We’re interested in learning about your experiences with wine clubs and subscriptions.
Do you use them, and if so, why? (ie, to collect wine, to save you having to choose, to increase your wine knowledge, etc) Any brands you can recommend? Any unhappy customers?
Thanks in advance for your help!
They still have a place for some of us.
We used Cellarmasters from approx 1992 for more than 10 years. We lived and moved around Central and North Qld. At that time they were the only option we had knowledge of hence it was a no brainer compared to the pub with just one brand of beer, one flavour of rum and two types of wine!
There service was consistant, straight forward in days prior to the real internet, and reliable. Their wine selections and mixed options were always great. There was no way you could get a reliable tasting anywhere near us for 1,000 km. Service was prompt and never failed.
After they changed ownership and we settled in somewhere slightly more wine savy the service was dropped. There had also been a revolution with Wine moving up the ladder and BWS, Liqourmart etc coming to town.
We are now back in a more rural area, but not so far from the everyday bottle shops.
For the previous 3 years we have used Peppertree’s wine club. The decission came from a tour around numerous Hunter Wine makers. The motivation was to access conveniently a small quantity of wines typical of the region with an expectation of good quality for the special days in life. As a trial this Wine Club has been reliable, consistent, and easy to relate to.
There has been no high pressure sales. The club does offer cellar door benefits and functions suitable for visitors to the area or residents of the big two Sydney and Melbourne. They have one annual function in Brisbane. While we miss out due to distance on the social aspects and perhaps other wine drinkers interests you do need to pay to attend.
Whether discounts are delivering fair value - it’s difficult to compare for brands not typically in the local bottle shops or chain retailers.
It is possible to spot the better wines and gain an approximate idea of value to a wine drinker with calibrated tastebuds by comparing points scores from recognised judges. Eg Len Evans who publishes an annual guide.
Of comic interest only:
For the rest of us and being a Queenslander the tasting notes are all meaningless. I understand flavours like banana, mango, pineapple, and avocado. The notion of describing wine by flavours from European weeds is not so useful. It would be useful if a wine club can recalibrate tasting notes to more understandable local flavours.
I love the Cellar Club run by Katnook Estate in the Coonawarra - I get the reds selection 4 times a year. I don’t recall ever seeing a Katnook in a bottle shop here, and with our utterly draconian alcohol purchasing laws, shopping online is a nice change. I don’t collect, and my appreciation of wine is my own business - wine is for appreciating like a lover, not analysing like a crime scene Same applies for the Whiskey Club … excellent malts, delivered (ahem) 12 or so times a year … Some of them I do ‘collect’ and save for a time to share.
Deliveries here can be fun - I did subscribe to a list from Dan Murphy’s, which let me get to the final stage of the checkout (with an address I had previously entered) before it said they don’t deliver ‘for legal reasons’. Clowns. There was another did similarly and I’ve heard a couple of anecdotal accounts from acquaintances say the same.
May I ask where you live @draughtrider? I wasn’t aware of restrictions around alcohol delivery - that’s very interesting! (And something I’ll definitely need to cover in the article, by the sounds of it.)
Haha! I remember hearing one sommelier describing a particular wine as smelling “like baked beans” - how very Australian!
Do you tend to check points (eg Len Evans, James Halliday, etc) before you commit to buying? Or does it depend on the price?
Having done the wine club thing previously, how do you buy wine now? (I’m assuming your Peppertree purchases are for special occasions - is that right?)
I usually buy red wines by the case directly from vineyards or Dan Murphy, although occasionally buy a ‘shareholder mix’ from Cellarmasters (that one is a really good value!). Also have bought from Wine People and WineDirect. If you are a ‘known person’ you will get a ‘special call’ from most of them a few times a year with offers not otherwise available
I dislike mixes because if you like a bottle you only had 1 or 2, now 0 or 1, so I selectively buy by the case and if I don’t like it I’ll return them. Never had a worry about returns from any of them although have not had to w/WineDirect (yet).
My sweet spot is $15-25 per bottle at my ‘known persons’ pricing that reflects Dan’s/First Choice shelf prices of $25 to as much as $70 on the rare occasion.
Saw this from Dan Murphy’s a couple of years ago:
As you may be aware, the current regulations and legislation around the supply of liquor in the Northern Territory are much stricter than other states and territories in Australia. Due to this and the operational difficulties that arise from complying with this legislation, Dan Murphy’s are not delivering to the Northern Territory at this time.
We will continue to review our policy as we develop a better understanding of the impact of this legislation and other alcohol restrictions in the NT.
They now sell into Darwin but not the rest of the territory. I’ve heard anecdotally that other delivery services have similar restrictions - probably a simple case of fear of compliance than anything else, small market, safer and easier not to - and there’s some who do… Australia Post certainly don’t have an issue delivering alcohol here, but not to a Parcel Locker (that was added to their terms of service).
Slightly OT: in the past a visit to the bottle shop would mean showing your photo-id to a police officer who would ask where you planned to consume the drink. These days they are still stationed at bottle shops during appointed opening hours, most of the time, but they are more selective on ‘profiling’ potential problem drinkers. We still have to provide photo-id which is scanned at the point of sale to determine if the purchaser is on the banned drinkers register and we still have day and time of day take-away sales restrictions, restricted towns, areas, premises, houses - dry areas … Some info for travelers here - same as applies to locals - follow the links, they go forever
The local bottle shop usually gets a weekly visit. We stick to a handful of choices trying to only purchase on specials or mark downs. Think $15-$20 a bottle max. Most of the options including factory relabeled wines get a trial but rarely a second purchase. It would be interesting to see how these stack up routinely for consistency and quality against others. I recollect way back seeing a few assessed and their true origins suggested.
The options such as Dan Murphies or First Choice we would get to in passing several times a year. The variety and pricing is attractive, and the temptation greatest!
Peppertree do two annual orders in club or personal selections. Have tried their selections on most recent delivery. You can add to these orders anytime for deliveries thru the year.
Points is only a rough guide to not paying too much. Halliday’s is updated yearly. Helps to understand where the value might be. It is useful in finding new wines to try by label and region. We have several preferred styles which guide the selections at Peppertree or elsewhere.
The most useful details in the guides are the tasting notes. Any wine that needs to age and has comments such as ‘shows promise’ I avoid. We simply don’t have the ability to store and cellar wines longer term. So most wines are chosen on their current standing. This pushes some of the wines to being more expensive as they have been cellared for longer. In a retail environment - bottleshop some older wines may be on special because they have lost their promise. Any good wine club risks much if it goes down the same path.
The budget sits around the $25 per bottle mark. And some notable past purchases up to $50. Special occasions only.
By our crude tastes there is often little appreciable difference compared with more expensive drops.
And of note at most restaurants this may be a $75 wine. So it feels real good at home.
And once a year we get to leave Qld and do a little cellar door tasting to learn some more.