Thinking about joining a wine club? It’s hard to deny the excitement of having your favorite wines and new releases delivered right to your doorstep on a regular basis. Plus, as a wine club member you may benefit from additional perks like access to limited production bottles, first dibs on popular wines, members-only discounts, and exclusive events at the winery.
Unfortunately, all wine clubs are not quite as perfect as they sound on the brochure or website.
How do you decide if a wine club is the right investment? Here are four key questions to ask before you put down your credit card to sign up.
1. How much can you tailor your shipments?
It’s rare to enjoy every type of wine produced from a single winery. Good wine clubs understand this and give you the ability to tailor your wine shipments to match personal tastes, preferences, and entertaining style.
If your wine club doesn’t at least offer a reds, whites, or mixed red/white preference, look elsewhere. Many wineries allow customers to set up detailed profiles, so your shipments are almost a custom order. Ask the winery how they select bottles for shipments before you say yes, and whether shipment choices can be changed.
It might be more expensive to have a fully custom experience, but having the choice to select which bottles are shipped when can be worth it in the long run.
2. Are costs like shipping and handling included?
Some wine clubs do not disclose that the monthly, quarterly, or annual fees don’t include shipping. The best clubs offer clear shipping estimates or roll the shipping costs into the fees charged.
Shipping wine is a big part of the expense, so make sure you understand up front all the costs included. Additional fees can often result in sticker shock once the handling fees, credit card processing fees and taxes are added into your membership invoice.
Add it all up and decide if the extra expenses are worth it before you sign onto a particular wine club.
If you live nearby and plan to drive the wine directly home, ask if there are additional promotions that will be available beyond free shipping, since that offer is not applicable to you. Some wineries will toss in free corkscrews or coasters with local pickup orders.
3. Can you take advantage of the extra perks?
Wine clubs are not just about the wine. The “club” part may extend a variety of fringe benefits to members, such as discounted events, free tastings, winemaker dinners, and discounts from industry partners like restaurants and hotels.
If you don’t live close to the winery you’re considering joining, these benefits might not apply to you. The costs of these “free” and discounted perks are often baked into the wine club price, so you might be overpaying for your wine. If you don’t live near a winery but want to join a wine club, try an online-only club, such as Lot 18, Wine of the Month Club or Uncorked Ventures.
If you are interested in the fun wine and food pairings and other “pickup party” events at the winery, consider local options that are within convenient driving distance.
4. What’s the cancellation policy?
Last but certainly not least: Read the fine print. Unscrupulous wine clubs have unreasonable cancellation policies that require you to give them notice in writing several months before your credit card is charged.
It is understandable that preparing shipments takes time, but many wineries offer you the opportunity to cancel your membership only 30 days before your shipment is scheduled.
If the wine club requires more than two months notice to cancel, be prepared. They don’t send out reminders to tell you about cancellation timetables, so if you’re just in the testing phase of a new club, make a note in your calendar, so you don’t miss the deadline.
Some wine clubs do not allow cancellation within the first year; before signing up, make sure you are clear on when you can cancel if the shipments do not meet your expectations. Don’t be afraid of asking for a specific date.
5. Are there minimum purchase requirements?
Typically when you sign up for a club, you sign over your credit card information, which will be automatically charged when your shipment is ready. Prices for each shipment are variable, so ask what the estimated cost will be and the frequency of shipments.
If you are trying out a particular wine club for the first time, start on the lowest “tier” of shipments and timing, until you are sure that it is right for you and have a feel for how many bottles are needed per shipment. If the wait seems too long, you are ready for the next wine club level with more bottles or a higher frequency of shipments.
You may also want to find out if you can put your account on “hold” for a period of time or opt-out of a shipment that doesn’t interest you.
Have other wine club tips to share? Leave a note in the comments!
About the author: Andy Hayes is a creative web producer based in sunny Portland, Ore. He is also the founder of Plum Deluxe, a community of friends and family that enjoy life’s luxuries, big and small.