To Wine Club or Not to Wine Club?

I visited wine country back in May – Sonoma County, Santa Rosa and absolutely loved it (didn’t even get upset over the parking ticket). However, I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of requests to join wine clubs. Yes, we have wine clubs here in North Carolina, but they seem to be an after thought when you are getting ready to pay for your purchase, not the main focus of your tasting. I ended up joining three wine clubs, mainly because I couldn’t get those wines any other way, especially back in North Carolina. Another misconception on my part was thinking that ALL California wines are widely distributed and that I just wasn’t shopping in the right places. Wrong! Most of these wines can only be purchased at the winery and the majority of them are only available to wine club members.

So this started me thinking about the criteria I consider important in choosing a wine club. Not all of these questions will apply to you, but some of them will. At any rate, don’t join a wine club just to be joining. Make sure you get what you want and expect out of membership.

1. Does the wine club offer exclusive wines to the members? (Not all the wines need to be exclusive, but every wine club shipment needs to have wines included that ARE NOT available for everyone to purchase.)

2. Does the winery offer special discounts to wine club members? (Discounts are important. Keep in mind that the winery is guaranteed a certain level of income every time a wine club shipment goes out; therefore, when you visit the winery, they should be willing to give you a substantial discount on your purchases. I would suggest as much as 30-40% on case purchases.)

3. Does the winery offer special events for wine club members only? (Once again, the winery knows exactly how much they are going to make off you with every wine club shipment. They should want to keep you happy and one way to do this is to offer special “exclusive” events that only wine club members can attend.)

4. Are there costs associated with joining the wine club? (There should be no fees for joining the wine club. Obviously the winery needs to know they can count on you as a member to fulfill your obligation to them for the discounts and parties they give you. Members should be required to sign an agreement stating that they will stay in the club for a set amount of time and credit card information should be furnished at the time of joining the wine club so that shipments during this “set amount of time” can be paid for timely. This creates a win/win situation for both the winery and the wine club member.)

5. Do you have the option of selecting your wine preference? (Most wine clubs will give you the option of choosing all reds, all whites, or a combination. If you only drink reds, don’t join a club that doesn’t offer the option of choosing only red wine in your shipment.)

6. Can you select the time of year you want your wine club shipments sent out? (This is not an issue if you live close to the winery and can drop by to pick up your wines; however, if you live on the “other” coast, this is an important consideration. All the wine clubs I joined in California had to agree to NOT ship my wines during the summer months because of the excessive heat.)

7. Do you receive anything from the winery for bringing new members into the wine club? (The winery should offer something “special” if you bring someone to the winery that joins the wine club while they are visiting with you. I would suggest a free bottle of wine to show their appreciation for you, their loyal customer.)

8. Do you get a free tasting or a free glass of wine when visiting the winery? (All wine club members should get their choice of a free tasting or a glass of wine when dropping by the winery to visit or bring a guest.)

9. Can you sit and enjoy a bottle (or glass) of wine in comfort at the winery? (This doesn’t just apply to wine club members, but if it is 95 degrees outside and the humidity is 98%, the winery shouldn’t expect you to sit outside to drink your wine. The same goes for cold weather. The customer’s satisfaction and comfort should be a priority for the winery.)

My example would be Kunde Estate in Kenwood, CA. They offer a special area in the tasting room referred to as the “Kinneybrook Room” for wine club members to sit, enjoy a cheese tray and sip their wine. This type of treatment should be the norm, not the exception.

So what is your criteria for the “perfect” wine club? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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25 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. divasbabysis
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 13:47:01

    Nice blog this week and quite informative, especially to me, who is more than a novice when it comes to wine. Good job!!!

    Reply

    • Red Wine Diva
      Aug 20, 2011 @ 14:14:55

      So you did read a post!!! Cool! Thanks! And it looks like you have started your own blog – that is just too awesome! Did you set it to automatically post to Twitter when you publish?

