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(Most) winery clubs are for suckers

Winery clubs (such as Mazocco or Coppola) are a brilliant marketing invention. They are a way to seize the buzzed moment in their tasting room to forge a deeper relationship with the customer, and sell a lot more wine at a much higher profit margin than they can through their distributors.

To this, I say: “Great for the wineries, but what’s in it for me?” When I do the math, and consider my usual consumption patterns, the answer is usually: not so much.

Here’s my story: In 2002, I signed up for 4 clubs (=12 ish bottles per month) on a single trip to the Central Coast. My thinking was simple: we know we love these wines, so why not put the orders on autopilot and let them come to us?

Months #1 and 2 were awesome. We drank half, and happily put away the rest for later. But by month 6, I was starting to dread the next shipment, because we started drinking less of these 4 wineries, so they became increasingly dominant in our cellar. At that point, I realized two things: 1) we rarely drink a case of any producer’s wine in a given year, and 2) the cost of convenience (higher-priced wine, plus shipping) is about 20-35% higher than I would pay if I was buying that bottle at will from my favorite local retailers.

My winery club ‘dealbreaker’ came one September afternoon about 7 years ago when we received 6 bottles from a famous Central Coast winery, 4 of which which were obviously cooked (wine oozing out the cork due to overheating). The winery protested, and told me they (nor UPS) were not liable for the condition of the wine that arrived to my doorstep. Huh?

So that was it. Within 7 months, I fell completely off the winery club wagon and never got back on. I have not since heard of one winery club that was worth signing up for...but I realize that I may be a different kind of consumer...I do really well just rooting around SF shops in my spare time, and lean on about 6 great wine professionals to be my 'club' managers.

Having said my peace about winery clubs, I am curious: is your experience about the same, or have you found some wineries out there that are doing clubs right? (Right = you get tremendous value out of the membership, worth the extra overall cost)?

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  1. Here is my take:

    1. Most wine clubs are overpriced.
    2. If the wine is available through retail outlets, it will almost always be less expensive
    than if purchased through a club.
    3. If you really love the wines of a certain vineyard and it is not available in your area, a
    club may be your only option.
    4. There are a few vineyard/wineries that do offer reasonable buying options and
    excellent customer service. They offer the wines at close to or below retail and
    charge a fair rate for shipping.

    That being said, I am a member of one wine club (winery direct ship) and am pleased with the cost and wines.

    1. because i live about 6 minutes from LA Wine Company, and about 14 minutes from at least 6 additional solid wine stores, i've never been tempted to join a club.
      if i lived in a more restrictive state, or in a more rural area, maybe there would be some advantage.

      also, price, to me, is not an inconsequential factor,
      thus paying for shipping is something i try to avoid.
      i'd rather buy five bottles of an extremely good wine that doesn't need to be shipped than one bottle of an earth-shattering vintage with the attendant costs and risks of shipping.

      1. Likewise, had to cancel a central coast membership since they ignored my emphatic request to not ship inland between May and November.

        1. Kay,

          Well done. I hope people read this and learn they are not a good deal and you are right that they are buzzed and don't know what is going on.

          I would also add the silly wine of the month clubs into this discussion. They prey on the beginners and of course ship during all months.

          1. This is interesting - I appreciate this discussion. I'd been thinking of joining a wine club and was searching for one that offered wines that intrigued me (of course), including hard-to-find or limited releases, as well as fun social events (I take a few weekend trips per year to Northern CA wine country). Ideally it'd be a winery whose business practices I admired as well as one I enjoyed spending time at. Perhaps too tall of an order, but I've been looking.

            This thread is making me think twice about the whole idea - but I'm appreciating hearing about both positive and negative club experiences.

            1 Reply
            1. re: gipsygrrl

              The only wine club I am a member of is Sineann. The wines are great, the prices are fair and shipping is reasonable.