On a dreary grey day recently, a box was delivered to my office by courier. One glance at the size and shape of the box immediately made the day brighter. It contained, I knew without even checking the label, a selection of a half-dozen bottles from one of my favourite wineries.
As I drove home later that day with the box on the seat beside me, I thought back to my first experience with a wine club, probably about 20 years ago. The concept was a relatively new idea and being able to get wine delivered to the door seemed like a magical concept.
My first delivery from Sumac Ridge Estate Winery — this was back in the day when it was still owned independently by the legendary Harry McWatters — contained a dozen bottles in a wooden case. Alongside was a box containing six etched wine glasses with the Sumac Ridge name, and a waiter’s corkscrew. I still have the box, the distinctively shaped glasses and the opener.
The box delivered to my office last week came from Serendipity Winery, one of my favourite small producers, located on the Naramata Bench. It’s the only wine club I belong to at the moment, primarily because we buy most of our wine on visits to wineries when I go out to do interviews and tastings for this column and Food and Wine Trails magazine assignments. But Serendipity is a small producer and I don’t want to chance missing out on a release because my Okanagan visits don’t always take me to Naramata.
Inside the box were three reds, a rosé and two white wines. Tasting notes for each were included, as was a personal letter from owner Judy Kingston. The letter explained her selections, included comments from her daughter, Katie, acknowledged our meeting at a Calgary tasting last month and thanked me for the stories I have written about the winery.
In a random survey, conducted by going into the websites of wineries that popped into my head, I found that about two-thirds have wine clubs. I can’t think of a good excuse for those who don’t. Having commitments ahead of time, with credit card use permission, is money in the bank. Just as importantly, it allows wineries to maintain an ongoing relationship with customers.
Serendipity Winery offers three levels of membership in its wine club. The first is really just a free subscription to an emailed newsletter and the opportunity to buy special releases. The second ships six bottles twice a year and the third tier ships six bottles three times a year. Membership in the second and third tiers also includes an invitation to a summer barrel tasting and barbecue, and the option of spending a day in the vineyard, learning to prune or pick grapes along a row named for the member.
In my informal survey, I found that most wine club memberships offer discounts to other wine purchases, as well as tasting notes. Some include free shipping, recipes and restaurant discounts. Poplar Grove members who refer new members get a $10 credit for purchases. Black Widow members get preferential booking at the winery’s bed and breakfast. Some offer options for different numbers of bottles in a shipment and in the frequency of those shipments.
The most obvious benefit for members, though, is the same as it is for wineries. It gives the member an ongoing relationship with the winery. Show up at the tasting room and mention you are a wine club member and the likelihood is that you will get extra-attentive service, waived tasting fees and an invitation to take a tour. In essence, you become part of the winery’s family.
Many years ago, on our first visit to Sumac Ridge, we were told that people who visit the winery and make purchases are the ones who enable a winery to expand and offer better experiences for visitors. Why? Because other than taxes, all the money from those purchases stays in the winery’s pockets. There are no sales commissions, shipping fees or wholesale discounts. Other than the shipping costs, wine club memberships offer the same benefit to the winery, with the added level of security that comes with the pre-ordering of products.
If you like wines from a particular winery, consider checking the web site to see if it has a wine club. It’s a great way to stay connected.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.