longboard, for $25 the event offered a band, an awesome pulled catered pork feast, free pour of new releases, and a bottle of Sauv Blanc to take home…find entertainment like this for that kind of money! Plus as a local you get to interact with the winemaker and the hospitality staff. Wine is as much about the experience and artisanship as it is the beverage.
- For Non-Locals: Many great small wineries can’t find distribution as you go East. Why buy only mass produced wines, or be limited to what your local wine shop has, when 2-4 times a year you can receive a few bottles (or more) from your favorite producer. If you are having your wine shipped, look at shipping costs and see if a larger membership makes sense.
- Other benefits. Occasionally something very unique is offered. Rotie Cellars, one of my favorite Walla Walla Rhone producers is offering, until end of year only, Lifetime Pricing. New members signing on by 12/31/10 get fixed pricing for the duration of their membership. FYI, Rotie Cellars is a highly rated, sought after producer, and the wine club list is nearing full and will close soon to allocation only.
Wine Shop Wine Clubs
No matter if you live in Wine Country, or in Wisconsin, I always encourage finding a good local wine ship to frequent. Here in Wine Country, its generally how we get wine from outside the area. In much of the US, this is your best bet to get small producers you can not find via retail. Mounts Family awesome Malbec or Grenache, or Cartograph Wines Pinot or Gewürztraminer isn’t going to be on your local Safeway, but your local wine shop may have it, or could order it if asked.
My favorite wine shop and wine shop club, is K&L Wines, also known as ‘my dealer.’ Why?
First their selections of wine, especially International, is amazing. They send buyers out all over the world to buy direct, so their prices are great. (Takes the sting out of not getting industry discount!)
Second, you can order quickly online, and WillCall your orders for 2 months. I order a bottle here, a bottle there, and then pick up my few cases when I swing through San Fran. (Other options are Redwood City, and Hollywood, CA.) They will also accumulate and ship; I used K&L regularly when I lived in Denver after I left the Bay area in 2002 .
Third, K&L has a number of wine clubs, but their most unique is the Personal Sommelier Service. You literally create your own wine club, picking price range, wine type, region. You can also pick from their extensive list of buyers, who makes your selections.So for example, each month I have Mulan Chan-Randal pick for me a Rhone Red blend, from the Rhone Valley of France, for $20-$40. I have additional club picks where I have her select a Gigondas, and a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Then I have a West Coast Red Rhone club, picking from CA, OR, WA. If I wanted I could make that as specific as Paso Robles, or Sonoma, only. If your selection is too narrow, the system will advise you perhaps you should widen your selection. You can revise any of the many variables each month if you like, or suspend one. You can have your monthly selection shipped, or held for Will Call. Highly Recommend.
3rd Party Wine Clubs
Lastly, there are ‘aggregator’ like wine clubs, like the International Wine of the Month Club, whose Chianti I reviewed recently. California Wine Club is one I belonged to many moons ago when living in Texas. Many lifestyle publications, like Sunset Magazine also have one. These can vary widely in focus and benefits, but typically they source wines from many producers, and include educational material, food pairings, winery information. These can be a great way to get diverse exposure of wines, domestic and International. If you live in an area where unique, interesting wines are hard to get, this is a great way to get a regular supply of something new and different.
A Gift For Others, Or Yourself
Many wine clubs are available in a giftable, pre-paid fashion. Buy your parents, adult children, or your boss, a 3, 6, or 12 month pre-paid membership, and let them enjoy your present throughout the year, as well as perhaps broaden their horizons and palate.