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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Wine Clubs--Should You Join?

Pretty much every winery has a wine club.  A few will call theirs a mailing list meaning you don't get discounts.  Some retail wine shops also offer wine clubs.  Why does everybody do it?  Because it's a great money maker, but this doesn't mean you shouldn't join. Let's look at some of the options.

Winery Wine Clubs

The typical wine club will ship you a certain number of bottles over the course of a year and will offer you wine discounts on your shipped wines and any others you buy.  After this their club benefits can vary quite a bit.

The wine discount is typically between 15% and 30%.  The amount of wine shipped to you during a year is typically from six bottles to a couple cases.   With some clubs you can cancel the next day if you change your mind, but most require a time or bottle commitment. For instance, you must stay in the club for a year or buy at least 12 bottles of wine.  Clubs letting you back out generally don't give you a discount on the day you sign up.

Most wineries have other benefits for members, but many are winery events so they are only good if you live nearby. Plus if you're fortunate to live near the winery you can pick up your wines instead of paying shipping.

So should you join a particular winery's club?  Some things to ask yourself:

  • First, do you like most of their wines?  This one seems obvious but don't go in just because it's a good deal, or you like the host/hostess, or the winery dog.
  • Are you getting more wine than you're likely to consume?  If it's a few bottles a year that's not a problem for most, but if you're signing up for a couple cases a year is that more than you want of one particular winery's product?
  • Do  you have somewhere to ship the wine where there is an adult available to sign for it? Federal law requires an adult signature for wine delivery. Maybe have it delivered to you workplace or your neighbor.
  • Do you understand how much the shipments will cost?
  • Are you getting wines you can't find at home?  No use having wines shipped that you find in your local market.
  • Are you getting wines you want?  Most clubs offer a white and red option or a red wine only option.  A few actually let you pick your own wines.  So, for instance, if you only drink whites and the club has no white wine only option what are you going to do with the reds?
  • What are the club benefits? Don't get talked into signing up because they throw great parties at their winery in California if you live in New Jersey. Do it for the discount on wines you can't find at home.

If you are visiting the wine country pay attention to how many clubs you join and how much it'll cost you over the course of a year.  More than one person has got home and realized, "Oh my God, I've joined eight wine clubs!"  You could wind up with a couple thousand dollars in commitments!

Winery Mailing Lists

For some wines the demand is much greater than the supply.  These wineries will often have mailing lists and will only offer their wines to people on the list.  What's the difference between a club and a mailing list?  Generally, there is no discounting for mailing lists and you usually get to pick what you want and can even skip an offering or two from the winery.  If you don't purchase after awhile you'll be dropped off the list. Some might even make you buy their mediocre Chardonnay to get their highly sought after Cabernet so ask about that.

Okay, maybe this one's not for real
Image from
Retail Store Wine Clubs

The biggest difference with a store's club is that you are getting wine from many different wineries, not just one. You want to look at what wineries are available and how much choice you have in the selection. Generally, they offer a number of smaller producers.  Sometimes they are great finds, sometimes not, but this is a good way to try lots of different wines.