What to Consider Before Joining a Wine Club

wine bottles on a rack

Picture it: You’re in the Napa Valley, enjoying a tasting flight at one of the region’s famous wineries. As you sip your wine and gaze out at the vineyards, you wish there was a way to remember this moment long after it’s passed.

And there is.

Sure, you could simply buy a bottle of wine to take home with you. But why not relive the memory of your Napa visit several times a year? It’s easy to do when you join a wine club.

Each winery’s club is different, but in general, expect to receive a shipment of wine every few months. Just pay attention to the shipping fees, and make sure you have the wine shipped to an address where an adult will be present to sign for the package. Or, if you live close enough to Napa, you could just plan to swing by once a quarter or so to collect your shipment.

So which wine club is right for you? To get the most out of your wine club membership, make sure you can answer “yes” to three important questions:

  • Have you enjoyed virtually every wine you’ve tasted from the winery?
  • Were you relatively sober when you tasted the wines?
  • Are you excited about the prospect of attending additional tastings and special events at the winery?

Before joining a wine club, you want to make sure you’ll actually savor the wines you have shipped to you. I know several people who have joined wine clubs on impulse after a long day of wine tasting, only to receive their first shipment and realize that the wines don’t actually taste as good once the Napa buzz has worn off. Most wineries don’t charge a fee to join the wine club and allow you to cancel at any time. But there are a few clubs that ask for a one-year commitment and will bill you for the entire year, so joining the wrong club could be a costly mistake. Read the fine print—or have a sober companion read it for you before you hand over your credit card.

Wine Club Essentials

Examine the club options—choose one that fits your budget and your palate.

Review additional member perks, such as free tastings.

Get maximum enjoyment by becoming a club member at a winery that you want to visit again and again.

Make sure you examine the club options before you sign up, too. Many wineries offer different membership levels at various price points. Consider how much you want to spend on each shipment. At Stag’s Leap, for instance, Club Artemis members receive four shipments a year, priced at about $125 per shipment. And while Club 23 members also receive four shipments a year, prices are about $300 per shipment and include limited-production estate wines.

Also, find out if you can customize your shipments to your personal preferences. Mumm, for instance, tends to include a sparkling Pinot Noir or a Demi-Sec with at least one of its Classic Club Vivant club shipments each year. But if you only like Brut and dry rosé styles, you can opt not to receive the sweeter wines. The Duckhorn Vineyards Limited club ships red and white wines to its members, but there’s a reds-only club option, as well.

Be sure to peruse the member benefits, too. Almost all wineries offer free tastings to members and at least one guest, which is a great benefit if you’re planning a return trip to Napa. For me, the complimentary tastings for up to four people once a month at Mumm is a valuable perk—my out-of-town guests love it when I take them in to sip a little bubbly for free.

As a wine club member, you usually get a discount on additional wine purchases—generally 15 percent to 20 percent off. And you’ll get access to limited-edition wines, as well as wines made exclusively for club members.

My favorite club member benefit is the party invitations. Most wineries have several special events throughout the year, from lobster boils to harvest parties. Sometimes, they’re open to non-members, but members tend to get priority—and a price break. Let me tell you, wineries know how to put on a party. And these events offer an opportunity to meet the winemaker, get expert tasting notes, and try rare wines. I recently attended the Tomatoville party at Bardessono for Hill Family Estate club members, and I got to taste a 2001 Origin. Quite a treat.

And club members traveled from as far as North Dakota to attend this event. A special members-only event provides the perfect excuse to plan that next trip to Napa!









Celebrate Cabernet Day in Two Easy Steps

Happy Cabernet Day! Here’s how you can join the celebration in two easy steps:

  1. Open a bottle of Cabernet.
  2. Pour and enjoy.

That’s it! Notice I didn’t even say you had to pour it into a wineglass. While a glass is recommended, if you choose to pour the wine directly into your mouth, I certainly won’t tell.

