Winery clubs are for suckers

Wine — By KF Louis on February 4, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Winery clubs 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 distributors.

To this, I hope you would say:  “Great for the wineries, but what’s in it for me?” If you do the math, and consider your usual consumption patterns, I think you’ll most often find the answer is:  not so much.  Unless of course, you live far from the wine country, have found the few individual wineries doing clubs right, or are into scarce wines that can’t be obtained any other way.

Here’s my story:  In 2002, I was living in Belmont, California, and signed up for 4 clubs (=12 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 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.

So that was it.  Even though the winery did send me another shipment, I fell completely off the winery club wagon and never got back on.  However, I have belonged to a monthly club at K&L Wines for years, because it is essentially opposite of what’s offered by a winery:  a broad selection hand picked by professionals who ‘represent’ hundreds of wineries, offered at the lowest prices on the market.

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?

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