Local wineries reward their loyal followers with exclusive perks.
Story and photos by Trevor Baratko
Family. It’s the word that won’t stop surfacing during a zig-zagging trek through Hunt Country wineries. Beyond the inviting wine itself—and the therapeutic, spotty-cell service surroundings—the conversations revolve around wine clubs. What are their perks; what are their aims?
Among Virginia’s 280 wineries, most, if not all, offer a club membership or rewards program. Some are quarterly clubs, while others are yearly. Some aim to keep out the masses; others hope to lure them in. A few clubs like an aura of exclusivity, and others want to be a place for the everyman.
But whether it’s the welcoming tasting room team at Rappahannock Cellars, Desert Rose Ranch’s husband-wife hospitality or the icon Jim Law at Linden, the theme persists: Wine club members are family.
“To be able to stay and relax and enjoy what we enjoy—I love for people to do that,” Law tells Middleburg Life of his club, wherein one of the main perks is access to the grounds. “I couldn’t make that happen in a civilized way before because there were so many people. It’s our way of saying thank you, thanks for supporting us. Enjoy the peace and quiet.”
Law says 10 years ago the winery’s popularity was ballooning to unsustainable levels. “This place was a zoo, and I hated it,” he notes.
So the wine club was one way to stave off the shenanigans. While anyone can come into Linden for a tasting, only club members or their guests can stay, sit and sip afterwards, taking in a tranquil view overlooking the valley. Linden’s website says it best: “Tasting wine in situ (in its original place) gives one a deeper appreciation and understanding of the terroir and personalities that make up what you sense in the glass. Linden’s driving winemaking force is to respect and explore the terroir of our vineyards. We strive to have Linden’s winery and grounds reflect our unique setting and atmosphere.”
Simplicity is a second selling point for Linden’s club. Interested parties merely have to buy a case of Linden wine, and they’re in the club for a year. While that may mean a steeper up-front cost than splitting up a case or 10 bottles throughout the year, it’s also a swifter transaction.
Down the road at Desert Rose Ranch and Winery in Hume—to which the wondrous, winding journey is, in the words of Clark W. Griswold, “all part of the experience, honey”—the club is known as The Posse.
“You’ve got to join The Posse,” says a jovial Bob Claymier, the owner who explains the club’s commitments.
Posse members buy at least two bottles a quarter, and they’re then entitled to 10 percent discount on all wines purchased, a complimentary tasting or glass upon each visit, and special release parties. As with nearly every club, membership includes either early or exclusive access to “member-only” wines.
A true “mom and pop” producing around 1,300 cases a year, Desert Rose counts about 400 members in its club.
“We’re honored. What else can it be but an honor?” says Claymier, who owns the winery with his wife, Linda. “Obviously they are committing to pay for the wine. They come in enough that they’re comfortable, and they clearly like the wines. We want our club members to be family. I sometimes have trouble remembering all their names, but nevertheless they are our family.”
In Middleburg, at John Kent Cooke’s polished Boxwood Winery, the club offers tiered levels – gold, which requires purchasing three bottles twice a year; platinum, bumped up to six bottles twice a year; and diamond, 12 bottles twice a year.
Boxwood’s more than 800 club members across all levels enjoy 20 percent discounts on all purchases the day of joining, new release priority, 15 percent case discounts and quarterly club member events, among other perks. Those events range from a summer celebration in the vineyard, a holiday party at the winery and tastings in Boxwood’s pristine barrel room.
One benefit Boxwood’s club offers no other local winery can is the carryover to The Tasting Rooms, the company’s chic wine bars in Reston and National Harbor, Maryland.
“We want them to feel like there’s value,” Jessica Chivers-Wilson, Boxwood’s regional sales manager, says of their club members. “The value is great. We have a series of regulars who come in often, always give us a hug. They’re happy to see us; we’re happy to see them. There’s a strong level of camaraderie among our winery program.”
Like Boxwood and Linden, Rappahannock Cellars pays close attention to experience and ambiance.
Tess Delmare, Rappahannock’s club manager, is eager to show off her Huntly winery’s “club only” rooms, where members are essentially ensured calm, quiet elegance in which to savor their vin.
“We’re really a wine community; it’s very much a family,” says Delmare, whose dad Jim is the owner. “If you join our club, you’re really a part of the family. We want to get to know you.”
Delmare says the wine club, which includes a minimum of two bottles every four weeks for around $55, accounts for nearly 80 percent of Rappahannock’s business (though the Rappahannock team is playfully mum on just how many club members they have).
Jim Delmare says he’s no longer surprised to hear from club members that events are their favorite aspect of the program. “As I’m often reminded,” he says on the winery’s website, “before our customers fell in love with our wine club and the events, they fell in love with our wine. And that’s what makes me most proud.”
Wine clubs are about commitment, something that can be pesky for the more exacting wine drinker. Just because you belong to one or two clubs doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in other wines, of course, but joining a club can at times limit your imbibing options. “We may as well go there to get our money’s worth,” the thinking goes.
But it’s that commitment that bolsters the bond between a local vintner and their followers.
“Our friends introduced us to this place,” Linden club member Leah Nicholls says while taking in the scene. “It just blew us away. We save the wines for special occasions, our anniversary or our birthday—that’s when we pull out the Linden wines.” ML
Trevor Baratko is the managing editor of the Loudoun Times-Mirror in Leesburg. His wine industry coverage earned first place in column writing from the Virginia Press Association in 2014.