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The wine clubs that we are interested in are not speakeasy spots like the cover image. The ones that we are concerned with are the wine clubs that date back to the 1950s and 1960s in Europe. In the iconic wine countries like France, Italy and Germany, wine clubs were initially formed by groups of friends who loved wine and met up regularly to taste and talk wine. Something like: “Hey, Francois, Francesca and Franz come over on Friday night and let’s taste that new Rioja.”
The first such wine club in America was the California Wine Club which was founded in 1990 by Bruce and Pam Boring. Despite their surname we doubt there was anything boring about the husband and wife team who started the first wine club in America. I imagine their neighbors calling the cops on them frequently because they would blast Metallica from their tasting room and make molotov cocktails out of the empties of all the “Cali Cabs” they consumed and then launch them off their roof into their pool. <Metallica’s epic Master of Puppets plays in the background.>
The imaginary heavy metal atmosphere surrounding early 90s wine club tastings does not transfer to the wine clubs as commonly known today. Wine clubs today are subscription based services intended to introduce you to new wines monthly or quarterly. We are always thirsty for the next glass of something new so they have been largely successful ever since they formed. The advent of the internet and social media has extended the reach of wine clubs making it easier for wine drinkers to learn about them and sign up.
Intrinsically, they are successful because they check all the boxes that are important to wine drinkers today. First, the largest wine clubs offer personalized recommendations that tailor selections to your palate. They also are a very convenient way to discover new wines if you have a busy schedule with limited time for shopping. Then, there is curation that you will not find on the internet unless you religiously follow the leading wine critics on Twitter or Facebook to see what they are drinking. But who has time to read every Facebook post by J. Suckling as he runs from tasting to tasting. (I do but you get what I mean.)
All the boxes that they check however do not weigh equally. Above all, exclusivity or access to a winery’s limited release or one of their wines that scores a lofty rating and sells out everywhere and the winery becomes the only source for a bottle is what really keeps subscribers around. Drinking a limited release from Schrader Cellars strokes your ego. As everyone scrambles to find that Wine Spectator Wine of the Year, you do not panic because you just got an email from the winery that since you are a wine club member they “reserved” a bottle for you to enjoy. Sometimes for an additional sum or part of your subscription. Needless to say, wine clubs are highly appreciated in such a circumstance but there was a time when a particular wine club lost the appreciation of their subscribers and suffered rebuke.
In the early 2000’s, Wine.com was accused of misrepresenting the wines they were sending to wine club subscribers. They claimed that they were sending “Premium Wines At Discounted Prices” but subscribers felt defrauded after receiving the shipments. Plaintiffs in the suit who were a number of wine club members also claimed they were charged for wines they did not receive and never refunded for damaged wine. They also said that Wine.com made it virtually impossible to cancel their subscriptions. The suit ended up being settled for $3 million and money was distributed among the plaintiffs (and their lawyers of course.) Wine.com admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to be more transparent about their offerings. This stroll down memory lane was not intended to besmirch Wine.com’s wine club and we are glad both parties reached an agreement.
If nothing really matters unless you are willing to sue for it then wine clubs are a really big thing and as long as they continue to compete on access, personalization, curation and convenience they will endure. If you are interested in a wine club that checks all these boxes and prides itself on finding unsung wines from Europe, specifically Italy that make you want to party like the Boring’s back in the 90’s then give us your email. We will be in touch.
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