On my last visit to Northern Sonoma Wine Country, I re-evaluated the value of my coveted collection of wine club memberships. In jest, I often call myself the “Wine Club Queen,” as I love to join wine clubs, but rarely stay in the club longer than the norm. Industry statistics show members typically remain in a wine club for 25 months. So what gives? Why join a wine club? Or better yet, why do members leave a club?
For some weekend wine warriors, wine tasting is akin to a cult group activity with the primary goal of getting a buzz. Take Southern California’s Temecula Wine Country for example. On any given weekend, there is a parade of party busses packed with pretty 20-something year old bachelorette party-ers adorned with sashes and glitzy tiaras who are seriously drinking their way through the valley. I doubt few, if any, join a wine club, or even buy a bottle of wine.
Then, there’s the yearly Sonoma County’s Wine Road Barrel Tasting Weekend event. The word on the wine trail is that the younger crowd seizes the challenge in drinking as much barely aged barrel wine as possible, despite the inevitable dizzying aftermath. I doubt few, if any, invest in the barrel futures or join a wine club.
So besides the thrill of the hunt for the perfect wine tasting event, the perfect wine or even the most beautiful winery setting, there are some benefits to joining a wine club such as meeting the winemaker, private tastings, tours and exclusive events. For me, it’s always the story behind the vines that sparks my interest.
There is definitely an “aaaah moment” when you experience the perfect Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon in a beautiful vineyard setting! The magic of the vines dancing in the sun is mesmerizing and surely enhances the bouquet of the wine in the glass. Cutting edge wineries will offer an enticing initial discount and special wine club perks to join their wine club. All promise future discounted allocations with minimal commitment, hoping that your initial “aaaah moment” lingers long after the wine in your glass. So you sign up….
Shortly after the fond memory of the lofty winery visit fades, an email arrives with the upcoming club selection and an oft-hefty charge to your credit card. If you happen to be a multi-wine club member, you’ll find several credit card charges around the same time for each club. Sometimes the selected club wines are interesting, but sometimes not so much. The best wine clubs offer some customization of the order so you only receive and pay for the wines that you want to try. Other clubs ship you whatever wines they happen to release. Most club members limp along with the released wines, not questioning the process. When the thrill of receiving the same wines quarter after quarter is gone, it’s time for many to opt out of the club.
Silicon Valley Bank Wine Division founder, Rob McMillan, likened joining a wine club to the economic theory of marginal utility. Defined, marginal utility is a measure of the amount of enjoyment a person gets by purchasing the next incremental unit of the exact same good.
A successful wine club will keep their members engaged with frequent communication, invites to exclusive wine club events and recognize members’ loyalty when they revisit the tasting room by offering library tastings or time with the winemaker.
When members tire of the wines or don’t feel valued, they may opt to drop out of the wine club, or perhaps find greater utility in another wine club. Sometimes finances or medical conditions will dictate cancelling membership, as members discover a greater utility in paying a water bill or a greater utility in living. according to McMillan.
Bottom line is, if you love the wine in your glass and want to continue to receive the newest releases of that winery’s wines, join the club. If you like variety and don’t want the financial commitment, no discount justifies joining a club. Cheers!