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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