Should You Join a Wine Club?

Inglenook (formerly Rubicon Estate)

Inglenook (formerly Rubicon Estate), where wine club members get their $50 tasting fee waived

Almost every winery has some sort of wine club, and if you’re in the middle of wine tasting and really enjoying yourself at a particular winery you may think about joining.  But should you?

The immediate benefits are tempting – the winery is probably offering to waive any tasting fee for that day and offering a discount on any purchases.  Joining the wine club is typically free and there is usually no penalty for cancelling your membership later on.  If you like the wines you’ve tried, the idea of wines coming directly to you in the future automatically is a low-effort way to continue the pleasurable experience you’re currently having.  On top of that, some wineries have special VIP rooms for wine club members for wine tasting, which can make you feel extra special (and/or provide opportunities to show off for your friends).

So, you should just say “yes”, right?

Maybe.  There are a lot of very good reasons to join a wine club, but before you commit you should think about the following so you know exactly what you are getting into:

1.  Can the wines actually be shipped to you in the future?   Every state has its own laws, so make sure the winery is actually going to be able to send you the wines you want.

2.  How much will the wine club membership eventually cost?  Look closely at the number of shipments per year, the number of bottles shipped each time, and ask the winery about average costs per shipment.  That free wine club membership could end up costing you over $1000 per year in wine and shipping costs.  The wine may be completely worth it, but you should know what you’re signing up for.

3.  Are you able to get these wines on your own back home or not?  Some wineries distribute through retailers, some don’t.  Some wineries distribute a few of their larger-production wines but not others.  On the other hand, wine clubs are frequently the only way to ensure access to some low production or very popular wines, which may be important to you.

4.  What sort of discounts on purchases are being offered?  Does the discount apply to wines shipped to you, wines purchased at the winery, or both?  If you receive a wine in your shipment and you want to purchase additional bottles, does the discount apply to additional purchases or not (and is there a time limit on that discount)?  Does the discount apply to large format bottles (magnums, etc.) or just 750 ml bottles?  Be sure to also ask if wine purchase discounts apply to all wines, or just some wines (frequently the discounts do not apply to “library” wines).  The more likely you are to take advantage of wine club benefits, the more reasons to decide “yes” about signing up.

5.  What sort of perks can you get on future trips to the winery?  If wine club membership includes free tasting, how many guests can you bring with you and still get everyone’s tasting comped?   Is there a discount on other merchandise sold by the winery (T-shirts, cookbooks, housewares, food products, etc.) and if so, what is the discount on those items?  If the winery offers other programs such as tours or food and wine programs, see if those have discounts as well for wine club members.  Seriously assess how many of these perks you (and/or your close friends you expect to return with) will be able to utilize.

6.  Do the wine club membership benefits extend to any other wineries?  Sometimes multiple wineries have a common owner and wine club membership at one gets you free tastings and/or purchase discounts at other wineries, even if you don’t get wines shipped from the other wineries.  See if this is happening, and/or appeals to you.

7.  What special events occur at the winery, and how could wine club membership help you better afford attending?  Many wineries hold release parties, harvest celebrations, holiday events and/or winemaker dinners, and sometimes wine club members can attend at reduced prices (or the events are exclusive to wine club members only).  Of course, the benefits here only help if you can see yourself actually returning to the winery and participating in these events.

8.  Is there a penalty for cancelling your membership at a later date, and if so what is it?  Your financial situation may change down the road, you may not like the wines as much as expected over time, or you may find yourself with too many wine club memberships to manage.  These things all happen, and wineries are used to it.  However, if you sign up for a wine club only to turn around and cancel it two weeks later because all you wanted was a free tasting, well then that’s just plain tacky.

9.  Does the wine club shipment involve allocations, and what happens if you don’t purchase your full allocation?   Some wineries don’t care if you don’t purchase the full amount of bottles offered, while other wineries (usually smaller, “cult” ones) may decrease your priority on their list and/or drop you from their list if you don’t purchase everything they want you to.  There is no wrong answer here – you just need to make sure the winery’s business philosophy works with your personal preferences.

Wineries love their wine club members because they represent almost guaranteed sales, even at a discount the winery will usually make more profit per bottle than through retail distribution, and happy repeat customers result in a fun environment when you return to the winery in person.

Wine clubs are a enjoyable for consumers too.  Guaranteed delivery of wine from a winery you like, discounts on purchases, special treatment on future visits, and personal invites to special events are always fun.  You just need to make sure when you join a wine club it’s the right one for you, and the questions above should help you determine that.


Should You Join a Wine Club? — 3 Comments

  1. Thanks for the compliment. We’ve found wine clubs to be great for us, especially if we are able to go back to the winery enough times to take advantage of the benefits offered.

  2. Pingback: 3 Tips for Wine Tasting in Napa and Sonoma on a Budget

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