Wine Clubs: What’s deal?

If you’ve visited a winery lately, or paid any attention at all to the wine industry, you’ve heard of a wine club. There are more and more club options popping up in all areas as well as solely internet based options. So what’s the deal? Are they worth it? What do you get? Aren’t they expensive?

The answers to those questions are all based on preference. Each club is different, though they mostly follow the same idea, and offers something unique for members. Clubs run by the winery itself often include complimentary tastings for you when you visit, invitations to exclusive events and/or access to very limited production wines. With each payment/shipment, clubs offer anywhere from 2 bottles to a half case and sometimes even a full case, though the last option is much harder to find. The frequency of payments/shipments varies by club. Most commonly I’ve seen quarterly clubs but I also know of a number that are monthly or offer the option for you to choose how often you’d like to receive a shipment with options between quarterly, bi-monthly or monthly. Larger clubs and wineries often offer options like all whites, all reds or a combo of both while others simply decide what you’re getting each time based on what they feel is their best wine available at the time.

Currently, I belong to two very different clubs and love them both.

Boordy large logo in full color

One is through a local Maryland winery which I’ve grown extremely fond of. My fiancé gifted me the membership to Boordy’s Landmark Club for my birthday 2 years ago which originally sparked my interest in wine clubs. The club option I am signed up for includes 3 bottles every quarter. Boordy has three different lines of wine, the Landmark series, the icon series and the just-for-fun series. The Landmark is their ‘nicer’ or higher-end wines which are limited in production so they are the only ones you receive in your club packages. When signing up you can choose whether you will receive 3 or 6 bottles but do not have a red or white option as each package varies and can include any combination of white, red, rose or port. As a member of their Landmark club I am able to visit the winery and receive a complimentary Landmark Series tasting for myself and three friends as often as I like, discounts on wine purchases and the freedom to cancel whenever I want (like that will happen…). Each quarter Boordy hosts a pick-up event for the club which included tastings, small food options (think cheese, bread, soup), a food truck, live music and a unique special event. The special event has ranged from barrel tastings to vertical port tastings paired with chocolates to the chance to taste fresh squeezed chardonnay grapes before they are turned to wine followed by a sample of chardonnay. Each time I’ve learned something about the wine-making process and furthered my exploration of wine. If you cannot attend the event they will hold your wine and the winery or ship it to you.

The California Wine ClubThe other club I’m currently a member of is The California Wine Club which has been around for 25 years now. They have 5 club level options which allow you to explore a variety of wines from small family owned wineries in various locations around the globe. I joined the International Series club because I wanted to opportunity to try wines from around the world that I would not be able to find in any stores around the US. The California wine club allows you to select all white, all red or a mix as wells as shipment frequencies of monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly. One thing I love is that I can change my mind at any time, all I have to do is call and request that my shipping frequency or bottle preference be changed and they take care of it right away. When I need to be more budget conscious I get quarterly shipments, when I’ve got extra money in the budget I can switch to bi-monthly shipments. Now, don’t go calling all the time and be ‘that person’ constantly changing your mind but know that if you sign up for an option and realize it’s not what you wanted to expected, they will help get you into the right arrangement. Another thing I love about this club is the information they send along with your shipment. Since it is internet based and you don’t actually get to pick your wine up from the winery, each package includes a printed edition of ‘Uncorked’ which gives you all kinds of information about the winery, the family who owns and runs it, the history and details on what wine you’ve received including tasting notes and food pairings. I’ve only belonged to the International club for about a year and have consistently received wonderful wines from places like Germany, Austria and Australia. Uncorked came in very hand when the labels weren’t in English! If there is ever a bottle that you absolutely hate you can call to let them know and they will replace it for you, how awesome is that? Talk about a guaranteed way to ensure your money is well spent. As a member of any of their club levels, you have access to order any wines they distribute at a discounted rate, though occasionally very limited productions are limited to only members of the club to which the wine was sent. The prices are fabulous and they often run sales, promotions and free shipping options. The only down side is that when ordering bottles you must order a half case (note this is for individual orders NOT for wine club shipments). Overall this is a great club for exploring wines you may not otherwise get your hands on! They even reward you with $100 for referals, so if you think you’d like to join comment below (or email me) with your email and I’ll send you a link!

So that’s the deal. Do some exploring and see what clubs interest you. Check with local wineries, any wineries you visited during a trip and loved or even online! If you gravitate towards wine from a certain region, research wineries in that area and see if they have club options. The possibilities are endless and there is something out there for every wine lover in every price range, you just have to look!

Big Cork Vineyards – Rohrersville, MD

My sister and I visited Big Cork Vineyards back in March during the Maryland Wine Passport Experience. We were fortunate on being able to visit their brand new tasting room which had just opened a few weeks before our visit. So, why am I just now writing this review?

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I’ll be honest, I’ve wanted to write this review and had planned on doing it much sooner. Every time I sat down to write it, I just couldn’t decide what to say. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty to say and I liked Big Cork but everything I thought to write sounded contradictory. Now I’ve realized that the contradiction may be somewhat fitting because in a way I felt Big Cork was somewhat of a contradiction in itself.

