If you’re here looking for your daily wine review, it will be up in the morning. We take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to bring you a PSA about wine clubs.

Let’s talk about wine clubs and service to your customers.  I like to consider myself a bit of a connoisseur of wine clubs.  I currently belong to 8 wine clubs and over the years I’ve belonged to ones at around 20 different wineries. I can tell you exactly what made me leave each of the clubs I no longer belong to, and most of it can be attributed to service.  At this point, I thought I had seen it all, but I was wrong. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

First, and fundamentally, I believe that all wineries with clubs need to understand a few things. One, your club members are generally your most loyal client base.  Second, those club members are likely to be ambassadors for your brand as they think you are worthy of their wine dollars on a regular basis.  Finally, there are hundreds upon hundreds of winery wine clubs out there and your members will leave if you don’t treat them well.

Now let’s talk about today’s economy.  To sum it up quickly, it sucks.  And if you haven’t realized that, your head is in the sand.   It’s no different for your wine club members.  Your attrition rate for your wine club may already be up and if it isn’t up yet, consider yourself lucky.  I believe wineries should be doing everything in their power to retain their wine club customers through this rough patch so your base will still exist when the economy picks up again.

Today I received this email from a wine club I have belonged to for years:

“Important news about your wine club shipments:

As one of our members who receives two shipments of juicy (redacted) reds each year, we’re happy to tell you that you’ll be receiving nine of our released wines in your future shipments. In the coming April release, some of the bottles we’re including are the highly acclaimed (redacted), rated 95 points last year by (redacted), our delectable (redacted), the much-anticipated and very limited (redacted), our single-vineyard (redacted) and the old-world inspired (redacted).

Watch for our email coming the week of March 16 that will list all bottles and their quantities as well as give you a chance to fill up the whole case with no extra shipping.”

The email was titled “Important News About Your April Wine Club Shipment.”  The news, so I’ll make the problem patently obvious to you, is that currently shipments contain 6 bottles twice a year.  Without any other options given, and no opt out other than to cancel, this wine club has made the unilateral decision to increase the wine club purchase by a full 50% per year.  Let’s do the math here. At this particular winery, the bottles average $30 a bottle. Adding 3 bottles to each shipment increases my cost $180 a year in just wine, not to mention the extra shipping, but thanks by the way for allowing me to add 3 MORE bottles to this to make it a full case at the same shipping cost. (Which really isn’t any savings to me…and is why I buy wine in 6 pack or case increments as they are the most efficient way to ship across the country. Additionally, it costs the same to ship me 9 bottles as it does to ship me 12, so this is literally NO savings.)

This is not the time to increase costs for your customers.  Now is the time to help them save money.  And keep them happy so they’ll stick with you.  This email should have been titled “How to lose customers in 10 minutes or less.”  My favorite part is the first sentence where the club attempts to make it seem like they are doing ME a favor by selling me this extra wine automatically.  Excuse my while I go check out the flying pig I think I just saw.


24 Responses

  1. Not only will we never do that bait and switch, if for whatever reason you dont like or want any of the wines we have in our wine club shipment..(heck, you can even just customize your shipment if you want), then you will be credited no questions asked. I am happy to offer our club as a replacement to theirs.

  2. That is a horrible scenario. I would never do that.I can’t believe any business in there right would!!

  3. Somebody’s son or cousin is halfway through his MBA. That’s my guess.

  4. I appreciate the fact that you took the time to redact leaving the focus on the mistake and not the culprit. This is a common mistake I have seen numerous wine clubs make, from the consumer perspective as well as those with which I have consulted. Frequently the pressure on wine club managers to increase their sales outweighs the insistence of maintaining strong customer service. Sometimes pressure from a CFO or other person outranking a WC manager can lead them astray from what is truly best for the winery….which is, as you aptly stated, to maintain best practices of service with their brand ambassadors.
    I’ve worked with a number of wineries on their club strategies, helping them merge, expand or even re-brand their clubs. I know the importance of providing a choice for members in a transitioning club and not mandating a new agreement, all while being persuasive with your membership so that you keep your retention numbers high. This can be a delicate balance, but in this case they don’t sound like they were even close.

    I hope you express both your frustration with the recent service fail as well as your past enjoyment of their products and service. It is valuable information for a winery and while you may not benefit directly from your feedback your brothers and sisters remaining in the club may.

    Okay, I have to ask……does the winery name rhyme with Orange, per chance? If not, don’t answer. 🙂


  5. Alex: I don’t agree. I think Megan SHOULD tell us what winery this is… as a warning. I’d appreciate knowing who conducts business this way.

  6. I belong to no wine clubs, but definitely see this as pretty shocking. And sad to see, as Alex commented, that it is apparently not uncommon as a practice. If this is happening on a broad basis, it seems like it would be a major story, and names ought to be named.

    If not, it at least falls into the “wineries behaving badly” category, giving Korbel some company.

