There Are 4 Types of Wine Clubs - Which One is Right for You?
There is a perfect wine club out there for every type of wine drinker. The problem is - how do you figure that out? The first step is to identify the types of wine clubs, then pick the one that is the best fit. For simplicity sake, I have broken it down into four types:
Winery Specific (Duckhorn, Chateau Ste. Michelle, etc)
Regional (Any local wine based retail shop)
National Case Club (Vinesse, Zagat, etc)
National Boutique Club (Cellars Wine Club, Gold Medal Wine Club, Plonk, etc)
Winery Specific Wine Club
This is the club you join when you visit a winery and really like their wines. I have to say it is a brilliant business practice for wineries. For a nominal charge (tasting fee), customers get to sample wines plus if they want to purchase a bottle they usually get the tasting fee refunded. The best part for the winery is when they can get the slightly buzzed patron to sign up for their wine club. So instead of a one-time purchase, they have now acquired a customer who will be charged on a re-occurring basis. That is striking pay dirt in the wine world. Actually, any business model. Incredibly, there are wineries that don't take advantage of this golden opportunity. From my experience it is dealing with rules and regulations of shipping wine across state lines that scares them off.
Regional Wine Club
The regional wine club is based out of your local wine shop. You walk in, browse some wines, then strike up a conversation with the owner or one of their wine staff. If the shop has its act together, they offer a monthly or even weekly wine club. For someone that likes to try new wines this is easily the best, yet most time consuming option. It's the best because you can give one on one feedback to the actual person who is choosing the wines for the club. It's time consuming because you most likely will have to go to the store to pick up your wines and then head over there again to give feedback. If you want to learn about your own taste buds and wine these conversations are critical. Here is a simple example:
"I loved the Cabernet Sauvignon you picked out this month."
"Great, anything in particular you liked about it?"
"Well, when I first swirled it in my glass there was a nice dill aroma that I have smelled in other wines that I really like."
"Ah, the dill is a classic characteristic given to a wine from American oak."
Bingo! Now you know that if you read about a wine aged in American oak, it may have a quality that you find more appealing over a wine aged in French oak.
National Case Club
I use the term National because they have a strong web presence and can be shipped to many different states. These can be summed up in one short phrase - quantity over quality. Yes, you can find some decent wines here but the truth of the matter is, you would join a wine club like this because aren't that picky about your wines and want to save some money. In general terms the you get 12 bottles of wine for around $150. It's a steal right? As long as you are fine with bulk wine juice packaged with a label designed by a marketing team and not a real winery then go for it. Whoa, what!? Not a real winery? Correct. A real winery has most of these characteristics: a passionate owner, vineyards or contracts with vineyards, a winemaker, a tasting room, and most importantly a compelling story on why they started a winery to begin with. Case clubs serve a nice purpose, but just don't think you are getting bottles from boutique wineries.
National Boutique Club
This club is kind of a catch-all for those wine clubs that send you 2-3 different bottles per month. Most of these are based out the West Coast and have access to some fantastic wines. This isn't a bad option if you live in a region that doesn't have lot of good wines to choose from, or want to send a gift to someone. The cost of the club will determine the value of the wines you should be receiving. I've seen these 2 bottle clubs as low as $30 and as high as $200. It's around that $45 on up range that I would start to expect some really nice wines. A lot of these wines also feature reviews from National and International Wine Critics which not only gives a starting point in regards to the wine's quality, it also gives credibility and often a reference point to the wine's value.
So that you know about the 4 types of wine clubs, feel free to try one out, or even all of them. With so many options, there is sure to be one that is great fit for you.