In 1972, when Paul Kalemkiarian Sr. founded the Wine-of-the-Month Club, receiving periodic shipments of wine at home it was, for most, a true novelty. But in the last few decades, and particularly since 2005 (when the Supreme Court ruled that the states could not limit winery direct-to-consumer sales to in-state wineries), it has become a big business. In the last few years California’s kosher wine producers have largely joined this trend, with all but one of the six producers now offering direct-to-consumer wine clubs.
So in order to help kosher wine lovers choose which club(s) to join, we’ve gotten a bit of the story behind each winery’s club or clubs, and a taste of a wine to be released in each of the upcoming shipments.
Initial club founded: 2003
Club programs and costs: Hagafen Club (4 shipments each year costing $75-$105 [plus shipping] per shipment of 2-4 bottles); Prix Club (3 shipments each year costing $130-$180 [plus shipping] per shipment of 2-4 bottles); and RS Wine Club (2-4 shipments each year costing $50-80 [plus shipping] per shipment of 2-4 bottles)
Number of members: more than 1,000
Club-exclusive wines: No, but club members often get to purchase wines before they are released to the public.
Club benefits: Club members receive 15 percent discount on all purchases (20 percent on cases) and complementary tastings at the winery.
The scoop: In 2003, Hagafen was the first kosher winery to start a club in the U.S. Winemaker/owner Ernie Weir recalls that “at the time I saw that other wineries had clubs. It was a growing trend.” Weir was hoping that “an affinity club would be a good way to attract loyalty among customers, and to provide them with something unique and special.” Within a few years “we added another club [the Prix Club] and now we have three clubs.” Weir declined to give an exact number of club members, except to say “more than a thousand,” but he did confirm that he sells between a quarter and a third of his wine through club shipments and other direct-to-club member sales. He is also proud that while many wine clubs have membership turnover every few years, “we’ve had many [persons] who have remained members for a decade or more.”
A foretaste of the next shipment (from the Prix Wine Club): Prix Vineyards, Reserve, Chardonnay, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley, 2015: This dark-straw-colored, medium-to-full bodied Chardonnay is a real powerhouse of a white. It has a big bouquet, redolent of apples, quince, aged-leather, hay, smoky oak and cream. Look for flavors of apples, quince and freshly churned cream towards the front of the palate, Meyer lemons and bergamot towards the back, and a restrained oaky undertone running throughout. Drink now and for the next four years. Score A-.
Where to join: hagafen.com/Wine-Club
Herzog Wine Cellars
Initial club founded: 2007
Club programs and costs: Chill Club (approximately $40 per quarterly shipment); Baron Club (approximately $55 per quarterly shipment); World Tour Club (approximately $70 per quarterly shipment); Cellar Club (approximately $125 per quarterly shipment); and Cigar Club (approximately $150 per quarterly shipment). Shipping costs not included.
Number of Members: Approximately 2,000
Club-exclusive wines: Yes, for the Cellar and Cigar clubs
Club benefits: 10-20 percent off winery purchases, discounted shipping for club shipments, 10-15 percent off at the winery restaurant (for members of the World Tour, Cellar and Cigar Clubs) and invitations to club/winery events. Membership in multiple clubs entitles one to additional “VIP” benefits.
The scoop: Herzog Cellars started its wine clubs shortly after opening its Oxnard, Calif., facility. In addition to offering wine produced at the winery, through the winery’s World Tour Club, members can sample a selection of wines imported by the winery’s parent company, the Royal Wine Corp. The winery also offers a Cigar Club, which pairs club exclusive wines with hand-rolled cigars. “The Cigar Club started with Joseph Herzog,” says Kim Roberts, Herzog’s wine club administrator. “We have a very nice patio outside Tierra Sur [the winery’s restaurant], and he started going out there and smoking a cigar after dinner. … Soon it became a regular occurrence, with people bringing in their own cigars, and we felt that [a cigar club] filled a niche that nobody had ever hit.” Located just an hour outside of Los Angeles, the club has many local members, who often attend the winery’s frequent club events. Roberts estimates that approximately 40 percent of visitors to the winery are club members, and that 50 percent of direct-to-consumer sales are to club members.
A foretaste of the next shipment (from the Cellar Club): Eagles Landing, Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills, 2015: Produced under Head Winemaker Joe Hurliman’s personal label, this classically Californian Pinot Noir, with a bright-ruby color and a full body, has a floral nose with elements of cherries and raspberries with a whiff of charry-oak. Aged in 38 percent new French oak for nine months, the wine has flavors of cherries and raspberries, moving towards a note of parfait d’amour mid-palate, and ending with a gentle earthy finish with just a hint of milk chocolate. While enjoyable now, this wine needs another year to truly show its best and should then cellar well to 2023 or perhaps longer. Score A/A-.
