We're not big on change. OK, maybe that's me. I'm not big on change. So the fact that we're making what amounts to our first major change to our VINsider Wine Club since we introduced it in 2002 is significant. After several years of internal debate, we've decided to offer VINsider members not only our classic mixed shipment of wines, but also red-only and white-only options starting this fall.
I know; it shouldn't be this big a deal. Most wineries have offered these options for years. But I've always been reluctant, for a couple of reasons.
- A "show of confidence" in our whites. I think that we, more than most wineries, focus equally on our reds and whites, and that offering only a mixed-color shipments is in effect a vote of confidence in the breadth of our options, particularly the whites.
- A reluctance to give up control. Growing grapes in an environment like Paso Robles, with its regular cycles of drought and its frequent spring frosts, means that our own production can vary widely from vintage to vintage, and it's been great knowing that we're able to -- using a real-world example -- offer an extra red from 2010 in our fall 2012 and spring 2013 shipments shipment because our whites from 2011 were short.
- We already have our VINdependent Wine Club, which should fill this need. Our VINdependent Wine Club allows members total flexibility to buy whatever they want, with a minimum 6-bottle annual commitment (albeit at a somewhat lower discount). And it's been very successful. Last year, we signed up nearly 1000 members to this club, and have roughly 2000 active members.
- I was worried about breadth. I'm always concerned that we have a compelling selection of wines for our club members, and it's already a challenge making 11 different wines a year in 500-case quantities (11 rather than 12 because we include 2 bottles of the newest vintage of Esprit red each fall). For red-only and white-only clubs, doubling the quantity of a shipment with 3 reds is an option (as you see below) but what do you do for a white-only shipment when your standard shipment has 4 reds and 2 whites, as we will this fall? Including 3 bottles of each of just 2 wines didn't seem to me like a particularly exciting thing to do.
So why are we doing it now? A couple of reasons.
- Listening to our customers. Every few years we survey the VINsiders who have canceled their membership, trying to probe on how we can do better. In general, the survey responses are gratifying; nearly all cancel because of external circumstances: they moved to a non-shipping state, or they had a personal or professional setback that required them to cut back on their discretionary purchases, or they had health issues that required a change in lifestyle. Most of these say they look forward to rejoining when they are able, and our data supports that: of the roughly 1600 new registrations we received last year for our VINsider Wine Club, nearly 10% (137) were previous members. But there is a consistent minority in these surveys who say that they just don't drink either whites or reds, and it was a burden for them to have to pay for the color of wines they don't enjoy. And I get that. I happen to love both reds and whites, and probably drink both colors more or less equally, depending on what I'm eating at the time, but I know not everyone is the same.
- We have more variety to offer now. We made a conscious choice in the last vintage to make a little less of our core blends, particularly the Cotes de Tablas, and a little more of our estate varietal and small-production wines, so as to have more -- and more interesting -- selections to send to our club members and to show to the visitors who come out to our tasting room. This change gives us options we didn't have before.
- We realized that the VINdependent Wine Club was (compared to the VINsider Club) a lot of work. This club, which we created about 5 years ago to satisfy customers who were excited about Tablas Creek but who didn't fit, for whatever reason, into the VINsider Club, is to my knowledge the only one of its kind in California. As long as VINdependent members buy 6 bottles at any point in the calendar year, they satisfy their annual commitment and don't receive a prepackaged shipment. They can choose those 6 bottles however they want... some (probably the largest segment, around one-third) only buy reds, or whites. Others just buy our flagship wines. Others want a smaller commitment, or live in a non-shipping state but visit Paso Robles once a year, or just don't want anyone else to choose their selection. But, as the end of the year approaches, because we don't make automatic shipments, there is always a portion (typically around 30%) of our roughly 2000 VINdependents who haven't made their annual purchase yet, and in some cases may not have purchased since early the previous year. A lot can happen in 18 months, and we spend much of December emailing and calling them to ascertain what they'd like. Some we're never able to get ahold of, which has made the annual cancellation rate among our VINdependents about 50% higher than that of our VINsider Club. If we can take that red-only and white-only customers -- most of whom only signed up for the VINdependent club because we didn't have another red-only or white-only club when they visited -- and bring them into our VINsider Club, that seems compelling. Everyone wins: members get a better discount and more convenience, while we sell a little more wine, more predictably, and retain our members at a higher rate.
Without further ado, I'm pleased to present to you our inaugural red-only and white-only shipments. The red-only includes 2 bottles each of 2012 Esprit de Tablas, 2012 En Gobelet, and 2012 Grenache:
For the white-only, we have 2 bottles of the 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc, 2 bottles of the 2013 Viognier, 1 bottle of the 2013 Vermentino and 1 bottle of the 2013 Picpoul Blanc:
And, of course, our classic mix, with 2 bottles of the 2012 Esprit de Tablas, and 1 bottle each of the 2012 En Gobelet, 2012 Grenache, 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc, and 2013 Vermentino:
We announced this change to our VINsiders via email about two weeks ago, and it has been interesting -- and gratifying, because it suggest that most of our VINsiders are happy with the mix we're offering -- to see that the number who have switched to one of the new options has been relatively low. In this initial period (granted, only two weeks, but we typically see most of the response to an email within that period) we've seen 83 VINsiders switch, or roughly 1.5% of our membership. In the tasting room, however, we've seen a higher percentage take advantage of these new options: 50 of the 355 new VINsiders (14%) have elected for red-only or white-only over the initial eight-week period we've offered these options. This discrepancy is probably not surprising; while some of the new red-only and white-only signups would probably have signed up anyway, most would likely have either opted for our VINdependent Club or not have signed up at all.
As for proportion of red-only and white-only, it's been maybe even a little more lopsided than we would have predicted, with 115 (86%) opting for red-only and 18 (14%) opting for white-only. I'll be interested to see whether these numbers will balance out at all; my suspicion is that they will, at least slightly, given that so far 18% of the new registrants have opted for white-only, while just 11% of those who switched from our existing members did so.
Finally, a little housekeeping, for anyone reading who wants to make a change. Current VINsider Club members can select red-only or white-only options on the VINsider Update Form, and prospective new members can choose their preferred color mix when they register on the VINsider Sign-Up Form.