Using Wine Clubs as Elite Status
I love good wine. I also agree that wine clubs are overrated, but sometimes I find them a great means of getting VIP treatment.
If you sign up for a wine club membership on the spot, they’ll usually waive all your tasting fees, take huge percentages off your order, give you free shipping cartons, wrap up lots of wine glasses, and be really, really nice. If you even just express interest in their wine club, that will often thaw the most jaded of winery attendants. Whether or not you actually want to keep your membership after the minimum shipments arrive is another matter.
I’ve found it worthwhile to stick with a few of my favorite, slightly higher-end wineries, and this past weekend reminded me why.
We started off the morning at Grgich Hills Estate. Part of my wine club perk is getting to reserve a spot in the VIP tasting room in advance. I scheduled our appointment for 10AM (since Jeanne was squeamish about starting wine-tasting at 9:30). There were already quite a few people in the regular tasting room when we showed up, but Heidi, our assigned tasting rep met us and led us back to the other room which is quiet, has real couches and tasting tables, and is just generally pleasant. They even had a sign to greet us!
Grgich can get quite hectic and has lots of tour groups coming through, but our room was a little oasis with no noise and no rush. We went through the regular tasting, and then decided to try the $30 reserve tasting, which features their single vineyard cabs and higher end sauvignon blanc.
I love the Yountville Cab, but I think at $150 a bottle,laying down their regular cab for a few years is a better investment. Their Zinfandel this year is surprisingly good. The highlight of the tasting for Jeanne was the Violetta dessert wine, which goes for a decadent $85 a bottle.
While we were mulling over just how many bottles we could justify buying, our Grgich rep thoughtfully kept pouring more Violetta into our glasses. By the time we’d settled up, I think Jeanne and I had half the 375 ml bottle.
So for about $150 every quarter, the Grgich wine club gets me unlimited regular and reserve tastings (a $45 per person value per visit), access to nicer tasting venues, a 15% discount on all purchases, and a friendlier experience whenever I go. Not to mention what the actual wine I’m buying is worth. Definitely a value for me.
After rationalizing our purchases extensively, we grabbed an early lunch at Gott’s Roadside in St. Helena, which has great burgers. Jeanne opted to chow down on the shrimp tacos and I picked the special of the day, a Thai style shredded beef sandwich which had great heat, and some tasty fries-green with fresh garlic, parsley, and olive oil. Yum.
Instead, we headed up north into Calistoga to Lava Vine, a small winery I’d visited 2 years before. The atmosphere had improved – it was much more chill, less focused on selling wine, and more about selling the experience of their wine. The wines had improved too, but the prices had sky rocketed. $45 for a Cabernet Franc is a bit steep. We both liked their dry Rose and their Petite Syrah best. Their wine club didn’t get you much, except access to vintages that sell out quickly, which is great if you’re a fan, but pretty much worthless for us since we didn’t get to taste them (sold out).
From there we headed back south to Freemark Abbey for their 2007 Sycamore Cabernet Release party. As a wine club member, I could get up to 4 of the $50 tickets for free. Usually I don’t think the tickets are ever worth the price, but wow, I would have easily paid that much for the experience we had.
We check in and are given a glass for our use during the party, as well as a welcome pour of their Viognier. Walking in, it looked like they have various stations set up to pour their current releases and lots of waiters are walking around with sandwiches and pate, and risotto balls, and some good live music in the background. We wandered out to the porch, which overlooks a nice green space, and finished off our pour. When I went back in to get us something different, that’s when I realized how good this was…
I walked over the ‘07 Sycamore Cabernet table and found out they were also pouring the ’97 and the ’06. I was then informed that ’99, ’00,and ’01 were being poured in the other room. WOW. A few vintages later, Jeanne volunteered to make the trip and asked what she should get, I replied, “anything Bosche”. I think the Bosche Cabernet is their best wine and one of my all time favorites.
A few minutes later she came back giddy with excitement and with far more in each glass than their usual pour. Apparently they had a bottle of ’99 Bosche ($100) open…We tried a few more varietals after that and decided to head back to San Francisco.
The usual wine club benefits are worth it even if without the party, but now that I know what they’re like, I’ll be back every year!
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