Managing Wine Clubs

Over the course of years, we have been members of at least 20 wine clubs (not all at the same time).  These clubs are effectively an agreement for the members to buy a case of wine each year from each sponsoring winery.  In return for that commitment, you get a discount, normally 20%, and free tastings when you are at the winery.  In addition, in many clubs there are events that members may attend, almost all of which entail plentiful servings of their wines.  If you like the wines a particular winery makes, joining the club makes good sense.

Loading the truck.  Photo courtesy of August Hill Winery.

However, when you join you quickly learn that there are matters that require management on your part, eating up time and detracting from the pleasure of having fine wines delivered to your home.

  • You like some of the wines, but not all. Some clubs allow you a degree of specificity, such as only red wines or only certain varietals.  But many have a policy of sending you what they want to send (that you must pay for).  If customization is permitted, that means that when you receive the notification of an upcoming shipment, you need to make decisions about which ones you want and don’t want, replacing them with other wines and communicating these choices to the club’s designated contact (often nowadays the “ambassador”.  Thus are wine snobs made).
  • You won’t be home for a delivery. If you know at the time of ordering that you will be traveling, you can notify the club contact.  Most are accommodating to your schedule.  When you get a notice that a shipment is on the way, you usually get the tracking number from the shipping company so you can track your order.  But then you (or someone) must arrange to be at home to receive the wines, which usually means the whole day.
  • You want to speak with someone at the club. Some wine clubs, alas not the majority, are eager to engage in person with their members.  They’re available by phone, they reply to emails and know more about wine than order numbers and ship dates.  In all too many instances, so we’ve found, the contacts disappear between shipments.  It’s just frustrating and this type of difficulty has sometimes been the reason we’ve quit certain clubs.
  • You’ve become tired of their wines. With a few exceptions, we resign from our clubs after two or three years.  No matter how much you liked the wines at the beginning of your membership, you may not like what they send you at the rate of a case a year.  Especially if you’ve been buying age-worthy wines, they begin to accumulate in your cellar.  The expense of club membership may deter you from drinking other wines you know and like.  Yes, you can quit, but that means remembering to put it in writing and checking that your resignation didn’t get lost somewhere in the winery’s back office.

All this may make it sound like wine clubs aren’t worth the effort.  With membership in five or six at a time, we are definitely advocates of joining clubs at wineries you love.  Just remember that there’s work on your end, too.

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