The Real (and Theoretical) Perks of Joining a Wine Club
On a warm August Saturday, five friends headed north of San Francisco to California’s beloved wine country to enjoy a day of wine tasting (also known as Day Drinking), good food and bonding. One of the first wineries we visited was very different from any winery I’d visited before, and the feeling was mutual amongst everyone in my group. This place was dark, cool and dreamy—definitely not your typical tasting room experience. It felt lush and lavish, and the wine was pretty great!
I’m not sure if it was the ambience, the booze, or the fact that the non-member tasting for each person was $30 (unusually steep for a tasting in my limited experience), but three of us decided to join the wine club to have the group’s tasting fees waived. A few seconds after jotting down my credit card information and a quick daydreamy vision about where my new stash of wine would live in my studio apartment, I was a MEMBER of the CLUB.
I’m pretty new to the wine game. My good friend and former roommate (who has also written for this site) knows everything about wine (at least according to me, but I’m sure she would say otherwise). It was with her that I experienced the first wine I actually liked, my gateway wine, if you will, which was a Chateau St. Michelle Riesling. It was crisp and delightful and I was ready to see what else I might like. Since then I’ve embraced wine and really enjoy reading about it, and using apps to keep track of my favorites (I use the Delectable App).
I didn’t grow up around wine the way a lot of my friends did. I grew up in a family where drinking any kind of alcohol was never common (the way it is in my life now). My parents are interested in wine now too, but it isn’t something I learned about from the adults around me, or by taking secret sips. Up until the end of college, I thought wine smelled awful and was something fancy people drank, so in that way it felt inaccessible and I didn’t understand the appeal. Turns out, it is not only accessible, but delicious, compliments food well, and is good for you (in moderation)!
Upon the arrival of my first wine shipment I also received my first credit card charge from the winery. Some perks of the wine club that I should mention before we jump into cost breakdowns include:
- Discounts on your wine (both that you receive in the shipment, and the bottles you purchase at the winery)
- Free tastings at their winery or sister wineries
- Free brick oven baked pizza when you visit
- Invitations to exclusive member events
My first shipment came to a total of $133.11. Each shipment comes with three bottles, usually one or two of their label and one from their sister winery in France. In total here’s what I spent:
October 2014 – Visited, bought two bottles with discount – $53.07
November 2014 – Shipment – $147.50
December 2014 – Attended a wine club event – $25
December 2014 – Bought one bottle with discount – $19.50
February 2015 – Shipment – $169.65
Total – $547.83
With my shiny membership, I had a few expectations of what it would be like to be a wine club member. I don’t know where these ideas came from, but I imagined myself sipping local pinot with handsome single men (I was single at the time), and having fun conversations with other members and the winemakers about wine. I visited the winery about three times to take advantage of the free tastings (and free pizza, because, come on). Each time I visited, my expectation was that they’d be excited to see me, like an old friend. But instead I felt like they were busy and just going through the motions pouring the wines, reciting the script that told the story of each wine and the winemaker, and fielding questions (which is, frankly, what they’re supposed to do!). I understand that working in the hospitality and service industries can be a tough job (I worked in the foodservice industry in high school and college, and it is exhausting!) but for the high ticket price, I, for some reason, had higher (and possibly unrealistic) expectations. The wine club gal was never unhappy to see me, but I didn’t feel as welcomed as I thought I would feel—sort of like I didn’t really belong there as much as I thought I would.
What was I paying for, exactly? I had to ask myself this question when I was deciding whether or not to continue my membership (luckily with this winery, you could cancel your membership at any time). Was I paying to be accepted into this seemingly bougie and intimidating world of wine that can still make me feel a little uncomfortable? Or was it to try new wines and build my collection? It was a little bit of all of the above, to be honest. I don’t think that wine has to be or is super exclusive. It can feel that way though, and I think I was trying to break down that barrier in some way.
In the end, I cancelled my membership. I really did enjoy being a “member” for a little under a year. The perks were fine, but not spectacular. It was nice to build up a great collection of nice wines to choose from. When I’m ready to be a wine club member again, it’ll be to give a new winery a whirl, and I’ll have better managed expectations. I’d like to think that this was my “gateway” wine club experience, and the next one and the one after that will be different and interesting in their own ways.
This story is part of a series examining our financial vices.
Photo: Leon Brocard