Join A Wine Club That Matches Your Taste and Budget: The Ultimate Guide
We set out to answer your questions about joining a wine club. Joining an online wine club is one of the hottest trends in wine buying. Whether you are joining a wine club for yourself or giving a wine club membership as a gift for someone special, you need to pick through a dizzying variety of clubs. There are mountains of variables to consider, all of which can affect your enjoyment.
We’re going to break down the factors you should consider when you decide to join a wine club. Along the way, you’ll pick up lots of information about how wine clubs work.
Why do people join wine clubs?
Lots of reasons!
Whether you’re looking to try new and different wines, or you’re seeking deeper education, the best wine clubs can fulfill all sorts of expectations.
Typically, the way wine clubs work is you sign up for a membership. That membership lasts for a specified period of time (they vary). It also includes a specified number of bottles with each shipment. Most clubs include monthly shipments. Other wine clubs ship quarterly.
You join a wine club, and wine appears on your doorstep like magic.
But it’s not magic, of course. It’s a service you pay for, and with the growing number of wine clubs, you’ll want to make sure you choose the best wine club (or clubs) for your taste and budget.
So what should you consider? Get ready, because it’s quite a list.
The range of prices for wine club memberships can vary enormously. Some plans start at less than $50 per month. Other plans can cost more than a typical mortgage payment.
When you’re breaking down the cost of a club, take into account these factors:
- Minimum monthly plan
- Shipping costs
- Introductory pricing
- Per-bottle price (including shipping)
Getting down to the per-bottle price helps you line all your options up and make the most informed decision before you join a wine club. And make sure your per-bottle price isn’t based on an introductory price. You will want to compare using the regular, full price.
Here is a simple layout that will help you determine the cost per bottle of the wine clubs you are considering. You must include shipping costs for a true analysis. You should also consider the if the wine club charges sales tax on their shipments.
But price certainly isn’t the only way to evaluate the value of a wine club.
There’s no magic number for how many bottles of wine a given household needs per month, but if you don’t do a little rough math, it’s easy to find yourself with a wine surplus.
Now, if you’re building a cellar of wines you plan to keep, then a surplus is a good thing – as long as the wines you’re amassing are ones that will age well.
But most wine clubs serve up bottles intended for short-term (within a year) consumption. So if you average a bottle per night, then you’re looking at roughly thirty bottles per month.
If you enjoy hitting up local wine shops or wineries, then your wine club shipments should be a little lower. If you’re looking to eliminate trips to the wine shop, then you may want more arriving by mail.
The best wine club will offer several choices for plans with different numbers (and price points) of bottles. Some of the very best wine clubs allow you to mix and match.
When you think about choosing a wine club, don't just think about quantity. A case of poorly made wine isn't a value just because it was cheap. Some wine clubs try to hide behind known brands or celebrity names. You receive bulk wine that is dressed up and marked up. Maybe they throw in a generic wine pairing sheet or a "newsletter" to increase the perceived value of the club but don't doubt you are getting ripped off.
The first thing to research is where the wine is made. Contact the wine club customer service or, better yet, the manager. Ask for a list of the wines that went out in the last three shipments. Then do a little sleuthing on the web. You can track down most wines today and find a least a few reviews. If the wine they are sending is swill, it's time to move on to a new wine club.
Here is a place to start your research. This site lists a number of bulk wine producers. If most of the wines your club is shipping to you start at one of the wineries, you may want to shop for a new wine club.
So once you’ve done the tedious part of the homework – looking at price and number of bottles – you finally get to the fun part!
Think about what you want from your wine club. Do you want shipments of wines you know you’ll love? Do you want to taste new wines, from places that will broaden your horizons? Do want a deeper dive into a region you know you love?
The best wine club for a curious wine novice may explore the wines of the world or provide a large selection of varietals to sample.
If you’re a passionate fan of one or two grape varieties, you may want to look for a club that lets you specify (and exclude) certain kinds of wine.
Knowledgeable wine connoisseur? The best wine club for you will provide access to special wines you can’t otherwise obtain.
Once you’ve found a club or two you think gives you what you want, then you’re on to the next factor to consider.
Degree of personalization
How much the degree of personalization matters depends on what you’re looking for from your membership.
Some people have a strong preference for whites over reds (or vice-versa,) and it may be important to shape your shipments so you get wines you really want to drink.
But other wine lovers simply want to hand over the reins and be surprised with each shipment, so personalization will matter less.
The important thing is to make sure you choose a wine club that suits your individual needs. A membership is only a value if it delivers what you want.
Different clubs give varying amounts of wine education along with shipments of wine. Are you an aspiring cork dork, thirsty for details about harvest date and residual sugar? Or are you simply looking for some cool wines to enjoy with your friends? If you are a cook or love to entertain, the best wine club might include wine pairing suggestions and a few recipes with each shipment.
