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From online learning and Zoom baby showers to mask sewing marathons and socially-distanced yoga classes, the coronavirus pandemic and its continued fallout has impacted our lives in ways we could have never before imagined. And—surprise, surprise—it’s also changed the way we drink. Despite an otherwise ailing economy, multiple studies have shown a dramatic surge in alcohol sales since statewide lockdowns swept the country in mid-March. But we’re not just drinking more, we’re also drinking differently—the overwhelming majority of those gains have come from folks buying booze online or from grocery stores instead of bellying up to bars or restaurants in-person.
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This shift has left the more adventurous wine-lovers among us in quite a pickle. Now that sampling somm-recommended selections by the glass is basically a thing of the past, those looking to sip something new have never had a harder time figuring out exactly where to turn. That’s one reason why mail-order wine clubs, especially those specializing in less conventional and harder-to-find styles, are truly having their moment.
“Our favorite thing was going into the shop and trying new things, new regions, and new grapes we may have never heard of,” says Holly Berrigan, co-founder of the natural wine-centric online shop and subscription service MYSA Natural Wine along with partner Niclas Jansson. “The concept of a club appealed to us because we could share our favorite lesser-known winemakers with a broader audience and aid in that aspect of discovery. I think as people have had fewer opportunities for the wine experiences they're used to they've become more open to the idea, and that’s driven a huge boost to our subscriber numbers—it's more than tripled since April!”
Wine clubs like Berrigan’s present a safe yet exciting way for consumers to invest in unfamiliar bottles without the pressure of blindly picking something off the shelf at a local liquor shop. And in a world where social isolation and limited-contact transactions have become the norm, subscription wine clubs also offer an enhanced level of personalization. In other words, you’re not just buying a product, you’re really getting to know both the ingredients and the people behind it.
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“My original vision was that every month a little surprise comes to your home, almost like Christmas,” says Doreen Winkler, founder of Orange Glou, a unique club dedicated to all things orange wine. “The bottles are beautifully wrapped, come with original artwork, and include tasting and vinification notes, food pairing suggestions, and producer information. I know members appreciate these touches because they started telling me how they felt when the boxes arrived and sharing dishes they’re making to pair with the wines, which made me so happy.”
Another major pandemic-era draw? Buying in bulk or signing up for a monthly subscription at a set price can wind up saving regular wine drinkers beaucoup bucks in the long run.
“There simply isn't a better way to get more for your money and we're always looking for deals, limited releases, or other clever ways to get better wines into each shipment,” Berrigan explains. “For example, the retail value of our September six-bottle club membership is over $160, and we only charge $139.95. We do recognize that even our sweet spot price point of $20 to $30 is out of reach for many people, especially given our current economic situation, so we also keep sub-$20 wines on our site at all times. With our case discount, that can bring some bottles down to $15.”
Saving money, encountering new producers, and fostering a deeper connection to the folks behind your booze are reasons enough to hop aboard the wine club train. But the fact that highly specialized clubs like MYSA and Orange Glou venture off the beaten path to source some of the world’s most fascinating, unexpected, and, most importantly, mouthwateringly delicious bottles really pushes these particular services over the top.
“Most of the wines we offer are hard to find, rare, or very highly allocated and sometimes only a few cases make it to the U.S,” adds Winkler. “Over the years, I’ve built up great relationships with winemakers and distributors so members get wines they might not be able to get otherwise [knowing] they’re high quality and carefully selected by me.”
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“We work really hard to make the club more than ‘Here's your six random bottles,’ Berrigan echoes, describing MYSA’s curation ethos. “Usually the process starts with narrowing down a few options within each category, then tasting and choosing the ones we like best. We truly believe that when you let your grapes speak for themselves, without killing them with sulfur, adding flavorings like oak chips or color like megapurple, you get a significantly better, more alive product. If you're open to adventure and trying things outside your comfort zone, it's a really fun experience.”
