5 Things to Know BEFORE Joining a Wine Club
So, you’re wondering: Should I join a wine club?
Well, if you love wine or are even the tiniest bit wine curious, then the answer is an enthusiastic ‘yes’! Wine clubs are a fabulous way to enjoy a wine-infused lifestyle. So, the 5 aspects we'll be diving into below contain helpful explanations and tips to navigate your way to finding the best wine club for you - and what to watch out for!
Today we'll cover:
- Introductory Offers and Specials
- Auto Renewals
- Wine Quality
- Customer Service
But first, whether you’re looking to save money on wine or want to build your personal cellar, it’s worth spending a little time learning about the different types of wine clubs before signing on the dotted line.
Types of Wine Clubs
Broadly speaking, there are three different models for wine clubs.
- Winery Clubs: Wineries set up membership clubs and sell their wines at favorable prices directly to you. This cuts out the middle man and increases the per-bottle profit for the winery. Wineries typically include new releases of their wines in the spring and fall, along with wines from previous seasons.
- Curated Wine Clubs: These wine subscriptions specialize in procuring their selections from other, independent wineries and winemakers. Some even have a niche aspect of the wine market, for example all natural wines, biodynamic wines, or even boutique wineries. This club model develops relationships with specialty producers to source wines that meet their customers’ drinking profile.
- Producer Wine-of-the-Month Clubs. These are subscription model wine clubs that make their own wines, whether that's from their own vineyards or sourcing the grapes or juice from other vineyards. The focus is on producing wines at higher volumes for a wider membership audience. These bottles often have unregistered or made-up winery names and labels. (This is also known as 'private labels'.)
You’ll want to compare these types of club categories to find which one (or multiple!) that suits your taste and budget preferences.
If you decide to join a winery’s wine tasting club, know that you will be limited to the wines that they make. The winery may have an extensive offering of wines that you enjoy, or may only have a handful of different wines. But if you’re in love with a certain producer, this will likely be the best value wine club for you.
If you prefer more variety, then the other wine of the month club models may be a better option. These deliver a wide spectrum of different wines and producers for your tasting pleasure.
Let’s jump into what makes the two "of-the-month-club" approaches different and the key aspects to look for prior to signing up!
What should I look for in a Wine Club?
First and foremost, you or your gift recipient are here for the wine, so you will want to know where the selections are coming from and why those wines were selected.
Wine of the Month Clubs can source wine from anywhere, including off the bulk wine market, from wineries who have excess inventory, the company's own vineyards, boutique wineries looking for a larger audience, and the list goes on.
A wine club should outwardly say where their selections come. If they don't, a few ways to check how transparent a company is could be in the form of reading membership reviews, looking at their shipment history, or checking key pages such as the "About Us" or "Mission Statements" to see if the wines they are sending match your expectations and price for value.
Beware of clever marketing language like, ‘special relationships with vineyards’ or 'curated by our winemakers'. This just means that the wine club either buys the grapes or already-crushed juice from a grower and ultimately creates or entirely dictates how a specific wine will be made.
One way to double check if it’s a quality wine of the month club is to do a few web searches for past labels sent to club members (which should be listed). If the wines are coming from recognized producers and wineries, you’ll find them online. This is a sign of a quality wine club. If the wines are coming off the bulk market, or custom-made by the wine club itself, the label likely won’t have an established web presence linked to an independent winery.
Know What You’re Getting
Most wine clubs have a set number of shipments and bottles, but don’t assume this is the case for every club. Wine subscriptions can be somewhat vague with their details. These clubs will give a general dollar range for each shipment (e.g., $70-$125 per shipment) and sometimes even a range for the number of bottles in each shipment (e.g., 3-4 bottles per shipment).
This is not necessarily a negative quality, but you will need to keep that in mind if you’re on a strict wine budget.
Pay Attention to Shipping Fees
Wine is a fragile, bulky product that’s expensive to ship. Wine clubs have two shipping models: shipping included in the total club price (you only see one price on your invoice), or shipping costs are added to the price you pay for wine (your invoice will be itemized).
Look to see how the club advertises its pricing.
If the prices seem like a bargain, then double check to see if the shipping costs are included. If shipping isn’t included in the price tag, see if you can find out what that additional cost will be for each shipment. If you don't see this information listed on the website, membership agreement, or in checkout, be sure to contact the company. You may also find a club that seems a little more expensive, and it may be that shipping’s included in the overall price.
When comparing the price points of different companies, it is important to look a little closer at what you would be paying per bottle. If the per-bottle price seems "too good to be true", you might be sacrificing on the wine's quality.
Some clubs will give you tiered shipping. If you are a member of their highest tier, then shipping is sometimes complimentary. If you are a member of the introductory tier, then there’s an additional shipping charge.
Still, other models will incentivize you to buy more wine with shipping discounts. For example, if you typically have a 2-bottle shipment, but add an additional two bottles, then you’ll receive complimentary or reduced shipping as a wine club special offer. This can be a useful perk if you know you’ll be drinking more wine during certain times of the year.
Whichever model appeals to you, focus on finding a club that’s transparent in how they source their wines along with their membership costs. If they’re not up front, ask or look elsewhere.
2. Beware of ‘Introductory Specials’
A tried-and-true marketing technique, 'intro promos', will often dangle wine club special offers for first-time orders or additional purchases on the day of sign-up. An example of this could be something along the lines of, "New Members - Only $25 for 6 bottles when you sign up today!". The key is to find the small print. Oftentimes, that initial low price will be replaced for subsequent shipments that is double, triple, or quadruple the price of the intro offer.
