A wine club may sound like something out of reach for many, reserved for the elite. But thousands of Ontarians of all ages and economic groups are members of Niagara winery clubs. Through membership they become part of a social and educational group, allowing them access to seminars, tours, tastings, special events and delivery to home of wines often only available at the winery.
Memberships run up to $50 a month and provide the member with a monthly delivery of two bottles of wine which are selected by the winery. Also in the monthly kit are tasting notes and a recipe to pair with each wine. These recipes are crafted by some of the top chefs in Niagara, who pride themselves on exact pairings of food with wine while creating recipes aimed at the home chef: they are easy to follow and contain accessible ingredients.
“Many of our members are younger now as wine becomes more out in the open and because of the large growth of wine and food pairings. The club draws people of all age brackets and income ranges,” says Ashley White, a Wine Club and Direct-to-Home specialist at Peller/Trius for nine years. Peller and Trius are both owned by Andrew Peller but each maintains its own wine club, with a combined membership of 6,000. Members can enjoy tasting and tour privileges at either winery as well as at 30 Bench in Beamsville. White says that wine club memberships are very popular now as wedding and holiday gifts. “A large majority of people who receive a membership as a gift (the minimum is six months) keep the membership up and then end up giving it as a gift to others down the road,” says White.
Some clubs also include bonus gifts with their monthly deliveries. Peller Estates recently sent its members a set of four Govino outdoor wine glasses while Vineland Estates Winery included a sample of Sarafino balsamic vinegar. The clubs pride themselves on creating special access for members. At Trius (the former Hillebrand Winery), members can take the Sparkling Wine tour with up to five guests at no charge (normally a $15 per person tour). The tour includes viewing the impressive sparkling cellars and sampling four kinds of sparkling including Cuvée, which is infused with ice wine. At Peller, members can also take up to five guests on tours and seminars including the spectacular Chicks & Chocolates seminar, held in the cellar room. Four custom-made chocolates are paired with four wines. This irresistible seminar is not to be missed! The seminar would cost non-members $15 but is complimentary to members and their guests. As you can see, spending a day in wine country with friends and taking in tours and seminars can quickly cover the cost of the membership.
Fielding Estate Winery started its club in 2005 and has 200 members who eagerly flock to the annual summer party. It is a catered afternoon with wine and includes a wine related activity such as a blending seminar where members can choose which blend they would like bottled as a future wine club offering.
“We loved the idea of a wine club so we could connect with people on an ongoing basis and keep them in the loop and excited about what we are doing at the winery and with our wines,” says owner Heidi Fielding. “Our members are like family.”
The Vineland club is unique in that it ships to its 1,000-plus members other winery wines as well as their own. “Yes, we actually promote the best from other wineries to our best customers and the members love it,” says David Hulley, Director of Customer Experience at Vineland. “We also do a live tasting on YouTube every month so we can interact with members who cannot make it to the winery.” Vineland also offers cheese pairing tips each month. It was great to see them promoting Gunn’s Hill Tipsy cheese from Woodstock paired with their 2012 Cabernet Franc, Circle of Friends.
While all these perks are fantastic, what many wine lovers want from their membership is the chance to sample exclusive winery releases — wines not sold at the LCBO. All the wines shipped to members are VQA (Vintners Quality Alliance). As well, club members are often invited to exclusive pre-release tasting events. In all cases, if a member enjoys a wine that has been sent to them in a monthly mailing, they can order more directly from the winery to be shipped directly to home.
If you do plan on joining and spending a day taking in seminars, tastings, tours and special events it is advisable to pre-book. As the popularity of wine club membership grows, so too does the demand for these member privileges. However, every club has wine concierge services, and staff will help members plan a full day of events. Some clubs, such as Trius, offer discounts at hotels as well. After all that “clubbing” you may need to rest!
Jane Antoniak is a regular contributor to eatdrink. She is also Manager, Communications & Media Relations at King’s University College, Lonon, where staff and faculty enjoy Pelee Island wines at special events.
Bruce Fyfe is a photographer for eatdrink and a librarian at Weldon, Western University. He is also a member of the Peller Estates Wine Club.
Recipes and photos courtesy of Vineland Estates Winery, Connections Wine Club
Suggested Wine Pairing: Vineland Estates — COF 2012 Cabernet Franc
1 lb. Ground Fresh Sirloin
1 tsp each of Salt, Ground Pepper, Espelette Pepper, 4 Spice, Sambel Oelek, Maple, Roasted Garlic, Worcestershire, Dijon, Triple Crunch Mustard (grainy would work)
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Grill as desired — if it’s grass-fed beef, feel free to do it a little less well done.
I like to top mine off with: smoked cheese, roasted pork belly, pickled cabbage, aioli, and a thick slice of garden-fresh tomato!
Suggested Wine Pairing: Vineland Estates — NORTH 2013 Pinot Blanc
2 pounds Mussels
1 cup Double Smoked Bacon, diced
1 Shallot, large
1 tablespoon Triple Crunch Mustard
1 Lemon, zested
2 Red Peppers, roasted and sliced
1 Scallion, chopped
2 tablespoon White Cooking Wine
1 cup 35% Cream
Parsley, fresh and chopped
In a large pan on medium-high heat, add a couple glugs of oil and your double smoked bacon. Once bacon is almost crispy, add your shallots and sauté.
Deglaze with the cooking wine. Add triple crunch mustard, roasted red peppers, lemon zest and mix together. Then add mussels and cream and simmer for 3-5 minutes.
Discard any mussels that do not open. Finish with chopped scallions and fresh parsley.