Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Do Wine Club Memberships Make Great Gifts?

The holidays are fast approaching and now is a great time to consider what you’d like to receive (as a wine lover) and what you’d like to give the wine aficionado on your list.

Maybe you’ve considered joining or gifting a wine club.  There are a multitude of wine clubs out there, from those offered by a local winery, to clubs from select wine regions, retailers, internet wine clubs, even media outlets.

You can select clubs based on the types of wine; red wines, white wines, sweet wines, dry wines, gold medal wines, organic wines. Or maybe a wine club that changes it’s theme with each shipment is more to your liking. Whatever you’re searching for, you can probably find it at this time of year when clubs offer specials and incentives for the holidays.

Wine club memberships are great gift ideas because they allow you (or your recipient) the convenience of receiving select wines directly to your door. Wine clubs have helped introduce consumers to varieties, locations and producers they might not normally have tried or had access to.  And that has helped in expanding the customer’s range of knowledge about wine, wine regions, and the industry as a whole.

Paul Kalemkiarain
The concept of the wine club is said to have developed about in 1972 when Paul Kalemkiarain, Sr., started choosing  ‘monthly wine selections’ to offer to the customers of a liquor store he managed in California.  Customers requested that the wines be delivered to their homes and Kalemkiarain began sending them by mail – thus began a monthly wine club.

What Comes with the Wine
Today wine clubs are as different as the wines themselves.  The varieties of wine offered, the number of bottles sent, the frequency of the club; monthly, bimonthly or quarterly, and the frequency of shipping are all variables you should consider when selecting a wine club.  Newsletters, winetasting notes, food pairing tips, recipes, even personal notes from the winemaker may be added perks with a wine club membership. But in the end, cost may be the true deciding factor. 

Wine Shipping
Prices charged for wine clubs are what the market will bear, so do your research.  Clubs can start at $30 + shipping for two bottles of wine and go up to around $200 + shipping for two bottles. Wine may be shipped by ground (the lowest rate) or overnight by private carriers, but never by the U.S. Postal Service.  Some wine clubs will offer shipping at a flat rate, regardless of what you order.

Here are just a few things to consider before joining up:

• Specific wine clubs offers exactly what you want.
• Wine clubs offer wines that may not be available through regular store channels, especially true for small wineries.

• If you reside in a rural or limited wine area, wine clubs may give you access to wines that are difficult to obtain in your area.

• Wine clubs are a good way to experience different wines from all over the world.

• Wine clubs may offer special discounts, or hold special events just for wine club members. Winery wine clubs offer perks such as complimentary wine tastings, pick-up parties, or free wine glasses.

• Limited wines may only be released to wine club members.

• Wine clubs strengthen relationships with the customer and the winery or producer.

• Wine club prices may be highly inflated.  What will the club cost you over a year? (Figure in the price of the bottles, taxes, and shipping.) Do the math before you sign.

• Wine clubs select the wines to be sent.  You could end up receiving wines that you don’t necessarily like.

• State-to-state wine shipping laws. Rules vary from state to state, sometimes county to county, regarding wine shipments, including how many bottles/cases you can receive and if taxes are charged. Learn more at

• Shipping prices can be prohibitive.  Since wine cannot be sent by regular mail,
private shippers must be used.  Keep in mind that UPS and Fed Ex also include extra charges for adult signatures, and an adult must be present for these carriers to leave the package.

• Condition the wine arrives in.  Once the wine leaves the wine club premises it is at the mercy of the shipper.  This means it can set on a dock in the sun or inclement weather.  Check with the club and see if they will hold shipments for you if your area is difficult to ship to weather-wise.

• Wine clubs are not personal.  You can’t get a recommendation or up-close, personal service like you would in a wine shop or store.

• Other limitations and requirements - Find out if there’s a penalty for canceling your membership. What happens if you don’t purchase the agreed upon amount of wine in the amount of time specified?

Bottom Line:
When you join a wine club make sure its one with wines you will continue to enjoy over the length of the membership period.  Check out how often wines are shipped, when your card will be charged, and how you can track your shipment.  Can you request fewer shipments, or have them held and shipped at more appropriate times?  Also read the fine print before signing and find out what’s required to join and cancel a club membership.

If it’s a club that sounds too good to be true – check it out. Make sure the wine club is legitimate.  Has it had complaints registered against it?  Are the wines delivered what they’re promised to be?  Are there unseen costs added in?  Is the shipping really free?

Like anything else, a wine club is only as good as the value you feel you are getting. Make sure it’s a good fit for your tastes and objectives.

After all, the Holidays are all about spreading “Good Cheer,” and wine club memberships can be great gifts that  "keep on giving!"

~ Joy