Wine Clubs and Subscriptions: Are They Really Worth the Cost?
Wine culture is one of bonding and etiquette in which one can sample wines across the world. The biggest challenge of wine culture is financing the acquisition of high-quality bottles. Because of wine’s renown across the globe, it is viewed as one of the most elegant drinks. This elegance brings a fairly hefty price tag that you cannot ignore.
However, it is the sense of community that wine affords us that truly allows us to enjoy it completely despite the price a bottle might run for. To reconcile the two, wine clubs have been on the rise to help more people experience wine alongside their fellow connoisseurs.
There seems to be a much more accessible avenue for people to get involved with wine culture through wine clubs. First, however, one must stop and ask themselves if the cost of membership in a wine club is worth it. Primarily since the cost of membership in a wine club might encompass the cost of the wine bottle, you would have bought anyway.
Wine subscriptions also face a similar question, albeit with a little less community value when compared to wine clubs. With this article, we hope to provide some guidance on whether or not a wine club membership or a wine subscription is worth the cost.
What is a Wine Club?
Wine clubs are a recent development in modern society that provides a service previously unknown to wine lovers. Wine clubs were first introduced in 1972 by Paul Kalemkiarian, the manager of a liquor store in Palos Verdes Estates, California. It began as a ‘Wine of the Month’ club where he would acquire a particular type of wine to sell to his customers who were a part of the club.
The same principle remains true for modern wine clubs, as they involve a group of people acquiring a specific wine to be shared amongst its members in a group. These wine clubs have evolved since Kalemkiarian’s original concept iteration and become a more popular modern tool.
Nowadays, most wine clubs are hosted by liquor stores or privately formed by sommeliers to promote the sale of fine wines. The communities built up around the clubs established by these parties helped create a chain through which wine could be sold further.
Alternatively, there are many online-only wine clubs, also known as wine subscriptions, that ship wines to your home. In fact, these online clubs are now the norm, shipping wine to you to share with your friends and family. Official wine clubs might offer quality wine with a little more ease, but they also come with a membership fee.
For example, an online wine subscription service known as Firstleaf offers a service that starts you off with a subscription of $89.94 per shipment of 6 bottles. That essentially boils down to $14.99 per bottle every month with the wines picked based on the types you prefer per a survey you take when you sign up. However, Firstleaf is only one example of a wine club or wine subscription available. These wine clubs can be an interesting tool for getting involved in the wonderful world of wine. But are they truly worth the cost necessary to remain a member?
What Are the Pros of Wine Clubs?
As with any service you might use, joining a wine club has its advantages and disadvantages that are important to your decision to sign up. For the most part, wine clubs offer a fair number of advantages to wine lovers worldwide. Most of which are designed to make sure that you are delighted with the service and receive wines worthy of the title.
The first and perhaps, the most interesting benefit of membership with a wine club is that membership gets you access to specific wines ahead of time. Some wine clubs are funded directly by the producers of certain wine brands, and some establish close ties with vineyards. Either way, the wine producers get a fair cut of the profits that subscriptions bring in. So, they often work out deals to have newer releases shipped in the wine club packages before they hit the general market. This means that having an account with a wine club will allow you to try new wines ahead of everyone else.
The next major advantage of a wine club subscription is a financial one. Wine is usually pretty expensive, especially if you try to purchase a high-quality bottle from a reputable vendor. However, wine clubs tend to help compensate for this price issue by offering significant discounts on their wines when using a subscription model.
Some wine clubs will offer up to 20% off on their products to make the deal more enticing. This discount can make it easier to get a decent bottle of wine for a more reasonable price rather than spending hundreds on a single bottle. However, the quality will depend on the service you go through.
Next, many wine clubs will sweeten the pot further by including some bonus gifts in your monthly shipment. For the most part, some wine clubs will offer high-quality wine paraphernalia to use on the bottles they send you and any other bottles you care to drink. For example, one wine club subscription includes a free corkscrew set with the first shipment valued at almost $60.00 retail. Getting access to wine supplies like this helps you get more for your money while also enjoying the benefits such products afford you when you try to enjoy a glass from your monthly package.
Finally, you will find that having a wine club subscription might open up some new social opportunities for you with the vineyards. Some higher-end wine clubs organize member-only socials to sample more bottles at the winery while also connecting with your fellow members. This can offer immense opportunities to try some delectable wines and meet new people with shared love and interest in wine. Of course, this benefit is a little less practical and more fanciful, but it remains a highly desirable perk of the wine clubs.
However, every rose has its thorn, as they say. Wine clubs have a fair number of disadvantages that you must consider.
What Are the Cons of Wine Clubs?
While wine clubs have many perks that might cement your decision, deciding in haste could backfire. Wine clubs have their downsides that can be more severe depending on the wine club you have joined. However, by and large, the main issue with all wine clubs comes back down to the price you pay for their service.
