I get a lot of questions about the value of belonging to a wine club. Over the years, I have belonged to many types of wine clubs. I have also had the to-join-or-not-to-join discussion with many of my wine friends and colleagues. I hope this post begins to answer any questions you might have about becoming a wine club member, and give you some solid info that will help you make some decisions moving forward.
This is the second part of a two-part series about wine clubs. In my last Join the Club (Part 1) post, I wrote about one type of Wine Club—the Winery Membership. Winery memberships are what local and regional boutique wineries offer under the title “wine club.” A winery membership is exclusive to the individual winery and doesn’t include any wines produced by other wineries.
Today’s post is about Wine Subscription Services. A wine subscription service is one you join, typically on-line, that allows you to receive a selection of wines, usually from around the world, at set times during the year. Most people refer to these as wine clubs or on-line wine clubs.
In order to provide examples and talk about options to be considered, I just want to make sure you are all aware that I am not promoting one type of “club” over another, nor am I promoting any single winery or subscription service. (Sadly) no one is paying me to mention (or refrain from mentioning) their business. I’m writing from my own experience and the collective wisdom of my colleagues. The mention of any winery or subscription service is for informational purposes only.
WINE SUBSCRIPTION SERVICES
There truly is something for everyone when it coms to a wine subscription service. You can be a total beginner who just wants someone to pick out the wine for you, an adventurous enthusiast, a Bordeaux Babe, or a Master Sommelier, and every type of wine drinker in between. There is a wine subscription out there for you. Subscription services usually have a very specific focus. Whether it be wines of the world, a desire to educate the consumer, natural and organic wines…anything you need or can imagine is likely available from an on-line wine club. That is also true of the price point. You can find great wines at a great value—young and fresh, ready-to-drink. You can also spend hundreds of dollars on aged, Old World wines that you want to put in your personal collection. While this all sounds great, there can be drawbacks so let’s look at the Pros and Cons of becoming an On-line Wine Club member.
PROS OF A SUBSCRIPTION SERVICE
Choose your Style: Most subscription services have a little quiz or questionnaire that you take before you sign on the dotted line. If you only want to drink dry red wines, you can subscribe to get only dry, red wines. If you like a mix of red, white, and rosé or enjoy the range of dry to sweet with a little sparkling thrown in for good measure, you can get that kind of subscription as well.
Expand your Palate: Even though you choose your style, the wines from a subscription service are almost always curated for you. That means you get the chance to try something new every time your wine shows up.
Provide Feedback: Many of the more popular subscriptions ask you to go online and offer feedback about the wines you received. When you do that, the algorithms of the service take note and, over time, your selection of wines becomes more and more customized to your taste.
Drink it Now: With the exception of subscription services designed for collectors, most of the wines you receive in your shipment are ready to open and consume right now. That means you get the opportunity to enjoy your wine right away without having to store it for months or years before consuming it.
Education: When you receive a wine shipment, most services include great information about the winery, wine region, style of wine, and any other type of information they think will help you enjoy your wine even more. Often they will provide tasting notes. I LOVE getting tasting notes with wine. Sometimes I like to write my own and then compare them. Sometimes I like to read them first and try to calibrate my palate to the expert’s notes.
Great Customer Service: The friends I have who subscribe to wine clubs report they have great experiences with customer service. If you get a bad bottle—meaning it had a fault, not just that you didn’t care for it—the service will typically get a new bottle out to you right away. If you need to pause for illness, travel, or financial reasons, you can usually pause your subscription for several months. Usually, there is a very short honeymoon period with a subscription and once you are through that you can quit anytime without penalty.
Usually where there are PROS, you also want to consider the CONS. There are several reasons NOT to join a wine subscription club, but I’m not sure they can be classified as “CONS.” I think they are more like Caveats or “Buyer Beware” notes. But, for the sake of my OCD, I’ll call them
CONS OF A WINE SUBSCRIPTION SERVICE
Wine style: If you’re already set in your ways where wine is concerned and you don’t care to try anything that isn’t a sweet white, then you do will likely not want to venture into a world that will challenge your wine worldview.
You already know your palate: Like me, you may drink a lot of wine every month (week, day) and you don’t have any problem selecting a wine to drink. Or maybe you know what you like, but you want to keep venturing out into the wine world. If you like the adventure of walking the aisles of Total Wine or a small boutique retailer, you don’t need a sommelier to send you wine every month.
Space Constraints: Depending on the frequency and volume of your wine delivery, you may not have a place to adequately store you wine. Bottles with corks need to be stored on their sides and all wines should be stored somewhere around 50o – 65o F.
The Honeymoon Period: Make sure to read the “contract” of the subscription service to discover how much you are going to need to order before you can stop the service if you find it not to your liking. Canceling early almost always results in a cancellation fee.
Unexpected Fees: The cost of membership and the cost of shipping is usually built into the subscription service so you know EXACTLY how much you will be charged for each shipment. You don’t want to believe the service is $99.99 a quarter and find a $149.99 charge on the credit card. Know right up front what the costs will be.
Beware of Non-Wine Wine subscriptions: In other words, don’t join a wine club that offers other services. For example, there are news organizations out there who tout their own wine club. NO. Don’t do it. They are just passing you off to another party to curate who-knows-what-kind of wine and you will pay far more for those than one that focuses ONLY on curating a good wine experience for you.
Overall, I think the advantages to winery memberships and wine subscriptions services far outweigh the potential problems as long as you do your due diligence. As of this post, I have 3 winery memberships. I am also looking into sharing a subscription service with members of my tasting tribe. I would absolutely LOVE for you to tell me your experiences with any kind of wine club you have or do belong to. Please email me or leave a comment on the post.
I’d love to get more regimented with regular posts, but I’m currently working on my WSET 3 and my Certified Specialist of Wine, so study comes first. While you wait, relax with a glass of wine, put your feet up, and peruse the ARCHIVES to read more while you’re waiting.
Until next time…