Wine clubs are a very popular item these days and I believe rightfully so. It seems that lots of organizations have a club or are starting one. For example, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times each have one. Forbes magazines, Williams-Sonoma, Amazon, American Airlines and eBay all have wine clubs as well. Here in my local market area The Chalet Party Shoppe, Belmont Beverage Stores and Sawyer Home and Garden Center all have wine clubs. In fact I know that a local restaurant group is getting ready to start a new type of wine club. Stand by. We will have more on this topic in future posts.
The Chalet Party Shoppe has had its wine club for four years. Overseen by Stan Minden, wine buyer for Chalet, that club totals 135 members today. The club has two levels: $10 a bottle and $20 a bottle. Minimum purchase is only two bottles per person—this is different from many national clubs because the purchase amount is MUCH smaller. There are perks associated with membership as well. For example, the club periodically hosts special wine tastings where members get to try special or unique wines and then have the opportunity to purchase the wines at cost.
Club members also get other special treatment. “Last month I found a really great Alexander Valley Cab. There was barely enough to buy so the wine club got it all,” said Stan. “Two years ago the Seven Hills Cab was 92 points. The Seven Hills warehouse only had six cases of it left and I got all of it to give it to the wine club. So there are some benefits of belonging to our club.”
Stan tries to rotate the types of wines that club members get in their monthly selection so the offerings are always fresh. Wine members also get a 15% discounts on all the wines they purchase. “To keep members educated we do tech sheets on the wine,” Stan said. “Each member gets a notebook and can collect information on all the different wines they have tried. This helps them with trying to identify favorites that they might want to purchase later on.”
One other note from Stan about the Chalet Wine Club: “Many of the wine club members have become friends through the club,” Stan said. “Most of them did not know each other before they joined the club, but connected at different wine events and are even having their own parties with other wine club members. That is pretty neat to see. In fact, I am going to another wine club member’s party in the middle of November.”
The concept of a wine club is good for most people. If you subscribe to my theory that the best way to learn about wine is to drink it, then wine clubs are perfect.
Generally most other wine clubs are structured similarly to Chalet’s club. You select the amount of money you want to spend monthly or the number of bottles you want to receive. Most clubs also supply tasting notes or tech sheets on their wine.
Most wine clubs also offer other types of perks either when you join or on an ongoing basis. For example, when you join the American Airlines Club you receive a 6-piece wine tote valued at $37.95. Or perhaps your local club might offer discounts on other purchases (as is the case of the Chalet Party Shoppe), or free admission to wine tastings or other events.
I did some research on the Internet about this topic and found a site called Wine Club Directory. They claim to do annual survey of wine club patrons and then rate various clubs. They list the top wine clubs this year as:
When considering a wine club membership you need to do as much research as you can and consider six important categories when you can:
1) Who is selecting the wine? Is the person knowledgeable about wine and what are his or her credentials or qualifications?
2) Quality of Wine Selected: Do they have a good track record of selecting quality wines? This is a tough one because most of the time the answer is going to depend on your own palate.
3) Wine Education. Does the wine club provide detailed information on the wines you will be receiving?
4) Pricing. Do they have a tiered pricing structure thus allowing you to pick the level or price range you want to spend for each shipment or selection?
5) Packaging/Shipping. If you belong to a national wine club that ships the club’s selections to you, make sure they ship wine in the proper packaging. I am more a fan of the Styrofoam shipping containers than the heavy cardboard ones. I have had the most broken bottles in the cardboard containers.
6) Customer Service. Make sure the wine club has a customer service department or a go-to person to handle any complains or issues you might have (such as broken bottles, corked wine, shortages or missing deliveries).
Wine clubs are like lots of things…the more you spend, the more you get. And prices vary greatly. So again I think research is very important when you consider joining a wine club.
In part two of this article on wine clubs, I am going to introduce you to a new and different type of wine club originated by my friend Didier Loustau in Napa Valley. The wine club is called Cork Wars. So stand by and look for the next post to learn about this exciting new entrepreneurial venture.
What wine clubs do you belong to? Have you been satisfied with the wines you have received?