Dear Dr. Vinny,
I periodically receive wine club offers. When I search for the offered wines online, I sometimes don’t find websites for the wineries. Who makes the wines for these clubs, and how can I learn more about their quality?
—David, Coventry, Conn.
There are lots of wine clubs offering a wide variety of wines, and that’s great. And you’re right that some of them offer wines that we may have never heard of.
Many of these seemingly obscure brands are private labels created specifically for the wine club. Either a winery (or a bulk wine négociant) made a wine or a blend and a label that you can only find and buy from that wine club. It’s not unusual. Many large wine retailers have private labels you can only find on their shelves, just as a grocery store might sell its own brand of cereal or peanut butter.
Private wine labels serve a couple of purposes. They create an “exclusive” product and, probably more important, they are impossible to comparison shop in terms of price. For small wineries that have trouble getting picked up by a distributor or that are unable to compete in the crowded retail market, it might be a boon for them to partner with a wine club that can help them sell their inventory. And while there’s plenty of good bulk wine for sale out there, there’s some not-great wine out there as well. It can be hard to uncover the provenance of a private label wine, depending on how much information the label provides about who made it and where the grapes were grown. Without knowing vineyard sources, winemaking techniques, a track record of ratings, etc., it’s pretty hard to know anything about the quality of the wine.
If you find a wine club that meets your taste and budget, that’s great, and the growth of wine clubs over the past decade or so has seen some really great ones pop up. But you’ve keyed into one of the reasons I prefer to recommend wine clubs offered directly from the wineries—they have more transparency and reliability, and you can reorder more wines, collect multiple vintages, or get other membership perks.