Many local wineries that are small and produce little derive much of their profits from wine club memberships. Wine clubs allow them to skip the distribution step and get full price for their wines instead of the wholesale prices they have to settle for with restaurants, grocery stores and other merchants.
Not only that, but it guarantees sales every month. Once customers sign up for wine clubs, they are members until they cancel their memberships. Thus, if a winery has a wine club of 500 members, that means the winery has about 1,000 presold bottles every month.
I have mixed feelings about the benefits of wine clubs for the consumer, because I have seen wine operations that use their clubs to pawn off their least-popular wines. I worked at a wine bar in San Francisco for a few years, and every month we knew exactly what the owners were going to put in the wine club — whatever wines weren’t selling well in the shop.
That being said, many wine clubs are a good deal, and they can be a great way to support your local winery. Some have pretty cool benefits, too.
At Pelican Ranch Winery, you get free tastings, discounts on wine and a chance to be a judge at a private dinner and help make a blend that only wine club members will get to take home.
I have been a judge before, and it is quite fun to make the blend everyone will take home at the end of the night. Plus, an excellent dinner is served after the blending party.
Hunter Hill has another notable wine club that, aside from free tastings and discounts, hosts an annual gourmet dinner that features many different kinds of game. They have been known to serve wild boar, elk, buffalo and duck, among others.
My suggestion: Find one winery where you like almost everything they make and that is fairly close to you. That way, you are assured a shipment of wine you will be happy with every time, and you will be able to make the most of the discounts and free tastings.
Not to mention, you get to support our local wine industry. Cheers!
n Austin Twohig is a certified sommelier and partner in The Santa Cruz Experience, which conducts winery tours in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.