They make it easy to say ‘yes’!
While wineries often waive tasting fees and give discounts on bottles to new wine club members, the fine print can require you to spend a certain amount of money or a set time as a club member before you can drop your membership.
That fantastic deal may cost you hundreds of dollars that you weren’t planning on spending over the course of the next year.
Club membership agreements vary greatly.
Some club agreements obligate members to accept a minimum number of shipments before being able to cancel. Other wine clubs require members to spend above a certain dollar amount on each shipment.
That complimentary tasting that you enjoyed on the afternoon you signed up may also be part of the agreement. If you cancel before a set period of time, you could be charged for any comped tastings that you enjoyed for early termination of your membership agreement. Buyer beware.
If you want to try out some of the wines before signing up for repeating shipments, check to see if they have a wine store available. If so, order just a few bottles and get a feel for what you can expect from that wine club.
3. Wine Club Auto Renewals
Just like your online streaming subscriptions, wine clubs often have different payment plan structures.
Some will bill monthly and ship wine one or two times a year when the weather’s amenable. Other wine clubs will give you a prepaid option for a set membership time-frame. This type of club structure makes an excellent gift option for the wine lover in your life. Prepaying may also give you a slight discount on your wine. But just like those streaming services, you will want to know ahead of time if the plan includes auto-renews.
A typical, renewing membership will use language such as, "ongoing", "open ended", or "monthly". These will then charge your credit card and ship out the wines on a schedule.
However...auto-renewals can also come in the form of prepaid increments. For example, you might think you're only signing up for a 3-month membership, but after the third month, you see an automatic charge for another 3 months of wine.
Wine clubs will (or should) send out an email notice letting you know that your shipment is about to be processed. Just like your other subscription notices, this email can get lost in your spam filter, so make sure you are receiving those important confirmation emails when you first sign up.
Because of the logistics involved, you may be unable to reverse charges once the payment’s processed (read your membership agreement carefully).
4. What is the Club’s Wine Quality?
Some producers are so exclusive that being a wine club member is the only way that you will ever get access to their wines. These are wineries that use an allotment system, where you will be able to purchase a set number of bottles each year, or maybe wine clubs that only allow a certain number of members to join.
Waiting lists to join this type of wine club can be several years long. Select Napa cult Cabernets fall into this category. These are typically very small-lot wines that are more expensive, but are made with the utmost care and the highest quality standards.
Unfortunately, less exclusive and less expensive clubs can include wines that a winery has excess inventory of, or has trouble selling. These large companies need such a high volume of wines that buying bulk wine juice or becoming their own winemaker is a more feasible option.
But don't fret! There are companies and wine club options that fall in between the two extremes above.
If you’re unsure how to tell if the wines you’ll be getting are the leftovers, then spend time reading reviews before you join a wine club, or get an expert recommendation from someone who’s a current member (if you trust their palate, of course!).
Awards and medals are another quick way to verify that the wines are solid. These typically come with ratings and reviews from 'Wine Spectator', 'Wine Enthusiast', or other trusted publishers and will help you feel more confident about signing up for a wine club.
5. Where’s the Customer Service?
Customer service isn’t an obvious factor you need to consider when it comes to a wine club, but at some point, you’ll likely need to reach out to someone at the company for any number of reasons including, but not limited to:
Broken bottles during shipment
Changing your address
Redirecting a shipment
Skipping a shipment (going on vacation)
Updating your credit card
Some will prefer to handle all of these types of transactions online, but they don’t always have an easy self-help website interface, assuming there’s a member portal at all. Others could be limited to email-only.
The best wine clubs have clear ways to get into contact with them when something goes sideways. You may need to reach a live customer service representative on the phone and have a conversation, allowing you to fully explain any questions or concerns you might have. While it might not seem like a deal-breaker, you’ll want to know your options.
So, what now?
How to Join a Wine Club
Now that you’ve identified what type of wine club you want to join, set your price point, and read the fine print on the membership agreement - signing up is the easy part. Reach out to the club’s customer service either online, over the phone, or in the tasting room, and they should be more than happy to help you through the process!
Ultimately, Are Wine Clubs Worth It?
If you love wine and are willing to do a little homework, then yes! Wine clubs are one of the best ways to get access to high quality wines at a great value. Plus, there’s nothing quite like coming home and finding your club shipment merrily waiting for you.
Which Wine Club Should I Choose?
The short answer is...you've come to the right place!
Here at Gold Medal Wine Club, we specialize in sourcing only the best wines from small, boutique producers that deliver outstanding quality for value. With award-winning 90+ and 93+ point wines, and dedication to finding great wines not available at most local grocery stores, we make choosing a high quality wine club as easy as it gets!
We put customer service first, and know how important it can be to get help when you need it. If for whatever reason you require assistance, it’s as simple as reaching out to our live, in-office customer service over the phone, email, or website chat. Even when it’s after hours, you can still call and talk to a real person who will take down your message and any questions you may have.
Gold Medal Wine Club focuses on bringing you the finest wines without the gimmicky introductory specials or complicated membership agreements. If you opt for a pre-paid membership, your account expires automatically after the last shipment. Members have no obligation to continue and there are never any surprise cancellation fees.
Interested in learning more? Check out all of our different wine clubs by clicking below!