Over the last 15 years or so, wine clubs have been the business model du jour for everything from restaurants and retailers, to wineries and bars. It’s an obvious way to retain customers and build business loyalty: Just offer up some discounts, and ship out a couple of bottles of wine every so often—and voila! You have yourself a wine club.

With all the clubs available to choose from, how does someone decide which one is right for them?

There are memberships and subscriptions to satisfy every palate, from the super-geeky natural-wine lover to the aficionado who only likes Napa cabernets, and everyone in between. There are wine shipments available in nearly every imaginable price point; some offer little extras and perks on top of the box of wine.

Three years ago, I decided to start up my own club at my little wine shop in Palm Desert. Because of our limited staff (there’s two of us!), it needed to be simple. I got to work thinking about what our membership would look like, what we would offer, and how we would set ourselves apart from the countless other wine clubs out there.

The outline looked like this: I would select six bottles of wine—a couple of whites, maybe the occasional rose or sparkling wine, and various reds—once a quarter for the members. Included in the box would be an envelope filled with note cards I would write up about each of the wines—telling a little bit of history, or a fun fact about the producer—along with a welcome letter highlighting why I chose these particular wines. I would include a favorite family recipe that could be paired with one or more of the wines I selected.

Beyond the box, the members would get a discount on their purchases, and the weekly tastings would be complimentary. The coup de gras would be a pickup party, where the members could meet and mingle over hors d’oeuvres and, naturally, wine. All of this would be offered for a set price you could pay for per quarter, or you save a few bucks and join for the year.

Done. It all sounded good, so it was time to get this thing going!

As a sommelier and wine-buyer, I taste hundreds of wines a month. Some are good; a few are great; a lot are terrible; and a handful of them are wow wines. It became my challenge and mission to seek out those wow wines for our club. During tastings with various wine reps, there are times when my colleague and I just look at each other—both of us with a mouth full of wine and raised eyebrows—and we would know … this is a wine club wine.

As the club grew, so did the amazing friendships between the members. People who had never crossed paths before were now celebrating birthdays and holidays together.

Not everything we love makes the cut. We don’t just want wines that wow us; they have to be wines that are unique, undiscovered and unusual—nothing well-known, widely available or stocked in a grocery store. I figured the best way we could set ourselves apart is by introducing wine-lovers to something they’ve never heard of: a region they didn’t know made wine, a grape they’ve never tried, or a producer that is super-small and doesn’t distribute.

Beyond what I penciled out for our members, however, there was an even bigger draw toward joining the club that I didn’t expect: The best thing about the club turned out to be the members themselves.

As the club grew, so did the amazing friendships between the members. People who had never crossed paths before were now celebrating birthdays and holidays together. They have a genuine care and concern for each other when the going gets tough, and show real kindness and hospitality to new faces. It’s amazing to see a wine club evolve into a wine community that turned into a wine family. It turns out that while we were introducing our members to these unique and unexpected wines, they were introducing themselves to each other.

I learned at the end of the day that you can order wine from anyone. You can have your Napa cabs, your esoteric natural wines, or your organic and biodynamic shipments sent right to your door. You can be stocked floor to ceiling with wow wines and note cards and family recipes—but it turns out the best kind of wine club is the kind where you meet your people.

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Katie Finn

Katie Finn drinks wine for a living. As a certified sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers and as a Certified Specialist of Wine, she has dedicated her career to wine education and sharing her...

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  1. In our younger years while in the Navy, living in Pensacola, FL my husband and I were members of a wine club started by an independent wine rep. Although many of the members already knew each other, most were just Navy coworkers and the wives were only acquaintances that I seldom got together with. The wine club changed everything, not only learning more about wine and how to select the right one for the right occasion, but the best part was the camaraderie developed between what used to be coworkers and their wives, to friends.

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