Wineries in Texas and elsewhere are dependent for their success upon repeat business, either through customers who purchase repeatedly because they like the wine, customers who are attracted by “special experiences,” and/or customers who become wine club members.
My wife Phyllis and I fall into each of those categories and have used the benefits of each to enhance our participation in a different kind of wine club. That club is composed of nine other wine lovers in the southeast Texas area that goes by the name of the Humble Wine Group (HWG).
When double-inoculations allowed our 70+-year-old members to once again develop an every-two-month hosting schedule after a year of COVID-driven cancellations, we turned to a “special experience” we participated in as Kuhlman Cellars wine club members for the inspiration of the HWG-tasting we hosted on April 8.
HWG procedures allow the host couple to determine the theme, the location, and the requirements for the wine event. The themes have covered wines designated by varietal, cost, color, and location. Event locations have been in homes, restaurants, winery tasting rooms, and national and international wine regions. Requirements have varied from each couple bringing a specified varietal or wine at a specified price level in a specified size, to having a winery owner or winery representative provide the wines, or bringing food to go with a specified wine, or paying a fee and letting the hosts provide all of the food, wines, plates, and stemware.
Since three couples have been in the group for almost 30 years and others almost 20 years, it is becoming more difficult to come up with different hosting ideas. However, when we became aware that the HWG was reviving its hosting schedule, we got our inspiration for our next hosting through participation in the new “Barrel to Bottle Experience” that Kuhlman Cellars has added to its activity schedule to attract new and repeat customers and wine club members to its Highway 290 location between Hye and Stonewall.
The 45-minute “Barrel to Bottle Experience” provided insight into the aging process of the Merlot grape through a structure, interactive tasting of a barrel sample of the 2018 Reserve Merlot, and tastings from bottles of the 2017 Marl, the 2017 Reserve Merlot, the 2016 Merlot, and the 2016 Reserve Merlot.
Although it was not possible to bring home the 2018 Reserve Merlot since it is still in barrel, a specially priced bundle of the two 2017s and the two 2016s was available to come home with us in January to serve as the basis of our next Humble Wine Group tasting event.
The Humble Wine Group is based on two tenets – expanding our wine knowledge and improving our ability to marry wine and food pairings. There is also the expectation that the host couple will provide a “welcome” wine paired appropriately with an appetizer and a “closing” wine and dessert combination.
To meet the first tenet, we chose to examine the “expression” of Merlot by focusing on five wines from Kuhlman Cellars – the four bottles tasted in the “Barrel to Bottle Experience” and the 2017 Asteries (ass-te-REE) which is a classic Old-World blend of 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, and 4% Malbec. As each wine was tasted, I provided information gleaned from the experience at Kuhlman as well as facts and details found in various website postings.
For the second tenet, we asked the nine other HWG members to bring an appetizer that would go with Merlot. The provided offerings included an Italian meatball in a red sauce topped with Parmesan cheese and chiffonade Basil, a pear-topped Bleu cheese bruschetta, a beef rib, strudels filled with spinach and cheese and with artichoke and cheese and topped with a heavy cream and mustard sauce, and jalapeno and cheese-infused venison sausage bites.
Since we were focusing on Merlot, we chose as our “welcoming” wine a Beringer White Merlot served in a flute over raspberry and blueberry, two of Merlot’s primary flavors. We accompanied that semi-sweet wine with quarter-cut blueberry Eggo waffles filled either with goat cheese or cream cheese.
Continuing the Merlot focus, our “closing” pairing was an ice cream bowl of Blue Bell Cookies ‘n’ Cream infused with Robert Mondavi Private Selection Merlot to showcase the mocha notes often found in Merlot.
Although we have been tasting wine together for 34 years and in Texas wineries since 1995, Phyllis and I know that we have barely scratched the surface in gaining wine knowledge.
We also know, however, that participation both in winery wine clubs and in local wine clubs composed of fellow wine lovers makes that search for knowledge interesting and inspiring. If you are not a member of a winery’s wine club or have not established a local wine club with friends, we urge you to consider the benefits of either or both.
Ron Nail says
Jerry, how did y’all form the HWG in the first place? Was it just a group of friends that were already together or did you form it some other way?
Jeff Cope says
From Jerry: Our longest term members were all educators, most in Humble ISD, who lived near each other. Following a wedding, there were six couples sitting around talking about wine and we decided we should get together every month or so to explore different wines. Over time, as we rotated hosting, the hosts would occasionally invite another couple to their tasting if we knew that one of the other couples could not fit the event into their schedule. Then when one of the original couples dropped out for various reasons, we would discuss inviting a previous guest couple to join us so we could keep the group at six couples. We found that six couples was the best number since we could allocate six two-month periods a year for our events. Also, 12 members make for 2 oz. tastings out of each bottle.