Today, I urge you to toast Cabernet Day with a glass of Napa Valley wine. Napa’s bold, fruit-forward Cabs are always an excellent choice, I think. And when you drink Napa Cab today, you’ll be supporting the Napa wine industry and those who suffered losses after Sunday’s early-morning earthquake.

Sure, drinking Napa Cab on Cabernet Day is largely a symbolic gesture, but you can also help out by texting “Red Cross” to 90999 to automatically donate $10. Or come on out to Napa this weekend and spend your money here at our wineries and restaurants.

A few fun facts to mull over while you’re savoring your Cabernet:

  • Researchers at UC Davis discovered that Cabernet Sauvignon is a 17th-century cross between Cabernet Franc (a red grape) and Sauvignon Blanc (a white grape).
  • More than 65,000 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon were harvested in Napa County in 2013 (65,757 tons, to be exact).
  • The average price per ton for Napa Valley Cabernet grapes was $5,499 in 2013, up from $5,101 in 2012. And that high price per ton (more than twice what’s paid for Cab from Sonoma County) leads to higher prices in the bottle, too.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon makes up more than a third of Napa County’s total grape harvest and accounts for almost 60 percent of total grape revenue in the county.
  • Cabernet pairs well with rich, savory flavors. That’s why a juicy grilled steak and an assertive Cab is a classic pairing.

As you can see from the photo, I’m spoiled for choice. I’ve got options from Miner Family, Alpha Omega, Duckhorn, Groth, Silver Oak, Hill Family Estates, and Regusci. Which delicious Cab should I open tonight? And what is an acceptable time to start drinking on Cabernet Day? Cast your vote in the comments!




Napa Earthquake: The Aftermath

At 3:20 Sunday morning, I was rudely awakened by a violent shaking. It took me a few moments to realize what was happening. Then I understood: EARTHQUAKE!

I jumped out of bed and planned to head outdoors to safety, but the shaking stopped before I made it. Instead, I stayed inside and surveyed the damage. Of course, the power was out–thank goodness for the iPhone’s built-in flashlight. I could tell it had been a big temblor, but luckily, almost nothing was broken. My bookshelves hadn’t tipped over. My pictures hadn’t fallen off the walls. The only casualties at my place were a small bud vase and a bottle of ginger syrup that my husband uses to make Moscow Mules.

After mopping up the sticky syrup and throwing away the shattered vase, I headed next door to my parents’ house to see how they’d fared. The smell of alcohol wafted up from the wine cellar, but only a few bottles had crashed to the floor. (As you can see from the photo above, the racks are all intact.)

Other losses were similarly minor. A vase. An antique beer stein. An earthenware pitcher. A decorative platter. My parents’ generator had kicked on, so they had power.

One of the few losses from Sunday's quake.

One of our few losses after Sunday’s quake.

As news trickled in from friends and family in Napa, we realized just how fortunate we were. Our biggest inconvenience was lack of water–we’re on well water, not the city lines, but the pump won’t work without electricity, and the generator doesn’t power the pump. But less than 12 hours after the quake, we had power and water once more.

Two things worked in our favor to prevent severe damage:

  • Our soil is made up of rocks and clay. The Cabernet vines love it, and it provided greater stability during the quake.
  • Our homes are newer construction–they were built just five years ago.

People on the other side of town, where the soil is sandy loam, experienced much more damage. And downtown was hit hard. Some historic wineries, such as Trefethen, are in bad shape.

But rest assured, if you have a trip planned, there’s no need to cancel. A few wineries, including Paraduxx, Signorello, and Miner Family, were closed on Sunday, and a number of restaurants were closed, too. A few days later, though, it’s business as usual almost everywhere. The sun is shining, the weather is warm, and the 2014 harvest is under way. Yes, some of the 2013 vintage was lost in the earthquake, but there’s still plenty of wine to go around.

Napa is ready to welcome visitors with all its usual hospitality. Come on out and raise a glass to the power of Mother Nature–and the resiliency of the Napa Valley.