Sunday, March 26, 2017

Wine Clubs and Member Lists

If you frequent wine country or enjoy winery tours, it is likely that you have been seduced into a wine club membership. The more you drink, the harder it is to resist the temptation.

Truth be told, there are many perks to joining a wine club. There is usually no upfront fee for joining, and you can often terminate membership at any time. You just pay for the wine purchased with membership discount, which is often in the area of 10-20%. The catch is that there is usually a commitment of a certain number of bottles per year and sometimes in multiple releases. Each wine club may vary in the flexibility to mix and match the wines for each allocation, so that is something to which you want to pay attention.

Crates of wine in storage
The other big draw of a wine club is the limited releases that are offered exclusively to club members. This may happen when the winemakers are experimenting with a new varietal, blend, or way of making wine in small production. In other cases, the winery may keep a library of cellar-worthy wines to be released only to its members in later years so as to showcase the aging potential. Finally, there are special events and release parties, when winemakers unveil new releases with amazing food pairings.

If you don't live close to a wine region, check out your local wine shop to see if it offers a wine club. Our local wine shop, West Seattle Wine Cellars, offers six different monthly clubs, ranging from  easy-drinking to region-specific, like Champagne, Washington, and Oregon. The collective buying power from wine clubs allows the shops to have access to certain wines that would otherwise be hard to come by. Additionally, there is a club member's discount for wine purchases.

Then there are member lists. These are often offered by high-end or boutique wineries to give members first dibs on their wines at membership price before they are released to the secondary market. There is no allocation commitment, but members stay on the list as long as they make purchases. A lapse in purchases within a predefined amount of time, typically two consecutive years, may cause you to be dropped from the list. These wineries are usually not open to the public although some offer tours to members by appointment.

Now the danger of wine club and member list memberships is that you can end up with more wine than you need. At which point, it is time to say goodbye to some of them. In the past decade, I have gone through close to a dozen club and list memberships. Today, I am down to two wine club memberships and one member list. Here's the scoop on what I have.

Brady Cellars vertical tasting
Brady Cellars Wine Club
Kim Brady is a friend and fellow West Seattleite, who started his first commercial release in 2010. I'm all for supporting friends and small wineries, and Brady makes it easy by producing excellent wine at an affordable price point. His club commitment is a minimum of 6 bottles a year. Members get 10% off retail price, and the release parties are a blast, not to mention often a stone's throw away from our house. Tyler Palagi of Radiator Whiskey is always whipping up delicious food pairings with Brady's wines.

West Seattle Wine Cellars Specialty Club
I have been a member of the Specialty Club offered by the West Seattle Wine Cellars for several years. It features a red and a white from literally anywhere in the world at a cap of $90 plus tax. But don't worry, Tom DiStefano, who carefully selects each bottle, has never let us down. You may get some interesting selections from Slovenia and South Africa as well as the classics from Barolo, Burgundy, and Rhone. I always recommend this club to anyone who is looking to expand his or her palate.

Quilceda Creek Release Party

Quilceda Creek Private Member List
Last but not least, the exclusive Quilceda Creek Private Member List. Quilceda Creek produces world-class Washington Cabernet Sauvignon and has a few 100-pointers from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate to its name. There is a wait to get onto the member list. It took me less than a year. Once on the list, you get to purchase three of the four wines initially: the Columbia Valley Red (or CVR, which is an excellent deal!), the Galitzine Vineyard, and the Pelanget Vineyard. After another year or so, I was finally invited to the release party and got to purchase the flagship wine. It is a game of patience, but it is definitely worth the while if you are very particular about your wine. All the wines are divine (particularly the flagship), and the membership price is unbeatable.

My Verdict: Depending on your taste and budget, there is likely a wine club or member list that works for you. Unless you have generous cellar space and/or bank accounts, you may need to break up with some club and list memberships that no longer work for you. You can always share wine club or list memberships with friends. It needs some coordination, but it can also be a win-win proposition.