Where to join: herzogwinecellars.com/wineclub/
Initial club founded: 2011
Club programs and costs: Landsman Club (3 shipments each year at $240 [plus shipping] for a 6-bottle shipment, $432 [including shipping] for a 12-bottle shipment, or $864 [including shipping] for a 24-bottle shipment); and Kiddush Club (12 monthly shipments each year at $108 [plus $25 shipping] for a 4-bottle shipment.)
Number of Members: 300-400
Club-exclusive wines: Yes
Club benefits: 15 percent off current vintages of the entire portfolio of wines, free tastings at the winery and invitations to club/winery events.
The scoop: When Jeff Morgan, Covenant’s co-owner and vintner, started the Landsman Wine Club, he was looking for a new revenue stream. “We only make half or less of the retail value of our wine when we sell it through the three-tier system [i.e., winery to wholesale distributer to retailer], and I needed to make full value on some of our wines … or we were financially going to be very strapped.” Morgan chose to limit the wine club to three varietals — Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel —that Covenant did not use in production, “so as not to be in direct competition with our retail partners.” More recently Covenant has started its Kiddush Club, which sends members four bottles from the winery’s entire portfolio each month, one bottle for every Shabbat. Morgan says that the clubs are also very much about “having a special relationship with members … we do events for the club members just to show them that they are special to us.”
A foretaste of the next shipment (from the Landsman Club): Landsman, Syrah, Bennett Valley, Sonoma, 2014: Dark-garnet and full bodied, this rich Syrah has a bouquet of red cherries, smoke, black peppercorns, coffee and oak, with green notes. Look for flavors of cherries, boysenberries, and black pepper, with notes of mocha and violets, and gentle smoky oak in the background. With abundant, well-integrated tannins, and a balanced structure, this wine is ready to drink now and for the next six to seven years. Score A-.
Where to join: covenantwines.com/wine-clubs/
Initial club founded: 2016
Club programs and costs: Adventurer’s Guild (2 shipments each year at $216 for a 6-bottle shipment, including shipping.)
Number of Members: 120
Club-exclusive wines: Yes
Club benefits: No additional benefits
The scoop: Jonathan Hajdu, Covenant Wines’ (California) winemaker, has for a decade been making a small amount of wine under his own label, and last year launched his own wine club. “I wanted an adventure-themed guild … where we will be trying new varietals from different regions all over California. It is an opportunity for people to try new things, and there won’t be any repeats.” All of the releases will be single barrel wines, released two at a time, and if the guild grows much larger, he won’t have enough wine to meet demand. But, says Hajdu, “I can always get larger barrels.”
A foretaste of the next shipment: Hajdu Wines, Counoise, Mendocino, 2014: Made from an obscure French blending grape (almost exclusively used in Châteauneuf-du-Pape), this intriguing, medium-bodied, light-garnet-colored wine has a nose of blackberries, figs, prunes and orange blossoms, with a woodsy background. Look for plums and figs at the front of the palate, with citrus notes mid-palate and elements of pepper, mocha and oak on the finish. While I am too unfamiliar with this varietal to hazard anything but a rough guess as to the wine’s longevity, it should drink well from release until at least the end of the year, and will certainly be a good summertime sipper. Score B+
Where to join: hadjuwines.com/Wine-Clubs
Initial club founded: 2016
Club programs and costs: Shirah Wine Club (3 shipments each year at $200 [plus shipping] for a 6-bottle shipment, not including shipping.)
Number of Members: Approximately 50-60
Club-exclusive wines: No
Club benefits: 10 percent off wine purchases (15 percent off cases).
The scoop: In 2009, Lakewood, N.J., natives and Herzog Wine Cellars’ crew veterans Gabriel and Shimon Weiss started the Shirah Wine Company, a boutique kosher winery that produces wines made from grapes purchased in small quantities from noted vineyards. In recent years they have built up their portfolio to include more than a dozen wines, and last year they started the Shirah Wine Club. Members receive the entire portfolio on a pre-release basis. According to Shimon Weiss, “the wine club is a good option for staying up to date” with their bottlings. While Weiss says that the “we have not accumulated enough members for” a club exclusive wine, he notes that last year almost the entire production of their rosé was sold through the club. Eventually Weiss hopes “to have between 250-350 wine club members and to sell all of our high-end wines [exclusively] through the club.”
A foretaste of the next shipment: Shirah, Ha’azinu, Zinfandel, Whale Rock Vineyard, Templeton Gap, Paso Robles: With a nose redolent of cherries, cranberries and lavender, this full-bodied, garnet-colored, fruit-forward Zinfandel is worth seeking out. Flavors of cherries, cranberries and currants dominate the front of the palate, while mid-palate flavor becomes a bit more herbal, with a definite note of fennel, and finishing off with a touch of spice. With its abundance of powdery tannins, this wine could probably use another year in the cellar to show its best, but then should drink well until 2023. Score A-/B+.
Where to join: shirahwine.com/product/wine-club-membership/
Gamliel Kronemer covers kosher wine for The Jewish Week.