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How to Start a Wine Club

Craig Ross
July 6, 2020
Wine for a wine club on display

STOP: Before reading, we recommend opening a bottle and indulging in a glass of wine. Because this topic is so meaty, you’ll want to choose a full-bodied cabernet sauvignon or merlot that can stand on its own, and get you excited about getting a wine club off the ground. 

Ready? Great, let’s dive in. 

Wine clubs have made the leap from tasting rooms to eCommerce, and online wine subscription services are a booming market. Wineries are key players in the space, and are using eCommerce to develop wine clubs that go beyond local visitors, and enable loyal customers to get exclusive offers, receive wines that match their taste preferences, and even try new bottles that aren’t widely available. 

Why Start a Wine Club?

Wineries love online wine clubs because they are a source of predictable revenue and can be used to match inventory depletion with wine production, by enabling you to create shipments based on your varietal production. 

Wine clubs are membership-based, periodic shipment subscriptions—which means they have a higher customer lifetime value than single purchases online. They let you show off your fan favorites, while giving a boost to new product launches and limited release wines. In doing so, your winery can cultivate a deeper relationship with your customers. 

Best of all, wine clubs allow you to reach and continuously “touch” customers who can’t make it to your winery, while allowing them to forge a deeper relationship with your brand. 

Getting Started: Steps for Success
1) Learn the Rules

If you’ve been selling online and shipping direct-to-consumer already, you’re likely familiar with the different laws and regulations you need to keep in mind. But, if this is your first venture into direct-to-consumer selling and shipping, it’s imperative that you follow both your state and local rules for shipping alcohol, as well as those regarding interstate shipments (if you choose to sell out-of-state). Here are a few things you might need: 

  • An Alcohol Dealer Registration, filed and approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau
  • A state winery license—you may need more than one depending on your shipping destinations 
  • A liquor delivery license, retail license, or other specialized license, depending on shipping destinations 

Before choosing states and locales you want to ship to, we recommend performing a cost-benefit analysis for each area. Consider the number of customers you have from each area, and the buying behaviors of those customers. Because intra- and interstate shipping can quickly become expensive thanks to taxes and license fees, you’ll want to make some predictions about the profitability of a specific state or region before you expand.  

Remember that not every state allows direct-to-consumer wine shipments, like Alabama, and some states have restrictions on the amount of alcohol that can be included in any single delivery, like California. You’ll also need to look at the packaging rules for your chosen carrier. These are important to help prevent leaks and breakages. Finally, you may need to create special labels that indicate the shipment includes alcohol.  

2) Choose Your Target Audience

Positioning is one of the key components to marketing any new product. Before you can create your wine club, you need to decide who it’s for. Is your ideal customer a high-end wine lover with a refined palate? Or are they a millennial who wants to try unique and exciting blends? If your winery keeps visitor lists, use these, along with historical sales and tasting room data, to help develop your customer persona for online sales. 

When creating a target audience, you’ll want to consider age, wine experience/knowledge, budget, location, and other factors. After you launch, you can use tracking data to see how well your “ideal” customer matches to your members and adjust based on your findings! 

3) Look at Your Competition & Find Your UPO

You don’t want to be like everyone else, BUT it’s important to know who is already in your space, and what they’re doing. Competitive research can help you understand what’s working for wineries like yours, and what techniques haven’t held up. It can also help you determine what unique qualities you want to promote. What do you have that the competition doesn’t? Maybe you’re an innovative winery offering canned varietals that are more budget friendly. Perhaps your wine is organic or sustainable. Or, maybe you make apple, peach and apricot wines in addition to traditional grape wines! 

Understanding how your competitors work gives you a leg up right at the beginning, and helps you find the best ways to stand out in a crowded market space. 

4) Finding Members

Before your wine club goes “live,” you’ll want to make a plan for expanding your audience. The easiest place to start is with your most loyal customers and tasting room visitors. Use your email lists, visitor lists and sales data to help identify existing customers who would be interested in joining a club and send them an exclusive “first look” to garner their interest. 

Another way to get people excited is to post about the upcoming launch on social media and offer discounts for your first members! You can also create announcements on your existing eCommerce store with a countdown clock to your launch, which helps create a sense of urgency.  

As your club matures, you can do things like offering a discount for referrals to encourage your members to spread the word. You can also use social ads and Google search ads to find new customers that fit your audience demographics or are looking for wine clubs. Keep track of your marketing efforts, find out which methods work best for your brand, and your memberships will soar. 

Choose the Right Tools: Starting a Wine Club with TrueCommerce Nexternal

A wine club is a great idea, but without the right technology, running the club can become time consuming and overwhelming. To scale your club without getting in over your head, you need an eCommerce platform that’s built for wineries. Our Nexternal wine club software is built with businesses like yours in mind and has the tools you need to create the club of your dreams. Here’s just a few ways our platform can take your wine club to the next level. 

Create a Range of Club Types, Fast.

TrueCommerce Nexternal enables you to create each club quickly, and assign it by customer type, removing the need to create a new configuration for each order. For example, if you have 200 club members who want three bottles of red wine each month, you can create a single order template for each shipment and automatically push it out to all the customers under that umbrella. You can create as many customer types as you want, so you can quickly assign the right wines to the right customer, every time. 

Simplify and Scale Order Management

Processing wine club orders by hand eats up hours and days that you can’t spare. Our software connects directly to your accounting system and automates order processing, so you can manage hundreds of orders with ease. For example, Transcendence Wines started their club using Nexternal and after just three weeks, they were fully operational with 100 club members. The winery said that running the orders “literally took four minutes.” They now have over 300 members and growing, and are still able to use the same system to automate order processing. 

TrueCommerce Nexternal also includes PCI compliant credit card processing for easy payment acceptance. Members can update payment methods through the web storefront, and the system can alert customers when their cards need to be updated, so you don’t have to reach out to customers individually. 

Offer Member-Exclusive Discounts and Vintages

Foxen Vineyards in Santa Barbara produces several highly acclaimed wines each year in small batches. To entice customers to join their club, and make existing members feel special, they use Nexternal to offer these wines online, but only to signed-in club members.  

With Nexternal, you can create custom product listings that are only viewable to certain customer types. This can even allow you to create special offers for different clubs, or different club levels. For limited releases, you can also use allocation to ensure your members all have a chance to try a glass. 

Enable Curated "Member's Choice" Shipments

TrueCommerce Nexternal allows you to give your club members the personalized experience they want with Member’s Choice options. L. Mawby Winery uses this feature to allow customers to switch out pre-selected bottles with different options. Between their regular eCommerce sales and club sales using Nexternal, Mawby was able to triple sales in their first year and hasn’t slowed down since. 

Ready to Get Started?

If you’re ready to expand your winery business with an online store and/or wine club subscription service, TrueCommerce Nexternal is here to help! With more than 20 years of experience helping wineries succeed, and a user-friendly, cutting edge platform, we make it easy to design and manage the wine club of your dreams.  

For more information, reach out to one of our specialists today. You can also check out our customer success stories to see how wineries like yours have benefitted from TrueCommerce Nexternal’s wine club software

About the Author: Craig Ross is the VP of Sales for the TrueCommerce Nexternal eCommerce Platform.  He has been on the Nexternal team for over 20 years and has been involved with the evolution of eCommerce from its infancy.  Craig lives in Redding, Connecticut, and in addition to eCommerce, he is passionate about cycling, motorsports, skiing, and music.