Friday, September 21, 2007

Harvest and Wine Clubs

The Willamette Valley is getting ready for harvest time, and that means one club parties! Well, it really means lots of things, especially for those who make wine, but I'm not on that side of the world. With this in mind, I started to really think about the wine clubs that we are members of, why we are, and the benefits that we get. There are some places that we really enjoy being members at (Sokol Blosser, Erath, and LaVelle) because of the events they have. These events are fun and enjoyable, and they really make you feel appreciated as a customer. Other clubs we are members of (King Estate, and Cristom) are mostly just for the wine. Both of these wineries do not have events very often, so we are members mostly because we love the wine, and we get discounts on it, and in the case of Cristom, it forces us to buy some age-worthy wine that we might otherwise forget about.

So what makes a great wine club? I think this is a question that most wineries have asked, and that I've even asked myself, so I thought I'd take a stab at answering the question from my point of view.

I think the first thing is to have a really great wine club coordinator. This person is the face of the wine club, and many times, the face of the winery to club members. They need to be very personable, and really show interest in the people that come to the events, as well as be available and responsive to questions asked. I think the best example of this would be Brooke at Sokol Blosser. Its really amazing how good it makes you feel when somebody recognizes you, especially when we've only been members for less than a year. This friendliness would extend to the rest of the staff, but that should be a given for a winery/tasting room. Being treated a little special is really nice as well. King Estate is a great example of this. They have a list of wines that they are tasting for the day, and it is usually limited to 6-8 wines. When we go there, it feels like they roll out the red carpet for us. One time we went, I think we ended up with 20 or so bottles of wine in front of us that we had tasted, and most of it was stuff not on the list, and that they only let us try because we were club members.

The second thing is to have fun and accessible events. Sokol Blosser, LaVelle, and Erath all have fun events that we can usually attend. They are on the weekend, and usually free, and always fun. We just recently cancelled a wine club membership because the events were always on a Tuesday or Thursday evening, from 5-7pm. Now, I get off work at 5, and so trying to attend one of these events (after crossing through all of Portland's horrible traffic) would require me to leave about 3pm. Not only is the day and time not very convenient, but the events are not well planned out. The one event we actually made it to, you had to stand in line for about 10 minutes to get a 2-3 ounce taste of wine. On the other hand, we are heading to LaVelle on the 30th for their harvest party, which we attended last year as well. The wine was and is easy to get in your glass (from both the tasting room bar, staffed by 2-3 people, or the bar they set up outside, with 1-2 people working there, so never a line), the event is from 12-5pm, so plenty of time to come and go as we please, and we get to go pick some grapes, stomp them into juice, and potentially wine prizes. These are the kinds of events that make being a member worth it.

I think the quality of the events is the key determination if a wine club will be successful or not. Erath recently had a luau, with a roasted pig and everything. This was a really fun and engaging event, and makes me really glad to be a member. Having free events is also a requirement, especially being a 20-something with a new mortgage and still paying off school loans. Dinners that are $50 or so a plate (some I've seen are as high as $125) are out of reach for us. I'm fine with having those events, as I'm sure I'll attend them in a few years, but I also want to see some free, fun, and special events for those of us on a budget.

The last thing is the wine shipments and discounts. Now, I realize that the winery still needs to make money on the wines, so a 15-20% discount is what I would expect, potentially increasing to up to 30% if purchasing a case or more. I also like getting a variety of stuff in a shipment. Cristom and King Estate are really good about this, as whenever we get a shipment, its like Christmas in finding out what we got. I would rather have 3 shipments in a year, with each shipment having a variety, than 4 or 5 shipments where each one is a couple bottles of the same wine. I'm not afraid of getting a wine I don't like, because we chose the wine clubs to be members of based on the fact that we enjoy all their wines.

Now I don't think I'm an expert on wine clubs. I just know what I like, coming from my perspective and experience. I'm sure that different things work for different people, and that's what is great. If I owned a winery, I think my ramblings above would be how I would run my club, and I guess the only way to know if it would work would be try it out.

1 comment:

joe said...

If you both work, then who signs for the wine?