Whatever you’re looking for, there’s a club out there to suit your wine education goals. Just do a little homework to ensure you’re signing up for the plan that fulfills your desires.
The devil is, indeed, in the details. Just like any other contract you’d enter into, make sure you understand what you’re signing up for.
Certain aspects of your agreement should be absolutely clear:
- Shipping costs
- Cancellation policy
- Criteria for wine selection
- Joanna Opaskar, from Clearlake winetasting, points out, "A good question to ask a winery
would be whether they ship in refrigerated trucks, or using a shipper with a climate controlled warehouse, if they're delivering to hot parts of the country in the summer"
Some of the best wine clubs let you pause your shipment if you’re going to be out of town, but others don’t. Some clubs highlight the team of wine experts who handpick your wines each month, while others might buy up lots of bargain-priced wine to offload onto unsuspecting consumers.
In short, get to know the wine club before you sign up.
Like anything else, wine club experiences can vary, and it behooves you to do a little research.
Check independent reviews of any clubs you’re considering to make sure other wine lovers are satisfied. Do customers complain about difficulty in canceling subscriptions? Are there loads of folks who hate the wines they receive?
Find the wine clubs social media pages. The wine club's Facebook page can often give you a good feel for how they interact with members. You can also see current and past members posts. If there are a number of angry posts from past members, this should help guide you when selecting a quality wine club.
With a dizzying array of choices, it’s in your best interest to find the best wine club that has lots of satisfied members.
Sure, you can have a couple of glasses of wine and decide you want to shop online for a wine club so you get cool new things in the mail.
But unless you have an unlimited wine budget, you’re going to want to cull through the offerings and pick one (or more!). The the best wine club that suits your flavor preferences, budget, and wine needs. Is it a lot of research? It can be, but it can absolutely help you make the most of your wine dollars.
A special case: Winery VIP clubs
While there are tons of articles comparing particular wine clubs (often in exchange for a free membership,) one of the most overlooked kinds of wine clubs is a specific winery’s VIP program.
What members of these groups have in common is a passion for a particular winery. Join a winery's club if you have a desire to be in the loop. You will get updates about new releases, limited quantities, or special events.
So you visit a small, family-owned vineyard in Napa Valley and fall in love, but you live on the East Coast? As long as it’s legal to ship to your home state, you can still get access to amazing wines. Many of these wines you’d never see on the shelves of a grocery store. It’s a way to stay in touch with memorable wineries. Also, you can get gems you’d miss out on if you had to rely on your local retailers.
What do winery VIP clubs entail?
Most winery clubs require a commitment to a minimum purchase, usually on a quarterly basis, though some wineries handle shipments once or twice a year.
The wines may be small production releases that aren’t available to the general public. Or they could be new vintages of wines you already know and love. The best wine club may even send rare releases of older vintages that have been cellared under perfect conditions. This offers VIPs the delicious chance to taste more mature wines than you can possibly find in wine shops.
Because many of the wines offered by winery VIP clubs are limited production, the wines can be more expensive than you’re accustomed to. But if you’re only purchasing once per quarter, you can save your VIP bottles for special occasions and drink other bottles for everyday consumption.
Perhaps the coolest aspect of winery clubs are the exclusive benefits that accompany your membership.
While perks certainly vary from winery to winery, you might look for:
- Members-only wines
- Discounts on purchase of wines or merchandise
- Access to special members-only events
- Exclusive tastings
- Discounts on area lodging and dining
Imagine bringing a couple of friends to one of your favorite wineries and being whisked into a special room and treated to a complimentary tasting. That’s the sort of treatment some winery clubs provide for their VIPs.
Getting the most from your wine club
Whether you pick a wine club that treats you to wines from all over the world or you become a VIP with a winery in your local area, there are definitely strategies you can employ to get the most out of your wine club membership.
First, take every chance you can to personalize your wine selections.
Some clubs ask lots of questions – sometimes about foods and flavors that aren’t specifically wine-related – in order to deliver wines you’re likely to love. Take all the quizzes you can!
Second, for winery VIP clubs you actually visit, take the time to get to know the people in the tasting room. Local wineries often host winemaker talks and dinners. You will also find that spending time with the people who hand make your wines enriches your knowledge and enjoyment.
Savor your wine journey
One of the most delightful aspects of learning more about wine is that it’s impossible to ever know it all. From challenging harvests to soil types and winemaking practices, you can learn about wine for your entire adult life.
And if you simply want to enjoy the flavors in a great glass of wine, you can do that too!
Wine is about preferences, not about absolute rights and wrongs, and selecting a wine club (or three) can make your journey even more delectable.