Care to join in on the fun? Upgrade your Zoom happy hour routine from the comfort of home by signing up for one of these forward-thinking wine subscription services.
Primal Wine Club
At this streamlined club, packages containing three, six, or 12 low-intervention, small-batch natural wines made from organic and biodynamically grown grapes arrive at members’ homes on a monthly basis. Club-goers can choose red, white, or mixed lots with each box touting a broad international reach and, get this, new members are rewarded with a free bottle and free shipping on their first order.
MYSA Natural Wine Club
At Berrigan and Jansson’s natural wine emporium, members can choose from three, six, or 12 fantastic, handpicked bottles complete with producer background, wine details, serving suggestions, food pairing ideas, and space to record tasting notes sent straight to their doorsteps on a monthly, bimonthly, or trimonthly basis. As an added bonus, the site also lists an enticing assortment of a la carte bottles.
“We love dropping in fun, limited-run stuff like Fossil & Fawn's Do Nothing that we were only able to get enough for the club or giving club members first dibs on orders for things like the 12 bottles of ZAFA that we were able to get,” says Berrigan. “Those were gone in about 10 minutes!”
MYSA also runs seasonal collabs like the Wonder Women of Wine Club, a “natural wine experience” presented in partnership with the gender equity nonprofit Wonder Women of Wine. Members of this club-within-a-club can pick from three single-shipment options with a portion of the proceeds benefiting WWOW’s scholarship fund.
“We're working with a ton of awesome women winemakers like Bianka Schmitt of Weingut Schmitt in Germany, Krisztina Csetvei out of Hungary, and Magali Terrier of Domaine Des Deux Anes in the Languedoc,” Berrigan notes. “Women seem to have a lot more representation in the natural wine world than the traditional wine world and we love showcasing what these badass women are doing.”
The first of its kind, Winkler offers a variety of membership and non-membership options for orange wine devotees, including three- and six-bottle subscriptions as well as single “surprise box” and other special one-time shipments mailed with all the fixings.
“The wines are always from all over the world, in all different shades from super soft skin contact to really rich skin contact,” Winkler notes. “In this month’s box for members only, we have Franco Terpin Chardonnay 2012 from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy. The wine is full bodied, with notes of smoke, dried apricot and honeydew melon. I absolutely love it.”
At once a wine club, storytelling project, and girl power-fueled winery directory, this fierce California-based company curates shipments of three stellar bottles sourced from a single woman-owned winery each month. All partner wineries share in the organization’s commitment to addressing gender disparities in the wine world through education, ethical farming practices, and tasty vino. A la carte purchases are also available on the site.
The Grand Tour by Verve Wine
Master sommelier Dustin Wilson is behind this sleek and innovative wine club where monthly shipments feature four bottles carefully chosen to represent particular winemaking regions or style categories. Previous spotlights include diverse destinations like Galicia, Lebanon, Greece, Santa Barbara, and New York alongside fun seasonal themes like “Beachside Bottles” and the Euro-inspired “Bistro Box.” No passport required.
Helen’s Wine Club
Now shipping nationwide, this sunny LA-based club stocks several different membership tiers to suit any level of interest. Boxes run the gamut from the introductory two- or four-bottle “Step into the Realm” package designed to give newcomers a taste of creator Helen Johannsen’s phenomenal small production fleet to the connoisseur-level “S&P Club,” a mix of highly allocated rarities fit to wow the most discerning oenophiles. The site also sells curated six packs and cases a la carte.
Parcelle Wine, based in NYC, is a curated wine shop that offers on-demand wine drops from $95 a month (three bottles), shipped anywhere in the contiguous US. The brand is all about offering wine lovers hard-to-find bottles that have an interesting story. Each month, subscribers will get their bottles along with a story full of character and wit about the wine and label, in vintage-inspired, frame-worthy packaging. September, for example, featured a bottle of wine from grapes grown on an active volcano in Sicily. Consider it a story alongside your sipping pleasure.