Wine Clubs are an interesting subject and I would like to talk about them for a minute. How do you pick which ones to join, if any? I personally am a member of two wine clubs. One is a local winery, Chateau Benoit, and another a mail-based wine club, Pacific Northwest Wine Club. I want to take time to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each.
The wine club based out of a winery has great social benefits. The club I am a member of has about five events a year. These events range all across the board. They have formal dinners with the winemaker, blind tasting events, casual barbeques and winemaking seminars. I have attended at least one event from each category. As wine club members, you also usually get first chance to buy new or unique wines before the general public does. Wine is usually shipped to you either six times or four times a year. I like to pick up my wines at the winery so as to be able to taste the wines I am getting and see if they are ready to drink now or need more time.
The formal dinners are a nice chance to dress up, enjoy superior food and have wines from the winery paired to each course. These typically are the also the most expensive to attend but usually there are only one or two a year so you should be able to make at least one of them.
Casual barbeques are nice, for you can usually just sit down enjoy a nice meal, talk to the winemaker and other winery employees over some good food and wine. These are typically cheaper than the formal events and to me can be more enjoyable because of the laid-back atmosphere.
Blind tastings are my favorite event to attend. At this event the winery usually will put before you six to eight wines in unmarked glasses. The goal is for you to taste each wine, make notes and then rank them in order of preference. Then after everyone is done, the wines are revealed and the entire group discusses the wines. This is a great way to see how much price, appearance of label or prejudices play into picking out your wines. I have attended blind tastings for Pinot Gris, Syrah/Rhones, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Chardonnays and many others. I am always surprised at which wines I picked based on notes. In the Pinot Gris tasting, I did pick the host winery's Pinot Gris as my favorite. In the Syrah/Rhone my choice happened to be the most expensive and in the rest I seemed to like the cheaper wines more often. It really helped me see a lot of us have developed prejudices against wines we think are inferior and we tend to stick with the mainstream or more acceptable wines when buying.
Winemaking seminars are also really fun. I just got done attending a blending party. At the party we as a group of about 50 people, help make the Pinot Noir for the Wine Club’s 2002 Pinot Noir. This event has also been one my favorites. Each table of about eight people made a few blends of Pinot Noir. We were give this year four vineyard designates and were asked to use the four to make the perfect Pinot Noir. Each table, after a few attempts, determined its best blend. These were then taken by the winemaker and blended into a large batch. These new blended wines were then poured into unmarked glasses for the group to blind taste. So each person had six just-blended Pinot Noirs and was asked to rank them from favorite to least favorite. Then the blends were talked about, told which table blended them and what percentages of the four wines were used. The wine will be blended and bottled in the fall by the winemaker and then sold exclusively to the wine club.
As you can see, I am big fan of winery wine clubs. Let me just hint on a drawback of a winery wine club. You are limited to the wines the winery makes. So before you just go out joining any wine club, taste the wines and make sure you will be happy getting these wines shipped to you throughout the year. It would not hurt to watch and taste at the winery you are thinking of joining over a few years to make sure you like the style of wines also. Remember, each year the wines will change a little but the style of the winemaker will be the same. If the winemaker makes big jammy Pinot Noirs then you will get that style of Pinot Noir every year.
Mail-based wine clubs are not usually as social as winery wine clubs for they are generally based out of a warehouse somewhere. Depending on which one you join, it could be a warehouse in Washington, California, Australia or even somewhere in Europe. As you can see, it would be hard to visit the warehouse or attend events. These clubs usually allow their members access to wines you might otherwise never see here on our store shelves. I am member of a mail-based club. I get a shipment every month of two wines (one white and one red) that I usually have never tasted or seen before. This is nice, for it gives you a chance to taste wines you might overlook or never get. Just make sure you know how the wines are selected for shipment. Some clubs have one person selecting the wines, while others are picked out by a panel doing blind tastings.
If you have questions or know of a great club, let me know and I will be glad to answer the questions or check out the club.