annals of clever retailing – wine clubs

Friday, January 27, 2012

Wine clubs have proliferated in recent years, and come in many forms. They are not always connected to actual wineries. Newspapers, magazines, for all I know auto repair shops (somewhere) offer customers the chance to sign up for “special” wines shipped directly to their door. The pitch is pretty much always the same. These are wines you Cannot Find Anywhere Else!

That is because these are wines that were sitting in a big tank somewhere – until someone from the club came and slapped a label on them. There is rarely anything special about them, except you pay the sellers a special premium.

Actual winery-owned wine clubs are another thing altogether.

As competition increases, the number of distributors shrinks, and the fight for retail shelf space cuts profit margins to the vanishing point, savvy wineries have turned to direct sales. They have been aided (albeit grudgingly) by changes in various state laws prohibiting shipment across state lines. More and more states are opening themselves up, with proper fees being paid of course, to this sort of e-commerce. And that is a good thing.

Winery clubs operate in many different ways. Some ship wines on a regular basis, some have a minimum buying option, others just send you an offer and you decide what and when to purchase. These are not the same as the handful of wineries with exclusive mailing lists, that give consumers access to wines that are allocated (pre-sold) in virtually every vintage. Most wineries, even the very good ones, run clubs that remain open to new members, and offer a range of benefits, not just rare or otherwise unobtainable wines.

Discounts, rare library releases, access to parties and other special events, and best of all, the opportunity to interact directly with the winemaking team are among the reasons to join a few of these clubs.

If you find yourself growing tired of the same old same old varietal wines, but don’t know how to explore more unusual, experimental, and limited offerings, the wine club of your favorite winery is a good place to begin the hunt. And it’s not just the tiny boutiques that can dazzle your jaded palate with a barrel-fermented riesling, or a single vineyard tannat. Even the biggest wineries offer hidden treasures to their club members.

I cannot offer you a complete “Best of” list of west coast wine clubs, or anything close. But thanks to my knowledgeable and opinionated Facebook friends, I am happy to pass along the following recommendations as a starting point. Feel free to post up a few more of your own on this blog. Wineries, here is your chance to chime in and toot your own horn. Go for it!

In Washington, be sure to check out the club offerings of Alexandria Nicole, Buty, Covington Cellars, Dunham Cellars, Glencorrie, Gorman, JM Cellars, Mark Ryan, Sparkman, Syncline, Tamarack, Trust, Va Piano and Walla Walla Vintners. These will get you off to a good start. In Oregon, the Carlton Winemakers Studio Liquid Synergy Wine Club gets high marks for its offerings of small production wines from up to a dozen producers; David Hill and Raptor Ridge are two others (out of many) offering special bottlings that are truly special.

The more you look, the more you will find. Please share your best discoveries right here.


MagnumGourmet said...

Best execution of an original wine club idea is Animale Winery in Ballard. A $1,000 initial investment in the winery gets you a mixed case of all the wines that Matt makes on an annual basis for 5 years.

Art said...

I like Abacela (OR) for quality and variety.

Dane M. said...

Wine clubs for me are less about the wine and more about the whole package. I can get (almost all) the same wine at retail, even the "limited club selection" offerings. I wouldn't consider a wine club unless I overwhelmingly liked the winemaker style and region, but I can't base the decision just on great wine or I would be in 100 clubs.

A wine club that goes the extra mile is what keeps me on the list... Special events, dinners, the people and of course the discounts.

Januik, Fidelitas, Trisaetum (OR) and J.K. Carriere (OR) are my "lifers".

VancDarkstar said...

Unfortunately, the Alexandria Nicole wine club is closed, and there is now a waiting list to get in.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the whole package comment above. I think my favorite is Chateau Ste Michelle living in the Woodinville area. And my non-Western WA wine club would be Domaine Drouhin or Argyle probably. - douggator

Hdchappy said...

I agree with Dane, it is not just about the wine because you obviously like their wine of you are thinking of joining. It is about the events and benefits of the club along with the vibe of the winery and its club members. I like AN, Efeste, Januik and Fidelitas

Anonymous said...

I like Bunnell Family because they have so many different small bottlings, and because (like many wineries are now doing) they have a west side pick-up twice a year.

Anonymous said...

I third the Novelty Hill/Januik wine club. The last shipment was 2009 Weinbau Cab and 2008 Stillwater Cab. Great comparison of two vintages and two vineyards. Rachel.

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