THERE are reassuring signs that the way in which we can buy wine in this country are rapidly changing.
In Manitoba, convenience will finally triumph when government-run Liquor Marts will soon open in Winnipeg Safeways.
The move by more enlightened provinces (including B.C., Manitoba, Nova Scotia and arguably Ontario and Alberta) to allow cross-border Canadian wine shipments (in response to FreeMyGrapes' successful campaign) is encouraging B.C. wineries to ramp up their direct-to-consumer wine club activities.
Some of the most active include Tinhorn Creek (Crush Club), Mission Hill (Proprietor's Wine Club), CedarCreek and Painted Rock (who will case-ship anywhere in Canada, whether you're a member or not).
Club benefits can include access to rarer bottles (front-of-line style), visitor perks and more, not to mention sharing of a wealth of expertise in varying forms.
Just unveiled, The Club @ Crush Pad (okanagancrushpad. com/theclub) offers one of the more flexible purchase packages.
All you have to do is commit to buying two cases of wine a year. Beyond that, you get to choose from Okanagan Crush Pad's growing stable of both their own and client wines. Show up at the winery and you'll be greeted with a glass of sparkling Haywire's The Bub, plus advice on touring and dining planning, and the list goes on.
Village VQA BC Wine Club (Edgemont Village, South Dunbar and Kitsilano: villagevqawines.com) provides access to a wide range of B.C. wines through a program that co-ordinates a delivery of four cases a year. You get to choose the mix of wines, which again focuses on harder-to-find releases. The service also comes with food pairing suggestions and cellaring advice.
The changes are also driving interest in "international" clubs, such as Marquis Wine Club (marquiswineclub.com).
Marquis focuses heavily on convenience and mirrors its retail portfolio by offering harder-to-find bottles, often from smaller producers not found elsewhere, such as perennial Parker 90 + pointers from Washington's Maison Bleue. However, unlike most "surprise" selections, if a club member isn't satisfied with a particular wine, Marquis will replace it with another bottle of similar value.
Some agency importers, such as International Cellars, will put you on a monthly mailer and arrange case orders for pickup from a local store. In short, there's a whole lot of folks out there who want to make it easy for you to buy wine by the case and have it shipped to your door, and in some cases do the choosing for you. If you're in the process of building a cellar and are new to wine, there's arguably no better way to go than to work with somebody who does it for a living.
The wine club is really another form of loyalty program and it's definitely here to stay. Besides, if you're already buying from a specific winery regularly or frequently shopping at a favourite retailer it only makes good sense to broaden your tasting horizons or see if there's a better deal on offer doesn't it?
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Even though we're bombarded by big Champagne brands, it pays to take note of the smaller houses. Alain Sacy, 12th generation winemaker at Louis de Sacy Champagnes, breezed through town a few weeks ago with the best across-the-board range we've tasted in some time. It's rare to find grower Grand Cru wines of this quality at this price.
Arguably the best value, the Louis de Sacy NV Brut Grand Cru sports a clean, fresh, citrus-toned palate with some mineral and flinty notes and good structure. BCLS $59.99, 90 pts (Oysters, for sure). Also not to be missed, the NV Brut Rosé, and Grand Soir Grand Cru 2003.
Tim Pawsey covers food and wine for numerous publications and online as the Hired Belly at hiredbelly.com. Contact: rebelmouse.com/hiredbelly, on Twitter @hiredbelly or email firstname.lastname@example.org.