COVID lockdowns have drastically changed shopping habits everywhere, including in the wine sector. With restaurants closed and at-home happy hours starting early and often, U.S. digital wine sales grew 32% to $760 billion in 2020, according to a report by wine industry analyst Rob McMillan of Silicon Valley Bank.
Many oenophiles have also turned to monthly and quarterly drop-shipping wine clubs to stock their home cellars. And while wineries, distributors, and stores were the main drivers of wine clubs, now experts, restaurants, and the tech world have gotten in on the act.
For those who are overwhelmed (or disappointed) by what’s available in stores – and appreciate the ease of home delivery – organized wine clubs, with anything from a few bottles to a dozen shipments, offer a solution as well as a discovery and a way to “travel” to other regions and countries.
ICM agent Josie Freedman is a fan of Clos Solène (clossolene.com), founded by French expat winemaker Guillaume Fabre in Paso Robles, California. “The philosophy behind its winemaking is the best,” says Freedman. “Small production, family business, personal connection.”
Clos Solène focuses on Rhône-inspired blends and ships to members twice a year in two categories: Le Connaisseur and L’Expert ($272 to $516, three to six bottles). Those who choose to pick up their batch of wine in person may be eligible for wine pairings from cheesemakers and visits to winemakers. Other Paso winemakers with wine club offerings — and French connections — include Benom and L’Aventure.
Wine clubs have been on the rise for over a decade. “Now there are thousands of wine clubs,” says Etty Klein, who founded online wine store Plonk in 2009 and added a wine club (plonkwineclub.com) in 2011. “This pandemic year had the strongest growth I have seen in 11 years and it has continued. It has set a new standard for anyone selling wine online.
Describing his picks as “wines off the beaten path and hidden gems you’ll never find on your own,” Klein emphasizes responsibly grown, low-touch wines sourced from around the world and good value for money. Plonk offers three choices: all red, all white or, most popular, blended ($110 to $285 per month, 4 to 12 bottles). The deliveries are accompanied by paired recipes.
Various clubs with a similar philosophy to Plonk have emerged recently. Crudo and Nudo (crudoenudo.com), Santa Monica’s raw sustainable seafood bar run by chef Brian Bornemann (formerly of Michael’s) and Leena Culhane, launched as a pop-up during the pandemic.
His wine club evolved by chance when the CEO of subscription platform Table22 (which represents wine clubs and unique restaurant meal kits across the United States) arrived for a meal.
Crudo e Nudo’s wine club has three tiers ($39 to $89, two to three bottles) alongside a canned fish club (they hope to add fresh fish soon). Its emphasis on clean wine focuses on female and family winemakers and wines to pair with fish. “A lot of our regulars get the three canned fish a month and throw in a bottle or two of wine,” Culhane says. All come with tasting notes and pairing recipes.
Winemaker from Tresomm and former sommelier of Osteria Mozza Taylor Grant’s wine club, Salutay (salutay.la), launching in 2021. It ships quarterly and offers three types of memberships ranging from the most traditional to the most experimental ($165 to $477, 6 to 12 bottles) with a “general base of well-made, well-meaning wines “, says Grant. The upcoming selection will include Tresomm’s Grignoliño rosé, made in Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico.
Many players have joined the frenzy of wine clubs. Co-ownership of heels actor Stephen Amell, Washington-based Nocking Point wine club (nockingpointwines.com) teamed up in 2020 with Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis to create a Pinot Noir dubbed Quarantine to benefit COVID-response charities and the pair recently unveiled a new Outside red blend.
Nocking Point has also partnered with Nicole Scherzinger, Jason Momoa and NBA abstract player/artist Desmond Mason on special bottles. His quarterly wine club includes three bottles, a bag of coffee, and a loot item ($99).
“Space has changed a lot,” says Plonk’s Klein. “There’s a fine line between a quality club and tech companies that are algorithm-based, millennial-oriented clubs that ask people to take quizzes to get their taste profile.” (An example: what candy would you choose from a bowl if “Skittles and M&Ms mixed together crazy in the same bowl?”) Klein doesn’t believe in this methodology and every delivery is a surprise. Said Klein, “My point of view is conservation.”
A version of this story first appeared in the March 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.