Differentiation Through Experience — Enhancing the Wine Club Model
Wine clubs are one of the most important tools winemakers utilize to increase engagement with their patrons. Clubs enable the tasting room staff to turn a guest’s short visit into a lasting — and profitable — relationship. Direct to Consumer sales were responsible for 60 percent of wine revenue in 2017, and wine clubs comprise 33 percent of DTC, second only to tasting room sales at 47 percent. That means for every $100 made by a winery, $20 is made from its wine club.
Although popular, wine clubs face an increasing challenge to compete with a wider abundance of club options and to stay ahead of changing consumption patterns. According to Silicon Valley Bank’s 2019 Wine Report, wine consumption in the past few years has remained flat for the first time in more than two decades. Rob McMillan, author of the report, made one thing clear: winemakers who offer engaging and impactful experiences to guests beyond the tasting room will fare better:
“The problem is that the whole evolution of the concept of “experience” within the equation [of the winery experience ] was immediately stunted when the wine industry defined it as being synonymous with the tasting room experience and nothing else.” [emphasis added]
By offering unique wine club experience ranging from foreign travel to exclusive soirees, some wineries are attempting to stay ahead of outmoded winery programming to win guests’ hearts and patronage:
International Travel for Wine Club Members
Club members’ support of a specific winery often extends past the wine to include their appreciation for the winemaker and tasting room staff that bring it all together. To capitalize on this interest, some wineries offer exclusive travel opportunities wherein club members travel abroad with winemakers or favored team members.
In partnership with Experi, a specialty food and wine travel company, Sonoma-based Stag’s Leap is hosting three member trips in 2019 to destinations including Tuscany, Catalonia, and Alsace. Two past guests from a Northern Italy departure extolled the unique dynamic that emerges when traveling with their favorite winery: “We started with something in common as Stag’s Leap club members, but we found that we had a lot in common as business owners, wine drinkers, and Italy lovers.”
Col Solare is another example. The Red Mountain-based operation, created as a collaboration between Woodinville-based Chateau Ste. Michelle and Tuscany’s Marchesi Antinori, is hosting a members-only trip through Tuscany with winemaker Darel Allwine. Other wineries offer different travel formats, from European riverboat cruises to US-based wine tours.
Exclusive Access to On-Site Accommodations
Wineries occupy some of the most beautiful land in the country, and enterprising winemakers have taken advantage of local wine tourism by offering on-site accommodations with preferential booking and rates for wine club members. The accommodations range from modest cabins to immaculately appointed suites.
Stoller Family Estate has made three guest houses available for visitors to its award-winning Dundee Hills-based vineyards in Oregon, with a special reservation discount available to club members. Domaine Serene offers lavish estate accommodations and a helicopter tour of the winery for its most loyal patrons.
Exclusive Dinners and Process Parties
While club members typically are familiar with the casual get togethers that happen at the winery with new releases, some wineries are innovating on that model by hosting elaborate release soirees and other celebrations to bring club members together.
Montinore’s ‘Maialata’ celebration is one such example. Early each March, the team at Montinore invites guests for an all-day Italian “festival of the pig” that includes a pig roast, butchery workshops, farm lunch, cellar dinner feast, and — of course— tastings the whole way through. This annual festival is a beloved tradition for the guests and Montinore team alike.
Willamette Valley-based Lange Vineyards Wine Club Manager Hannah Miller states that Lange has recognized the desire amongst guests for intimate educational and community building experiences, and has responded by offering triannual release parties with local chef-curated pairing menus in its new on-vineyard tasting room. Lange’s release soirees have guests in attendance from Florida to Chicago, and include members who have been with Don and Wendy since they opened the winery in 1987 — back when the tasting room was in their basement.
Other Unique Perks:
A handful of wineries offer club memberships not at all related to wine products. Livermore, California-based Wente Vineyards offers membership to an Entertainment Club for concerts and restaurants, as well as a Golf Club to access the golf course on property. While most wineries don’t have a concert venue and golf course on property, wineries can utilize unique location-based amenities to expand their club offerings.
Another way wineries take advantage of their unique setting is by offering their members concierge services to navigate their visit to wine country. Oregon-based Domaine Serene, for example, offers its members concierge services to navigate the many amenities and experiences available around the Willamette Valley-based winery.
If you know of a winery that offers amazing wine club member perks or unforgettable vineyard experience, please submit it to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration in future articles.