How To Choose A Wine Club-Some Thoughts on Value and Options

Wine clubs come in all shapes and sizes and varieties. I don’t know how long wine clubs have been around but over the past 30 years I have been a member of my share of them. The whole concept of a “wine club” seems to be somewhat of an oxymoron. In a traditional sense, I suppose a club should be something that has a social component in addition to an economic, educational or at least a value added proposition. If a person joins a golf club, a car club, or a quilting club, the motivations are social, skills advancement, financial rewards, etc. in meeting with others of like minds. But, wine clubs seem to only have an economic proposition; conveniently buying wines that are at are offered by the club’s owners.

If a person joins an association, like the NRA or any similar, they are doing so for lobbying effects or to garner discounts. But, clubs seem to touch a different motivational nerve in membership.

Joining any wine club is probably motivated by a combination of the following reasons:

  • Recommended by a friend.
  • Desire to experiment with wines not normally available in your local wine store.
  • Convenience, assuming someone over 21 is available to sign for shipment.
  • You like surprises and the wines selected/offered that month or quarter is irrelevant.
  • Reviews/technical specifics that come with the wine are helpful in such areas as food pairings.
  • There is a financial value to the wines received even after shipping costs are considered.

 

Recently I undertook a project with a friend to catalog wine clubs in the U.S. and offer a brief description of each. The focus was to succinctly define their respective market niche, financial commitments and ancillary offerings. It was not long before we realized that the wine club market is diverse, highly competitive and targeted, and is made up of different ownership/commercial arrangements. Basically, wine clubs are a mail order business. However, as I will explain later, there are some brick and mortar operations that offer their own wine clubs-K&L, BevMO, Total Wines and most wineries. Yes, I have not forgotten about The Wall Street Journal, Wine Spectator, and Wine Enthusiast who are publishers.

The business model for wine clubs are not hard to recognize: aggregate buyers, buy in volume, find motivated sellers, define the wines at a specific price point and advertise. There are clubs for all levels and types of interest. For example, my wife recently received her quarterly mailing from a high-end club. They promote premium wines with shipments sent out quarterly. Their wine selections are approximately $100 per bottle. The problem is that my wife only enjoys whites and even those needs to be in a narrow range of varietals. So, a premium wine club is not good for her.

Here are some elements to consider in selecting a wine club:

  1. Financial commitment-How often will you be receiving wines and what is the range of price points of the wine you will receive? Some clubs are on a monthly shipment schedule while others ship quarterly. Your credit card account will be billed on the appropriate shipping schedule, automatically.
  2. Selections of wine-There are even options relative to varietals offered by various clubs. Some specialize in offerings of varietals from specific countries. 강남풀싸롱
  3. Flexibility-Check out return policies should you not be satisfied with a wine sent to you.
  4. Quality of the selected wines sent to you-Explore the types of wines a club offers. Are these wines you have been searching for and wanting to try? Are the selected wines offered through the winery that produces them or through retail wine stores? If yes, at what price. Maybe price isn’t even a concern. After all, wine is the end result. The basic proposition in a wine club is the wine, at a reasonable price, and convenience in obtaining the wine.
  5. Motivation-Now ask yourself if you are a collector or a consumer. There are some wine clubs offered by wineries and they are the only way to acquire their premium wines upon initial release. The aftermarket is then the only alternative to acquire desirable wines. Some premium wineries have a fee to join their clubs, which can be very substantial and they often have a waiting list to become a member.

 

Another approach to acquiring wines in a quasi club format is through personal wine brokers. The personal wine broker business model is having brokers contact individuals and offer their services. Based upon your inputs relative to the wine styles you prefer and the objectives (do you collect or consume) in the wines you acquire, your personal broker will call or e-mail you with information about wines they have found that fit your parameters. In addition, they may also offer you wines that they find and acquire in large lots.

I have used a personal wine broker to primarily get exposure to new wines. I spent about 1 hour initially talking with the lady about the wines I like and don’t like and the reasons I like and dislike them. The prices were attractive and she was focused only on wines in my specific ranges. The experience has been positive and has no financial commitment-you buy what you want.

Bottom-line, wine clubs offer some advantages and there are hundreds of options to choose from: retail store clubs, publishers, mail order/on-line clubs and wineries. The best advice is to focus on what your objectives are and what you are willing to commit to financially.

If you want to experiment and taste wines, before you buy bottles of wine, visit you local retail stores where they offer tastings (sometime free) Or, visit wineries on some of your travels. Maybe when you visit a wine bar see what they are offering in a “tasting flight” of wines.