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.
I have a subscription to receive a baker’s dozen of mixed reds, once every quarter, through Kemeny’s. That’s been active for around five years. I’m always happy with their selections and pricing, and I like the fact that they are independant and not one of the outlets owned by Coles or Woolies.
Their system does have a minor glitch - on two occasions it has changed the delivery address to be my home address rather than work address. Fortunately, noone has stolen the case from the front verandah before I got home !
If they did take it just think of the joy you have given others
I have been a member of “The Wine Society” for over 30 years. They issue a catalogue every now and then, but I have selected to receive a mixed dozen of Shiraz or Shiraz blends every 6 weeks. There are 2 of each selection, If I find one I really like, I will order a box of a dozen.
They deliver to the door.
The Wine Society is an independent body, and is not owned by any company. Members own the shares. They have a tasting panel who make the selections, I think they have a shop near Kings Cross, and another near Castlecrag. They run tastings, and wine selection courses for members.
I’ve been buying wines through Cellarmasters for 15-20 years, originally to discover new wines, the convenience of delivery and the prices seemed good. I started off getting regular deliveries of their choosing but found they were basically the same dozen or so wine companies supplying the wines. I now just buy a dozen or two of my favourite mixed wines when I’m low and usually use a $25 voucher they send me when I haven’t bought for a while!
Wait longer - it will go to $50
Living in the U.K. until 12 years ago we used the British company Laithwaites for a few years to get mixed dozens and then ordered more of anything we especially liked. It was a great service at a range of price points to suit many budgets.
I have seen similar schemes here but haven’t tried them; we live on the edge of the Yarra Valley and accumulate enough wine from weekend cellar door visits to meet our needs, plus the odd trip to Dan Murphy’s.
What I liked about Laithwaites was that we got to try wines from smaller or lesser known producers that were not available in British supermarkets and mainstream wine retailers (where most Brits buy their wine, cellar doors being a rarity there!) and we received some real gems.
If I didn’t live so near to a wine region I would consider joining another wine subscription club for the sheer joy of trying random new wines!
I believe this is the Aussie ‘relative’ of the global Laithwaites Group…
I am 10 minutes from the closest Yarra Valley vineyard but am a fan of McLaren Vale, Clare Valley, Margaret River, and Heathcote wines. I keep a few Panton Hill and Nillumbik Estates bottles but most of the rest from the Yarra Valley usually leave me unimpressed, vintage dependent, plus the Yarra vineyards are mostly tourist stops more than wineries these days and many ask ridiculous prices for what is on offer at their cellar doors as a result, IMO.
Suggest you get ‘out and about’ and give some of the services a try. You could be pleasantly rewarded, especially if you like bolder wines, and if not Heathcote and the Barossa might be for you along with the Yarra Valley.
edit: the above applies to reds. If you are predominantly a white drinker there are indeed a few nice local drops.
I lived in ‘the Dandies’ for a time - the closest wine region was the Coonawarra - everything east of that would be paint stripper if not for the modest alcohol content. My opinion only Clare, McLaren Vale and Barossa in order after that - failing any of them, a malt …
There’s white? who knew?
I should have said we also enjoy wines from all those regions you mention and have been on pilgrimages to several, and a visit to Panton Hill winery is always a pleasure, for its unique character as well as some of the wines!
I agree with you regarding some of the YV tourist traps but still feel privileged to live so close to such a world class area, and some of the lesser known smaller places are worth a visit.
Since we probably live near each other, perhaps we should combine forces and meet up for a tour some day!
I have been in a number of ‘wine clubs’, ie wine makers/retailers for 20 years or so. I have recently cancelled 3 local wine makers’ regular (usually 3 monthly) deliveries, because they are becoming too expensive, and they are not putting any of their better wines in the pack. if you want the better wines, you pay more. I currently buy from Tahbilk, who send a newsletter, but do not push a quarterly box, and Naked Wines, who take $40 out of the credit card a month, and I can buy whenever I wish. Their list is made up of very small winemakers from all over. I have also started buying from much smaller locals who produce small amounts. Very few make bad wine, some are great, much better than the middle layer cellar doors.
I have used both Cellarmaster, Laithwaite’s and Vinomofo (the latter recommended by a more discerning wine afficionado) and been happy with their selections. My major concern is delivery as I live in an apartment and am not always home on delivery. Laithwaite only delivers at home, so I have to find a friend’s address for delivery. Vinomofo wines are collected at their Port Melbourne warehouse and Cellarmaster allows a choice of delivery and pickups at local Woolworths, both of these suit me much better. I had one incidence with Laithwaite when I ordered their special and was automatically put on their monthly delivery list. They cancelled promptly on request but it was a hassle.
We’ve been a member of Cellarmasters for over 30 years. We originally joined to get what we then called “quaffing” wines to drink on a day to day basis, as we were dipping into our cellared wines too often. We wanted wines we could rely on, as back then it was a bit of a lottery going to the local bottle shop. We then moved to a house that had no place suitable to cellar wines, so we went more up market with Cellarmasters, ultimately joining their top of the range subscription service. We are now subscribed to several of their wine plans and occasionally buy additional wine when it’s on special. We predominantly drink reds and in all the years we’ve been members, have never had a bad bottle of wine, or a wine we disliked; and along the way have learnt a lot about different wine styles we may not have otherwise tried. Their delivery service is good and when we occasionally have to phone the call centre, their staff are always very helpful and knowledgeable. It’s possible they do a bit too much outbound calling to promote sales, but since we filter all our calls through our answering machine, we can’t be certain. The only criticisms I have of Cellarmasters is that they don’t have enough regional variety in their wine catalogue and they now always have some “house” label wines in the premium wine plan.