Corner 103

Discounts, access to hard-to-find wines, and the chance to taste future offerings by a favorite winemaker are all reasons wine clubs are growing in popularity at Sonoma County wineries. 

As you kick back in the tasting room of a charming Sonoma County winery and sip what you are starting to think may be your new favorite wine, you might wonder how to find it (or something like it) when you get back home, and how to get other vintages by that talented winemaker. 

The answer? Join the club.

Nearly every winery in Sonoma County offers membership in a wine club of some sort. It’s a way to sample an array of wines that are likely to please your palate. Indeed, a surprising number of Sonoma County winery owners and wine professionals are also club members of other wineries.

But not all wine clubs are alike. Here are some examples from four main categories of wine clubs you’ll find in Sonoma County: 

Traditional Wine Club: Member Discounts, Vintner’s Choice

Kenwood Vineyards offers two classic wine club memberships called, appropriately enough, Vintner’s Choice. Members can specify mixed or red wines only. Four times a year, the winery sends four to six bottles of their choice to club members at a set price. The price includes a discount of 25 percent, and members also get a few free tastings a year. 

Bottles of wine, cheese, nuts, crackers, and salami from above
Rodney Strong Vineyards

Rodney Strong wines may be more familiar to supermarket shoppers, but the venerable Healdsburg-area winery still has something special to offer their club members. 

“We’ve got the winemaking team on board,” explains Katy Turner, wine club coordinator at Rodney Strong. “They’re always willing to help us out and find another wine that is exclusive to the wine club.”

At Enkidu Wine, this small, independent Sonoma winery specializes in RhĂ´ne blends like “Humbaba,” along with Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc — some from very small vineyards.

Members have first access to limited production wines. Club selections are customizable with a reds-only option. Discounts for members vary from 10% to 20%, depending on the tier chosen. More information can be found on the winery’s website.

The Custom Club: Scheduled Shipments or Releases, Some or All Customer’s Choice

The inside of a luxurious tasting room
Corner 103

Members of Corner 103’s Wine Society receive quarterly shipments of award winning wines that you cannot find anywhere else. Prior to each release, members are give the opportunity to add on to your shipment or make a substitution. Plus, members gain exclusive access to events and special savings including complimentary wine tastings for four people and discounted wine and food pairings.

Harvest Moon Estate & Winery also sends out club shipments on a schedule, two or four times a year, with an additional feature: club members can customize.  

“I only join wine clubs after the second positive experience with the winery, and certainly only join wine clubs where one can customize the allotment,” explains Harvest Moon owner and winemaker Randy Pitts of the philosophy behind his wine club. “This ensures the winery isn’t using the club as dumping grounds for wines that are not moving in the tasting room or not picked up by distributors.”

Discounts vary according to commitment, as with other clubs, from 20 percent to 35 percent. Members get an email listing a suggested selection of wines, but they may choose from a list of alternatives before the wines leave the small Russian River Valley winery.

Similarly, Sonoma’s Gundlach-Bundschu offers “some customizing,” says Jessica Curotto, director of consumer sales, “Since we know everyone has unique preferences, needs and let’s admit it, quirks.”

Quarterly shipments include “mix it up” or “reds only” options  â€” a common theme in wine clubs. Other benefits, at the discretion of the winery, include access to experiences on the property including concerts, tours, tastings, and events. “And plenty of love,” says Curotto. 

The No Discount Club: Member Rewards 

Four glasses full of red wine toasting
Jordan Vineyard & Winery

Jordan Vineyard & Winery is something of an anomaly in wine country — a well known and loved by many anomaly. While their wines are regularly featured on lists of top American restaurant wines, their wine list is limited to basically two, Cabernet and Chardonnay.  

Instead of sending this limited variety to wine club members, they offer Jordan Estate Rewards, which works like a credit card or airline rewards program: members earn three points for every dollar of wine or other product they purchase. Points may be redeemed for harvest lunches, overnight stays at the chateau, or events, with an additional redemption fee.

Ram’s Gate Winery makes a bounty of wines at their picturesque Carneros estate, with a focus on cool climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah, none of them available at stores, and only a few at area restaurants. Yet their wine club offers no discount on wines, focusing instead on customer access. 

Sporting a large kitchen and a menu of gourmet treats, Ram’s Gate is all about food pairing and visitor experiences, many of which (like library wine tastings, or just hangout time, in the stylishly appointed “library”) are available to members only. 

The Most Exclusive Club: The List 

Eric Kent wines are well-suited to the “list” model: labeled with unique artwork commissioned for each wine, each vintage, the lushly fruited Syrah, Pinot Noir, and other varietals are sourced from small Sonoma County vineyards and cannot be sampled at a traditional tasting room. 

But winemaker Kent Humphrey says they wanted to avoid some of the disadvantages of other models: “One of them is that you could be on someone’s list for 10 years and if you weren’t at home when the release announcement arrives,” says Humphrey, “you might miss out.” It happened to them — they got shut out of some wines after buying religiously for seven years. “We didn’t feel that was right and wanted to offer an alternative.”

The other issue, says Humphrey, is that “so many will tell you what you get, rather than you telling them what you want.” So the Eric Kent wine list is a sort of hybrid: while wines are sold to members of the list only, there is no wait period, list members choose all of the wines that they receive, twice a year with a 10 percent discount, and they may reorder wines thereafter at any time. Members need not buy anything in order to stay on the list, and it works because they know which wines will be available, even when the wine is still in the barrel. 

Find more information about Sonoma County wines and the famous Sonoma Wine Country.

Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight.

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