I know it sounds odd, just stick with me here.

IMAG2084Big Cork was our third stop for the day, preceded by Red Heifer and Knob Hall. As we approached Big Cork there was a giant sign that made finding it super easy but you don’t see their new, beautiful building until you’ve turned into the drive. Upon turning in we were greeted with a cute and comedic sign to direct us the ‘right way’. (It’s a little hard to see in the photo below but the red sign says ‘Wrong Way’ the blue says ‘Right Way.’)

The tasting room sits up on top of the hill and after going the ‘right way’ we wound around up to to find there was tons of parking. Upon approaching the building IMAG2092we immediately loved the grand entrance way made with gorgeous wooden beams. It was a little hard to get it fully into the frame but you can get the idea from the photo. Once inside however, the rustic tone set by the beams and area surrounding the tasting room was instantly gone.

Dressed fairly casually in jeans, a t-shirt and cardigan I felt under dressed and instantly wondered if I should run to the bathroom to brush my wind blown hair. A very nice man working directed us to the bathroom, only partially because I wanted to brush my hair but mainly because wine tasting all day makes a girl have to go! On the way to the bathroom we noticed the waiters looked like people you would find at a nice five star restaurant with towels draped over a stiff arm. The furniture and decor was very modern and industrial feeling, not at all like the entryway.

I loved the light fixture in the bathroom! It was simple, beautiful and I want it in my bathroom at home! We also took an obnoxious bathroom selfie because what better way feel less awkward than by being a little goofy?

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Now, you are probably wondering ‘why is their waiters? don’t you mean tasting room associates?’ I don’t. When you enter the tasting room to the right is a big, u-shaped, beautiful white tasting bar with tall pub height tables around the outer walls. To the left is a small seating area where you can come to enjoy their wine and order from their small bistro menu. It looked like the people seated at the pub tables were also being served by waiters.

We went to the tasting bar and were helped by a very friendly woman who shared all kinds of great information with us about not just the wine, but the vineyard as well. I was pleased with the selection we tried and loved that some were paired with small bites from their bistro menu. The stuffed tomatoes were to die for!

Now, some of you may remember when I wrote a previous review that I mentioned a story revolving around the phrase ‘Smells mayo, tastes like pickles’? Here it is.

Paired with one of the wines was a small dish of bright pink, almost coleslaw looking dip. Writing this review so long after I cannot remember what it was called unfortunately. The woman conducting our tasting told us that the dip seemed to be a love or hate option on their menu. If I recall correctly, the color came from radishes. Being slightly hesitant, I picked it up to smell it before tasting and told my sister ‘It smells like mayonnaise. Must be like a twist on coleslaw’ then I took a bite. Luckily for me, I love pickles and it tasted just like them! After another bite to finish my cracker, I couldn’t decide if I like the dip or not. It was quite the contradiction on smell, appearance and taste!

I can’t say any of the wines jumped out at me. I didn’t dislike them IMAG2088but I wasn’t over the moon about any of them either. However, the whole time we were tasting I was still trying to figure out the decor of the tasting room and figure out what feel it was they were going for which likely distracted me from really tasting the wine.

Around the tasting room I noticed that their shelving and some surfaces were made to look wood-like and hint at the rustic, rural vibe we had expected. As soon as you noticed a rustic touch however you were instantly thrown off by marble bottle holders, a bold white stone counter or a modern, industrial light. I was so busy trying to understand the intended feel for the room that I admit, the wine tasting was not my focus.

IMAG2091There were very clever stools at the tables around us and a large patio out the window. I’d like to visit again and sit on the patio this summer. Being outside and enjoying the weather would make for a much more comfortable experience in my book.

They have a grand opening event scheduled for May 30, 2015 which may be my perfect chance to go give Big Cork another try. Now that I know what to expect, I hope I can enjoy the environment and take the time to really taste the wines they offer.

One thing I would like all of my readers to take away is that while their seemed to be so much contradiction at Big Cork, it was a beautiful vineyard with great service. If you go in with the proper expectations and with an open mind I’m sure you will have a wonderful time and feel comfortable. The impression I got was that Big Cork is moving to be a higher-end, upscale winery rather than a rural, Maryland vineyard. They are definitely well on their way and I’m sure, with a little more time, they will reach that feel/reputation successfully.

Once I am able to visit again I’ll be sure give an update!

If anyone has the chance to visit and would like to share their thoughts as well, we’d love to hear from you! Comment below or email us at wineandfit@outlook.com

Knob Hall Winery – Clear Spring, MD

    Tucked away in beautiful Clear Spring, MD is the fabulous Knob Hall winery. It may seem a little out of the way for many but let me tell you, it is more than worth the detour!

