Snagging fruit of the vine from small wineries
November 24, 2008 · Updated 6:45 PM
By Dee Hitch
When I was in Walla Walla, I was amazed that one of the smaller wineries there sells more than half of its production through its wine club. Then a few months later, I was at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville. A group of people there were happily tasting and writing notes. It was Chateau Ste. Michelle's wine club.
Rock stars have their fervent fans, so do wineries. There are wine clubs are for most every winery -- from the smallest to the largest.
At the Taste of Washington in April, almost 200 Washington wineries touted their wares. Many wine lovers attended the event with the intention of tasting wines of small producers not typically available in retail shops or supermarkets.
Many of the smaller wineries sell most of their wines on-site, through mail order and through their wine clubs. These sales methods increase the wineries' profit without them having to go through a distributor -- essentially eliminating the middleman. Consumer demand for the wine of some small wineries is so great that the smaller outlets have no need to sell through retailers. They use wine clubs to allocate their wines fairly. Finally, some wineries sell limited releases of some of their wines only through their wine clubs to reward their most loyal customers.
Basically, the wine clubs follow three formats:
1) The member pays a fee which entitles him to a percentage off of all purchases and several events during the year.
2) The member pays a fee which allows him to receive winery-selected wines several times a year (sometimes quarterly, sometimes in alternate months). There are either club-member-only events or events where club members receive discounted admission.
3) The member pays a fee which enables him to taste and choose with other members of the club from wines not available to the public. This allows the winery to experiment without trying to figure out how to sell the limited release.
If you are not interested in being a winery groupie, Sunset Magazine has an excellent wine club. Well-known judges select wines from Washington, California, and Oregon. The wines are mailed out. There are two wine options: two reds or one red and one white. Reorders are 15 percent off. (sunsetmagazine.com).
How to purchase from small wineries
All sell directly from the referenced Web site, and most have wine clubs. Almost all of the Washington wineries are linked to the Washington Wine Commission at washingtonwine.org.
Andrew Will (andrewwill.com)
Available at a few retail shops. Sign up on mailing list for an opportunity to buy from this 4,000-case Vashon Island winery.
Betz Family Winery (betzfamilywinery.com)
Because of high demand and limited quantity, direct purchase might be the only way to acquire these wines. Conveniently, the winery is in Woodinville.
Located in Seattle, so visits can be arranged. Highly acclaimed but very limited production.
Cayuse offers wine futures every November to customers during the annual Private Release Weekend Party. It takes patience to get added to this winery's customer list, but it is worth the effort if you love syrahs.
Chatter Creek (chattercreek.com)
Located in Seattle, it is open for visits two Saturdays each month.
Colvin Vineyards (colvinvineyards.com)
Be one of the first to join the winery's new wine club.
DeLille Cellars (delillecellars.com)
The wines of this Woodinville winemaker sell out quickly through mailing lists. When bottling time comes, volunteers are e-mailed. For a full day's work, a volunteer receives lunch, a bottle of DeLille and a T-shirt plus the ability to purchase. I drove away from such a day and realized that I had spent almost $800! I immediately voice-mailed my traveling husband to alert him.
Duck Pond Cellars (duckpondcellars.com)
These wines are from Washington and Oregon, with a new center opening in Prosser. Besides the Duck Pond label, this winery also produces Desert Wind.
Winemaker Mike Wallace creates many of the state's best dessert wines, which you can order from the winery. Buy from a Washington State pioneer in crafting fine wines.
Januik Winery (januikwinery.com)
Hurry and you might be able to purchase one of the 72 cases of 2002 Ciel du Cheval Vineyard Petit Verdot.
It takes three to five years to get on the mailing list. Loyal retailers receive a tiny allocation.
Located in Walla Walla, it is a specialized winery of the parent company of Chateau Ste. Michelle. Some of its wines are in wine shops and better supermarkets, but it sells limited releases directly.
One of the club options includes a day of vineyard work at the winery. Learn a new trade!
Quilceda Creek (quilcedacreek.com)
As a mailing list customer you can purchase the winery's wines prior to commercial release, however you must first get on a waiting list. Worth the effort if you want to cellar one of the Washington's best cabernet sauvignons. The winery's site has useful vintage notes of interest to collectors. Its wines are occasionally available at retailers.
Woodward Canyon (woodwardcanyon.com)
Although available at some retail stores, you can directly order limited items like the 2003 Dry White Riesling (a total of 68 cases produced)
SUMMER WINES TO DELIGHT YOUR PALATE
The warm days have arrived, and so have the truly dry rosés. The old rosés were sweet and cloying and hindered food pairing. The new rosés are dry yet fruity and accompany the simple meals of hot weather. I am not going to ramble on about the infinite attributes of each wine: It is sufficient to say that each are great and accompany food well. Notice the various grapes used to make the different rosés.
Barnard-Griffin rosé of syrah -- This is a new one for Rob Griffin. Last year, he made a rosé of sangiovese. $14.
Cedergreen Cellars Viola. -- Kevin Cedergreen is a relatively new kid on the block. Operating out of Kirkland, he produces small batches of handcrafted wine from the Columbia Valley. Viola is a merlot rosé. $13.
Chateau Val Joanis Cotes du Luberon Rosé -- From France, this wine is created through the "saignee" process, which is a free-run juice from a blend of syrah and grenache. $11.
Forte Cano Rosato -- From Italy, the wine is made from the negroamaro grape from the Puglia region in the south. $10.
Montelvini Monvin Regandino -- This Italian wine is 30 percent merlot and 70 percent prosecco. $8.
Folie á Deux Menage á Trois -- This Californian wine is a blend of three grapes: merlot, syrah, and gew^pmrztraminer. $11
Snoqualmie Cirque du Rosé From Washington, it is made from cabernet sauvignon. $7
And don't forget the whites.
Vinho Verde from Portugal is a terrific summer wine. It gets HOT in Portugal, and the Vinho Verde pairs well with the abundant seafood of that country. It is light and refreshing with notes of lemony citrus, slightly bubbly with a crisp finish.
Arco Nova Vinho Verde. $8.
Alianca Vinho Verde. $6.
A major upcoming event is the Auction of Washington Wines at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville Aug. 11-13.
Dee Hitch can be reached at ROCKYPOINTLANE@aol.com.