In reality, the discount afforded as one of the key benefits of wine clubs can be rendered nonexistent with the negative side of the subscription. Whenever you sign up for a delivery service, a delivery surcharge is often factored into the product as well, especially if the product is coming from other countries.
This unfortunate supplementary charge is often significant enough that it can occasionally undo the effect of the discount. Sometimes, the delivery charge is low enough not to warrant much concern, and it is automatically factored into your subscription price. The shipping costs can overwrite the discounts because those discounts are calculated based on the retail prices of the wines offered by your club. So, while the retail price might get reduced by 10 to 20%, the shipping fees are not discounted and can make up the difference of the lost value of the retail price for the wine.
One more possible disadvantage can negatively affect your view of wine clubs. The bottles sent to you with every shipment are not yours to choose. Instead, the club preselects wines and sends them to everyone signed up for that month. This is likely not going to be a major issue for the average wine lover. However, it can cause issues if you have had run-ins with certain bottles before.
There will always be a chance that the wine you receive in your monthly shipment will be a collection of bottles that you are not fond of. This can be a disappointment if you were looking forward to a specific bottle or were hoping to try something new. Some clubs will tell you ahead of time which bottles will be in the next shipment so you can skip a month, but often the wines are an unknown until you open the package.
The benefits outnumber the downsides of wine clubs, but they are still important to keep in mind. After all, having the full picture of the wine club experience will help determine the level of satisfaction you will have with the program. The only remaining question is which clubs are worth looking into.
What Are Some Popular Wine Clubs?
There are plenty of wine clubs out there for you to choose from. However, quantity makes quality all the more important. When looking for a wine club, you will want to find one that offers wine brands you enjoy and is affordable. Otherwise, you might be doling out large sums for wine that you will not enjoy.
A few wine clubs have become very popular amongst those interested in them. Currently, two wine clubs, in particular, are being identified as ideal for those looking to enroll in a wine club program.
The first of these wine clubs is Wine Access, which offers two subscription types. The connoisseurs club model ships out 2 unique bottles of wine per shipment with 4 shipments a year. The discovery club model enhances this to 6 bottles per shipment and the ability to choose whether you are sent only red wines or receive a mixed shipment.
Each package includes wines selected by professional sommeliers to ensure a quality assortment of bottles is sent to you with each box. However, Wine Access also charges $150.00 before tax for every shipment sent out. At 4 shipments a year, you will be paying $600.00 a year.
The next wine club of note is known as Somm Select. Like Wine Access, each package sent to you includes bottles handpicked by sommeliers to maximize the bottles’ quality. Unlike Wine Access, however, Somm Select offers twice as many subscription models, with each model ascending in price and quality:
- Explore 4: A 4 bottle package that alternates the bottles by region or grape type. A package is sent every month at $99.00 a month before tax. Assuming an annual subscription, this results in a $1,188.00 a year expense.
- Somm 6: A 6 bottle package that contains an assortment of wines of different types like whites, reds, and even sparkling wines. This package runs at $199.00 a month with an annual cost of $2,388 a year.
- Somm 6 Reds: The same as the Somm 6 but exclusively for red wines. However, this package runs a monthly rate of $220.00 and an annual cost of $2,640 a year.
- Blind 6: A 6 bottle package that sends anonymous wines you can use to hone your blind tasting skills. This package has the same rates as the Somm 6 Reds package.
Wine Access and Somm Select use of sommeliers for their purposes show a great deal of promise. After all, who better to prepare a package of quality wines than those who recommend them for a living? As for the club itself, the one you select would need to be based on cost-effectiveness and the club’s reputation. However, keep in mind that you can cancel your subscription if you do not want to pay out thousands a year.
Raise a Glass With Us
Wine clubs have made enjoying wine a far simpler experience since they deliver the bottles right to your door. While the days of going into liquor stores to meet your fellow enthusiasts might be fading, wine clubs can still help promote wine culture. However, whether they are worth the cost is not a question we can fully answer.
The most straightforward answer is that it is a matter of perspective. If you want to experience new wines consistently, then a wine club could be an effective tool to maintain a steady supply. Alternatively, if you only drink wine on rare occasions, a wine club subscription might be a waste of funds. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide. That said, learning all you can about wine before making that decision can be extremely beneficial.
We at the Wine Diarist have made wine education our mission to be. Everything from how to store wine to serving it can be found in the articles on our website. If you feel there is more information you need about wine before committing to a club, visit our website and peruse our collection of postings. However, we know that we have not covered every question you might have about wine. If you have a question we have not yet answered, feel free to leave a comment so we can address it in our next post. Until then, we raise a toast to your health. Cheers to you!
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