Knob Hall Winery SignKnob Hall Wine Tanks

Now, I typically I like to know where exactly I’m driving, what to expect when I arrive and what kinds of wines I will be tasting before visiting a winery. I had done a little to no research on Knob Hall before my sister and I visited during our Maryland Wine Passport Experience. I’d heard of Knob Hall and seen some of their bottles in a local store but didn’t know much beyond that. In this case, I was blown away when I arrived thanks to my lack of research!

Knob hall is tucked back a winding road in the middle of western Maryland farm country. The winery itself is a farm and the tasting room is inside of the original 1860 barn. How cool is that?! It is a beautiful, cozy barn with plenty of space to sit and enjoy the wine food with your friends after your tasting at the rustic wood tasting bar. We couldn’t stop looking around and admiring the barn with it’s twinkling lights!

Knob Hall Barn - Inside

Knob Hall has a variety of animals on the farm, including peacocks! We didn’t see any of the animals, partly because it was a little chilly for us to leave the cozy barn, but what a cool thing to enjoy if you bring the kids along. There are a variety of festivals and tons of live music when the weather is nice. The girl who conducted our tasting (she was such a sweetheart! I can’t remember her name for the life of me though 😦 ) told us that during the warmer months they open the barn doors and people can enjoy the music from inside or outside. Definitely planning on coming back to check that out!

Knob Hall Cheese-Meat PlateOur tasting was absolutely wonderful. We were able to take our time, chat and just relax. Since we were visiting as part of the Passport Experience, we also got a giant plate of cheese, meat, crackers and jam. If I recall correctly, all the goodies on our plate were local.

Our tasting included and array of wines which were all great and clearly show that Knob Hall knows what they are doing. My favorite was their ‘Le Rêve Rouge’ which they describe as a “light bodied with soft tannins red blend wine. Flowery and fruity notes on the nose. Fruity raspberry flavors.’ This wine they serve cold, a twist on how most typically enjoy a red, and I found that it just works better that way. It is light and sweet without being too light or too sweet and sangria-like. Le Rêve Rouge is an extremely versatile wine that I can see myself enjoying alone or with a meal any time of year.

Knob Hall - Le Reve Rouge

My sister and I both enjoyed a glass of Le Rêve Rouge while we polished off our snack plate because we just couldn’t bring ourselves to leave the cozy atmosphere.

After finishing our glasses of wine we sauntered out, sad to leave the beautiful barn and good wine, but excited to hit our next stop. A trip up during the spring or summer for live music is definitely on my to-do list! I highly recommend getting out to Knob Hall for a tasting and relaxing afternoon! You can check out their upcoming events here.

Red Heifer Winery – Smithsburg, MD

This past weekend, my sister and I planned to hit an insane amount of wineries. For the second year in a row the Maryland Wine Organization is offering a deal called the ‘Wine Passport’ which features a number of Maryland’s wineries. For just $25 you can spend two weekends, last and next, visiting any of the participating wineries. Talk about a steal!

So on Saturday we planned to hit the Piedmont wine trail and stop by the venue for my upcoming wedding….and cue snow. Lots of snow.

Lucky for us, Sunday was beautiful, road were great and we explored the entire Antietam Heights wine trail! Our first stop of the day was at Red Heifer Winery in Smithsburg, MD.

Red Heifer Winery
At first we zoomed right past the entrance but after turning around we knew where to go. In order to get to the tasting room you must first drive up a gravel drive through an amazing old farm. The owners of the winery, Yvonne & Kevin Ford, live on top of the hill above the farm and the tasting room is the lower level of their home. Everything was snow covered but it was still a breathtaking view. I’d love to go back in the spring or fall and sit at their outside tables while taking in the scenery.

The tasting was great! They have been around for only a couple years but you would never know it from the taste of the wine. Yvonne & Kevin clearly know what they are doing, right down to their adorable labels and logo. Yvonne conducted our tasting, she was so sweet and a pleasure to talk to. She gave us tons of information about the wine, answered all my questions about the winery and we chatted about dogs, where we live, other wineries, Edna May (you’ll get that one after you visit!) and the list goes on. We certainly felt welcome and I’m certain that anyone who visits Red Heifer more than a time or two you would be remembered and treated like family. Heck, we felt like old friends and it was only our first time there!

My absolute favorite of their wines was the Blueberry. Typically I’m not a huge blueberry fan but this was such a natural blueberry flavor that wasn’t overpowering like I expected. They also had prepared, and kept warm, a mulled wine using the blueberry and a mix mulling of spices. Delicious, fabulous, wonderful, oh my goodness. While I’d love to describe the flavor to you, I just can’t. Trust me and get your butt out there and try it!

I bought a bottle of the blueberry along with a little packet of spices to make the mulled wine at home. Of course the weekend was so on track that I naturally forgot my camera. Oh well, just another reason to go back again!

This weekend we will be heading out to another Maryland Wine Trail. I’ll be recapping that and the rest of our Sunday Passport Adventure, including mead, cider, a small plate that smelled like mayo but tasted like pickles, Miss Ruby and more, in my coming posts!