Wine clubs can provide convenience, savings and opportunity for adventure.  But are wine clubs worth the time and expense?  If we visit tasting rooms or subscribe to wine publications, we’re going to be solicited for wine clubs. Many wineries rely on tasting room visits and wine club memberships to sell their wine. Let’s review program features offered by most wineries, distributors and independent wine clubs, then I’ll share the criteria I use when deciding if a particular wine club is right for me.

Here are the seven most common types of clubs and club-like programs and their basic functionality:

Mailing List
  • Newsletters and announcements to maintain contact with visitors
  • Announcements of new releases, special offers and events
  • Intended to motivate return visits to the winery and remote purchases
Subscriber List
  • Mailings and emails primarily to frequent buyers
  • Subscribers are contacted only when a new release or special promotion is available
  • Sometimes subscribers are offered discounts on orders less than a case
  • Availability of limited release wines is not guaranteed, orders are handled on a first-come, first-served basis
Allocation Members
  • Similar to Subscribers in that Allocation members purchase frequently
  • Allocation members have wines reserved for them until an order deadline date, after which wines that have been allocated to the Subscriber, but not ordered, are released for purchase by other Subscribers
  • Allocation amounts may increase based on length of membership and buying habits
Basic Clubs
  • Periodic wine shipments, typically between 3 to 6 times per year
  • Discounts on wines and products
  • Free tours and tastings
  • Invitations to special events
  • Member-only sales and promotions
Elite Clubs
  • Basic club benefits
  • Deeper discounts based on larger purchase volume
  • Elite-only special events and premium tours and tastings
Distributor or Other Independent, Non-Producer Clubs
  • Wines from several producers, including foreign wines (sometimes)
  • Clubs are run by retailers, distributors or companies that simply run the club
Flash Sites
  • Online wine shops that distribute daily emails, sometimes several per day, offering short term (flash) sales
  • Example: The Wine Spies 
  • Many standard online wine retailers offer email alerts for flash sales, such as  BevMo  Total Wine & More

My basic criteria for evaluating a wine club are in these questions.

Can I Receive Only Wines I Select?  Very few of us like all the wines made by a single producer, therefore if we join a club we want the flexibility to receive only the wines we’ve tasted and know we like. Some clubs allow members to choose their shipment from a list, others allow the pre-selected wines to be swapped for other wines the member prefers. Both are good options. Many wineries post the contents of shipments in advance on their web site. I stay away from wines with “mystery shipments.”

How Deep Are The Discounts?  Club member purchases are almost always discounted, but does the winery offer a case discount on top of that? This is not always a determining factor when deciding whether or not to join a club, but it is useful information when budgeting our purchases.

Are Some Products Available Only To Members?  Many wineries reserve ultra premium or limited production wines for purchase by club members only.

Can I Pick Up The Wines At The Winery Or Tasting Room?  I often schedule Wine Adventures around wine club pick-ups.  I don’t like having my club wines shipped – shipping adds cost, requires someone to be at the shipping address to sign for the delivery, and shipping dates can be changed at the last minute based upon weather conditions.  If you’re not a local, many clubs allow shipments to be held until your next visit.

Can I Cancel Wine Club Membership At Any Time?  I won’t get into a club that doesn’t have a Cancel Any Time policy.  This becomes important if a wine club changes its program features or the quality of wine declines.

AND THE GRANDDADDY OF THEM ALL: Is the club price the best price in town? Ever been in a major warehouse store, wine shop or supermarket and found your club wines on the shelf, but at a lower price than you’re paying as a club member? It’s happened to me and to other Wine Adventurers I’ve spoken with. I’ll usually snap a photo of the store’s price tag and email it to the wine club manager requesting an explanation.

Additional features of wine clubs offered by wineries and distributors are far too many to cover here.  But I hope you found my evaluation criteria helpful in formulating criteria of your own.  If you have additional criteria to share, I hope you will leave a comment.