Many of you know about wine clubs and are probably members of one or more. However, I’m always surprised when discussing wine with acquaintances, how many are not familiar with wine clubs and the benefits that come with membership. In this post, we’ll look at wine clubs and the many different flavors of clubs you can join, as well as some of the benefits. This will not be an all-inclusive post as are there are many different variations and I’m sure to miss some. The good news is most Texas wineries and makers of Texas sourced wine have clubs that you can join.
The most common wine club works this way. You sign up with no upfront cost to join. You agree to take at least two club offerings or shipments. With some you enjoy all the benefits right away, with others you have to prove your commitment to membership before all the perks kick in. Most clubs of this kind will offer membership levels of three, six, or twelve bottles per quarter, with the wine being discounted at an escalating rate depending on what bottle count level you join. You typically have the choice to be in a club that matches your tastes in wine such as “red only,” “white only,” “mix of red and white,” or “sweet.” The discounts can run anywhere from 5-30% or more depending on the winery. In Texas and many other states, the first “quarters” may actually be in February-May at the latest, and not start up again for the last quarters until September-December due to having to ship wine in very hot conditions. Just expect that, especially if you’re joining a Texas wine club. Some of the benefits beyond the club shipment discounts are:
- Discounts on additional bottle purchases
- Discounts on merchandise at the tasting room
- Free tastings when you visit the tasting room, usually for you and additional guests. Typically four total. Note some wineries will cap the number of free tastings per year while others don’t.
- Access to exclusive wines. This is a big one as some the best wine by a winery is made available only to club members and the wine is almost always in limited supply.
- Access to some wines first, before the general public.
- Invites to “members only” events or parties, or discounts to events open to the general public
- Sometimes, when you’ve been a member for a while, you’ll form a relationship with the owner or winemaker and they will offer you some side benefits such as personal tastings, vertical tastings, tours, barrel tastings, etc. Don’t count on this, but it happens.
- You usually get detailed tasting and winemaker notes describing that quarter’s shipment. Sometimes these are done very professionally and detailed.
- Some wineries/vineyards have other venues such as restaurants, lodging, event centers, etc. and will offer members discounts on those things
A common twist on the club type above is that the costs will be fixed. For example, $80/quarter for three bottles no matter the cost of the wine. In this variation, you might break even one quarter but in another quarter, you may get a bottle that retails for close to $80 by itself plus the others in the club delivery. This club type typically has the same benefits as the other, but you know the exact cost every quarter.
There are some wineries that have “monthly” clubs where you get a certain number of bottles monthly. This is probably only cost effective if you’re close enough to pick up, as the shipping charges could typically add $15 or more per month. Imagine a $20/month club and then $15 on top of that. Not the best deal. However, if you really love the wine then go for it!
Another type of club that’s not nearly as popular is the “Futures Club.” I’ve been a member of one from a winery in California for the last few years. For this one, you’ll typically taste a high-end wine at a winery that has a relatively long track record. The particular wine itself will have many years of top ratings and most importantly of all, you’ll love the wine. The winery will offer you “futures” in the wine which will be an investment in future vintages at a drastically reduced cost. In my case, the wine retails in the $160-170/bottle range and my futures allotment of six bottles per year was around $90/bottle. The catch is you’ll purchase a vintage from two years ago, pay for it now, and not take delivery for another two years. It’s really not bad if you do it for several years in a row and get past the first two years of waiting. After that you’re getting new wine every year. On the day I’m writing this post, I get delivery of the 2013 vintage that I paid for in the Spring of 2015! In addition to getting world class wine at about 60% of cost, you get the other benefits of wine club membership like those listed above. I’m not aware of any futures clubs in Texas wineries. If you know of any, please mention in the comments.
There is a type of membership from some wineries called “allocations.” Typically from higher end winemakers, a member is allocated a certain number of bottles of a particular wine or class of wine per vintage year. Shipments can go out once or multiple times a year, and you get to select the quantity that will be allocated to you. The quantity could be from four up to 24 bottles a year. The advantages also include exclusive pricing, access to special vintages and formats, and invitations to exclusive winery events. The demand in some allocation clubs can be so high that there is a wait list to get in, and if you fail to take a shipment, you might lose your spot. I’ve seen members looking for others to “share” their allocation so they could maintain their membership or simply share the nice savings they get on some great wine. Some of these clubs might expand the shipments to twice a year or more, and even the first type of club mentioned in the post could be considered loosely as an allocation club.
Lastly, some wineries will offer some benefits simply by being on their mailing list or email list. There is usually no automatic delivery of wine and no cost to be affiliated. They will typically send out emails with special discounts on certain wines. Or they may send coupons for free tastings and tours. If they have your birthday or anniversary, they may send special offers during those months. It pays to get on those lists if you can find them.
What does the winery get out of maintaining a wine club? I asked several and the answer is more certainty in future sales. They have an idea what they’ll sell up to a year or more in advance from wine club purchases. They know the statistics about how many stay a member, how many may join, and an average of additional purchases they may get from members. They also form long term relationships with members and more word of mouth traffic.
The bottom line on wine clubs is that they can be beneficial to members and winery owners. Several Texas wineries have wait lists to get in the wine club. If you have a favorite and you know they get a lot of traffic, you may want to join their club. You never know when you may be asked to wait.