      Reply

  2. {K|J|P}{a|e}{n|m}{e|a|i}
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 19:03:58

    Superb article, I have saved this site so ideally I will discover more on this subject matter in the foreseeable future!

    Reply

  3. Red Wine Diva
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 22:10:46

    So to update my wine club experience, I picked up a wine club shipment today (I won’t name the winery). All of the wines in the wine club offerng were wines that were being poured at the tasting bar and available for sale to everyone that came in. In other words, my membership only benefitted the winery. They have a guarnateed income every 6 months from the wine club members and they don’t offer anything in return. Oh, they really stepped up today and offered a whopping 10% discount if I purchased an additional 6 bottles of wine. I thought I got a 10% discount any time I purchased wine from them – apparently not!

    This winery has no special events for wine club members, no special discounts and no cub member only wines. So why was I a member of their wine club??? Beats me – so I cancelled my membership! AND they didn’t even ask why!!!!

    Reply

  4. dorisrudddesigns
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 22:22:55

    Sorry to hear about your bad experience with a local wine club. I was interested too to read your assessment of the wine clubs in California. Sounds like the local club should take note.

    Reply

    • Red Wine Diva
      Aug 21, 2011 @ 22:32:36

      Definitely more post to follow regarding our local wineries stepping up! And I have such high hopes for the North Carolina Wine Industry – they could make such a difference in our local economy. But I am afraid they just don’t get it. But what will it take to make them see what value they bring to the state and how much they could truly capitalize on this?

      Reply

  5. Karyn Howard
    Aug 23, 2011 @ 20:09:05

    This was really an informative guide for Wine Clubs. Thank you for your list. I will share this with others.

    Reply

    • Red Wine Diva
      Aug 23, 2011 @ 21:32:10

      Karyn, I want to thank Raylen for what they do for their wine club members. The private party next month is a prime example of how members should be treated. Count us in, we’ll be there!

      Reply

  6. Karen Barnes
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 10:11:08

    Excellent list of criteria – it is so important to make sure consumers realize that most wines are not widely distributed, especially in today’s market and especially with small producers. Pricing is key – as is good customer service. I hope North Carolina wineries soon understand the value of creating and promoting a good wine club!

    Reply

    • Red Wine Diva
      Aug 24, 2011 @ 10:54:27

      Thanks for commenting, Karen – I have heard from some local wineries who thought the points I made were valid. Hopefully, a few of them will take it to heart.

      Reply

  7. winingways
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 11:04:31

    Nice post. Good advice.

    Reply

    • Red Wine Diva
      Aug 25, 2011 @ 12:28:55

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Wine is my favorite topic and I am enjoying the opportunity to discuss it via my blog. Love getting feedback from my followers! Thanks again!!!!

      Reply

  8. Andy Wilkinson
    Sep 15, 2011 @ 00:06:07

    Good advice and well thought through. We’re just getting our plans final and ready to go live for our on-line shop and loyalty program so will take this to our program and web designers. We don’t have a big cellar door so loyalty from on-line customers is paramount to us.

    Reply

  9. Trackback: The Wine Clubs
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    • Red Wine Diva
      Nov 26, 2011 @ 12:53:31

      Absolutely – there are benefits to being in a wine club. I belong to a few different wine clubs, mostly ones that don’t sell their wines in my area so it allows me the opportunity to try wines I might not otherwise no existed. I also support some local wine clubs and enjoy the special parties and early releases of their wines. Thanks for sharing!!!

      Reply

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  13. Douglas Wirnowski
    May 17, 2012 @ 16:05:07

    Great writeup — and a fair evaluation of the pros and cons of what wineries offer. I’m wondering if you’ve seen a totally new kind of wine club that a company called TastingRoom.com is offering? They blended the best benefits of both winery wine clubs and non-winery wine clubs with a major twist: TastingRoom lets you try all the wines in the comfort of your own home before picking which ones you’ll receive! Check it out here (note: I’m a member of their wine club myself, and while I used to work at TastingRoom, I no longer do…).

    http://www.tastingroom.com/control/clubBenefits

    Reply

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