Small wine clubs

Cartograph Wines

There are few moods that can’t be lifted by the receipt of a shipment of wine. Every bottle that you unpack from the crate is clean and cool against your palm, with the capped or corked promise of flavor, dizziness of head and the meal and conversation you’ll enjoy alongside it.

I just received my biannual order from Cartograph Wines. They’re a small producer from Healdsburg, California, making delicate and distinct Pinot Noirs, Rieslings and Gewurtztraminers in the Burgundian and Alsatian styles, but with a specific Sonoma spin. The bottles come tastefully wrapped in blue tissue paper with an accompanying letter that serves as a primer of the vineyards and seasons in which they were grown and made, written by the winemakers themselves. And since the automatic billing is separated from receipt of goods, these shipments almost feel like gifts. Indeed they are. Gifts to me, from me. We should all spoil ourselves on occasion.

I can think of any number of reasons to buy good wine, chief among these the fact that our time on this great, green-blue, troubled Earth is all too short and thus best enjoyed with a splash of something magical in your belly.

Wine clubs are a great way to buy wine. You can find wine clubs anywhere. There are big, corporate wine clubs that assemble selections of bottles from all over the world, designed to your price and taste. But I like the little ones. Every small producer and winery has a wine club. Wine clubs are essential for the small wine labels in the States because they provide predictable, regular cash flow, and the proceeds don’t have to be shared with a retailer, wholesaler or restaurant. (Note: It’s kind of like buying a book for the cover price directly from an author, which I also encourage you to do. And if I happen to be said author, you can be sure that I’ll likely spend such cash infusion on wine from a small producer, and together we’d be creating our own little economy of trickle-down happiness.)

Other great wine clubs are run by small specialty importers. They hand-select wines along a certain style, curating a selection for their customers. I belong to a Burgundy club called Caveau Selections. Burgundy is a baffling, inscrutable region, and the wines you find in shops are usually pricey and cover a wide range of quality and styles. So it’s a great asset to have an expert select wines for you. When my Caveau shipment arrives, it is accompanied by documentation that helps orient me to this fascinating and puzzling region. They select a range of prices, so there’s usually a bottle in each shipment that’s far above and beyond the cost of anything I’d pick up in the store or at a restaurant, and then its surrounded with some bargain choices. It’s a great way to learn how quality and price relate, and also discover the pleasant surprise that some of your favorites are among the cheaper options.

You don’t have to be wealthy to have wine shipped to your house. The three bottles I receive from Cartograph twice yearly usually costs around a hundred bucks. A small price to pay for the three evenings of enjoyment that will come from a bottle and a meal shared with my wife or friends. My daughter even likes to smell the wines and take notes, referencing her wine aroma wheel. To my knowledge she’s yet to taste anything beyond a drop on her little finger, but she’s probably sniffed more good wines than most twelve year olds in this country.

Wine clubs are kind of like oenological Christmas letters. Usually your membership is inspired through an event put on by the importer or shop, or by a visit the winery on vacation or a weekend. You join the clubs because you liked the experience and connected with the owners. Your wine club purveyors become like your friends and family, but even better because they ship you wine to lift your spirits when the spring rains return or to help you steel yourself for the oncoming march of winter (most clubs deliver in the spring and fall).

If you live near the winery or importer, you’ll find that they often have events specifically for club members. There are other perks, discounts and benefits. If it’s a winery in a region you visit from time to time, you’ll automatically have a comfortable home base to start your touring and tasting. They’ll likely know your name if you’ve been a member for a while. It’s a nice feeling, and even though the relationships are forged by commerce, they’ll often evolve into friendships.

If you do join a wine club, one tip that saves frustration is to have the shipment delivered to your office. Alcohol requires a signature, and unless someone’s always home or you work from a home office, you’ll wind up chasing your wines to some delivery service warehouse.

Ours is a fearful age. We huddle in our houses and cringe when the doorbell rings. The 24-hour news cycle and its parade of gloom and tragedy weighs heavily on our minds. While we’ve grown more worldly, global and ubiquitous as a species, it also seems as if we’re ruled by our fears, biases and artificially heightened sense of stranger danger.

But wine clubs cut through all that. The announcements that shipments are underway brighten up our social feeds like a funny cat video but only better. They give you a reason to smile when someone knocks on your door. Perhaps the visitor is your friendly delivery truck driver with a shipment of happiness under his arm.

Published by David

Writer (Vintage), filmmaker (Three Days of Glory and Saving Atlantis), bookreader.

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