  7. It’s it funny how, all of a sudden there is such buzz running around the online wine community focused around customer service? The thing is, these problems have always been there, but with the economy in the state it is, more people are noticing. Becuase people are looking for that little “extra” to justify their current spending habits.

    This is yet another example of how to completely miss the mark. Honestly, sometimes I wonder what goes through the minds of the individuals who think this is OK. I just hope this wasn’t one of my clients. 🙂

  8. Hey Megan,

    Having read this (thanks to Tim Elliott at Winecast for re-tweeting this), what comes to mind is that you should happily accept the nine bottles they are sending, but only have to pay for six.

    Bait and switch tactics such as these result in the sound of many hands smacking many foreheads in disbelief.

  9. “Bait and switch tactics such as these result in the sound of many hands smacking many foreheads in disbelief.” LOL. I may have to steal that one.

  10. Megan,

    Would you like Fries with that shake? Poor form to supersize you.

    I finally made the allocation list at a high-end Pinot producer I’ve coveted for a while and I just decided that they’ll be there when I’m ready to spend money and I can’t get an allocation oh well, I’ll spend it somewhere.

    I understand your frustration here. And, I love the lawyerly (redacted).


  11. In today’s economy, this is simply unacceptable. I know of plenty of wine clubs that are following a model that is contradictory to this, sending their members smaller shipments at reduced costs. Keeping customers is important, and I agree this is not the time to increase costs for current customers.

  12. I am surprized that a wine club would increase the shippments in this times. I was happy to get an e:mail from one of my wine clubs thanking me for staying with them and giving an additional 10% off the wine shippmnts from now on.

  13. Hi All- Thanks for all the comments. I don’t think that disclosing the name of the winery would add value here, as the winery name wasn’t the point of the post, it was more to give an example of what not to do. This is not a common practice in my experience, though I have had multiple customer service issues with wine clubs, this is the first time I’ve encountered anything like this. I’d like to give the winery a chance to rectify with me, though I have been unable to reach them at this time.


  14. And then IF they don’t fix the problem, please save us from falling into their bad practices and careless service…I’ll do the same for you 🙂 After missing 2 (or more) opportunities to do right, they’re just out of touch.

  15. I’m speechless. We’re all out here trying to figure out how to keep club members….

  16. This is so bizarre they would automatically assume you would be okay with receiving AND paying for additional bottles that you didn’t ask for. I received an email recently , by mistake, from a winery who sent an email to all wine club members that they would be receiving extra bottles of wine in the shipment AT THE SAME PRICE as the old amount. SO they added value to the club. This doesn’t sound like the same thing (but should be!). If they are truly adding 3 more bottles and charging more for them, that should not have been an automatic “hey we’re doing this whether you like it or not” scenario.

    If you talk to them finally..I hope you grill them how they are justifying this unilateral decision to charge you more without permission..

  17. […] finally, Sonadora (aka the Wannabe Wino) rails against one of the wine clubs she subscribes to for increasing her shipment (and cost) without even a […]

  18. […] winebratsf As many of you may have read, a fellow blogger recently had a terrible experience with her wine club.  Myself, and another blogger and wine industry insider also experienced terrible customer […]

  19. […] writing quite a but about a wine club fail the last few days.  You can read all the sordid details here and here.  This time, I’m flipping the coin and telling you about a club that couldn’t […]

  20. Oh, I strongly agree you should disclose the name of the wine club. As a resident of Healdsburg and multi wine club member, we have to whittle down because of the economy, I’d like to know who’s pulling this stunt so I can warn my friends to avoid them.

    Even here is Dry Creek, Russian RIver, Alexander Valley wineries are beginning to charge for tastings, shades of Napa Valley. We want to support our local wineries, we drive by 2 on the way home from town but also want a fair deal.

  21. When I first read your tweet on this topic, I was a little shocked. The wine clubs I actively receive shipments from have the advantage of shipping almost anything they want, in almost any quantity. So far, none have taken advantage of this loophole and shipped me more wine than I’ve wanted. Two wineries have opted to only send a minimal amount of their lower cost wines with a discount on additional or more expensive bottles. Nearly all have committed to keeping the cost per shipment to an amount specified when I signed up. If this means only receiving two bottles instead of four because they’re sending a higher-end wine, I’m okay with that. However, I’ve been really selective of the clubs I join and most of the wine clubs I belong to actually have to allocate amounts so that everyone has the opportunity to purchase. When your wines are in such demand, there’s no need to try tactics like you’ve encountered.

  22. Great post! I hope they take care of you. Unless you identify the winery, though, there’s no incentive for them to remedy the situation for other club members.

  23. Hi all-

    I did indeed identify the club in the follow up post here: I wanted to give the winery a chance to address my concerns before I outed them. I have just now received an email from the owner of the winery and I will update again in the morning upon full resolution of this situation!

    Thank you for all your comments!

  24. […] the unhappy resolution that I thought was the end of the topic.  You can read those installments here and […]

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