Well, that depends, of course...
Yes, I'm in a Club*. Technically, my wife owns the Club Membership over at Que Syrah, but she lets me enjoy the benefits too.
I'm not completely talking about the dollars part of joining a club, but it's certainly a factor for most of us and probably more so (and to more of us) these days than just a few years ago. Ultimately, you have to feel like you're getting value for money and that's going to be a little different for all of us.
There are a lot of Clubs out there, and lot of variation across them on how they work and what you can expect to see. If we can leave the dollars until the end, here are the things I think you need to ask yourself before signing on.
Do we want...
- wines that fit in our wine happy place?
- or wines that don't?
- wines we've never seen and / or heard of before?
- wines we might not find on our own?
- wines that are rare and / or hard to get a hold of?
- wines that teach us something new?
- wines that come from a specific region?
- wines that are really really really good?
- discounts to other purchases?
- access to tasting notes / history / trivia for each wine?
There is no doubt that you would be able to find any of these wants (and certainly more) out there with the help of your friends, favorite store, or even google but the real challenge is identifying the Club that meets your wants.
The extension of this challenge is finding a club that finds you way more successful matches of your wants than not. And that's a challenge for the Club, one I certainly don't envy. They have to balance what they want to provide, what they can get, what they think their members want, the time it takes to put together and ultimately make a couple of bucks (either directly from the memberships and / or indirectly from additional sales) at the end of the day.
Why did we join a Club? Personally, it's because someone else is doing the hard work and we just reap the benefits of their knowledge, research, contacts, buying power, sense of adventure and tasty treats. We like to be surprised, we like to try things we wouldn't find on our own and we hope to learn something new - we are happy with the surprises that come our way each month. We're also ok with the occasional miss - it's a personal miss and we're sure (hope?) that others in the Club are more enthusiastic on those ones - but it's all part of the learning experience we enjoy from our Club.
I think in general, the more specific and focused your wants - reds from South Australia (as a side note, get a hold of a Shiraz out of Coonawarra if you haven't already!) vs reds from Australia vs reds from anywhere - the less you'll have to choose from, but when you lock in on a Club that does you'll probably be more continually happy with what you're getting.
How do you find that Club? The challenge once you've decided what kind of Club you want is finding it...
- Your happy wine place isn't necessarily the same as mine, nor the person(s) who's running the Club.
- Your idea of being stretched isn't necessarily the same as mine, nor the person(s) who's running the Club.
- Your idea of somewhere in the middle... you get it, right...
Ask around... Read around...
For the local (or localish) store type ones go visit and talk to the person in charge of it. For the Internet ones look for references, look for what they've done in the past and read their forums. Either way, you need to find out the philosophy(s) of the club and if it's what you're after you then need to figure out how well you think it meets that philosophy. Hopefully you don't get involved with a 'dud', but if you do quit it politely (most store ones seem to be month to month, internet ones some sort of trial time frame), learn something, and try again.
The bottom line here is that I think a Wine Club is Worth the Price of Admission. My palette is definitely better off for the adventure so far and we currently have no exit strategy from our Club. But remember, we found a Club that works for us.
Have some fun with this, but please don't get stressed doing so. Wine should always be fun no matter how you get the bottle to your table.
* - It's a Club where you get two bottles a month for a regularly deducted financial contribution. We always go a white and a red, but you can go two reds if you prefer. And for a few extra bucks you can have your selection (and tasting notes and fun story) arrive automagically on your doorstep each month - not our choice (and not because of the few extra bucks!) because we like to visit the store and say hi to Don. If you're curious, we've used a blog format to document what has come our way over the last couple of years to help us remember all the treats - we have another way to help remember, but that's a whole other story...