For years, we've been struggling with how and whether to create a second wine club. Right now, we're one-size-fits-all. Each member of our VINsider Wine Club receives the same selection of wines in each shipment. We have at times toyed with the idea of creating certain customization of shipments, and always retreated due to our unwillingness to accept the added risk of mixups that doing so creates. And, we think of our club as really an introductory sampling of our wines. We rarely include more than one bottle of any particular wine in any year, and have felt that a principal goal of the club is to introduce our members to wines that they might otherwise have overlooked. Club members who love a particular wine can always order more, and we don't want to burden anyone with lots of bottles of something that may not be to their tastes.
The benefit of introducing a wine through a shipment to our club members was driven home to me today when I showed around a couple of club members and, at the end of our tasting, pulled two of our Vin de Paille dessert wines -- the Vin de Paille white blend and the Mourvedre-based Sacrerouge -- out of the back. They commented that they'd always seen the dessert wines on our order form, but because they hadn't received them in a shipment (we don't make enough to send even one bottle to each club member) they hadn't ever felt comfortable pulling the trigger and ordering.
The one wine that we've always struggled with how to share has been our Panoplie. It's an elite wine, really the best that we can produce in any vintage, and is priced accordingly. It's $95 retail, and even with the 20% wine club discount, it's still an expensive wine. We absolutely believe that it's worth the tariff, and the press that the wine has received (the most recent 2005 got a 94-96 from Parker and a 94 from Tanzer's IWC) supports that. The wine sells out, even with a 2-bottle order limit, within weeks of its release. Still, as we price our club shipments at 20% off of the retail prices of the included wines, its inclusion in a shipment puts pressure on the price of that shipment. We keep the shipment within our promised range of $150 to $190 by selecting other, less expensive, wines to complement it. Nevertheless, we receive a handful of comments each spring from VINsiders who challenge why we include such an expensive wine in their shipment. Our explanation always has been that we feel, if we can include the very best wine we make to all our club members while keeping the overall shipment price within the range we promise, it's a net benefit to them. Most accept this explanation, although one or two decide each spring that the club no longer suits them for that reason. I think I saw four or five responses in our recent canceled member survey (I wrote on this with respect to wine shipping costs a few months back) that listed this as a primary reason for cancellation.
The Panoplie has spurred our search for a second club -- with our initial thinking that we should try to create some sort of "elite" club where members would receive some special wines otherwise unavailable to "regular" members. The problem was that, with the exception of a few dessert wines, VINsiders already get all our best wines. Taking wines away from them to give to an elite club seems wrong on lots of levels, and to take us dangerously down the road of taking our club members' loyalty for granted. I don't ever want to think of our VINsiders as just "regular". Other wine clubs are what we call "hostage" wine clubs, where you have to buy increasing amounts of wine you don't really want to get the good stuff. I hate that model.
So, we think we've hit on a solution, and I'd love any feedback any current members (or, for that matter, anyone) has. We have been saving 200-300 cases of our signature Esprit de Beaucastel red and white wines from each vintage since 2003. We had always vaguely envisioned using these if we were to have a disastrous vintage and be unable to make an Esprit de Beaucastel. But, we think we've hit upon a better idea. We would create a library club, available only to current members (but optional to them) that gives its subscribers the opportunity to receive a shipment each year of wines that we've aged at the winery and think are at or nearing their peak. This solution seems much more appropriate for who we are and for the sorts of ageworthy wines we try to make, and seems to provide a real benefit for its members without taking anything away from our VINsiders.
What do you think? Please share.