Allegrini 2018

“Wine Clubs” of Italian wineries: a growing phenomenon, driven by the pandemic

Among new and historical case histories, the message is clear: the goal is the constant and direct contact with wine lovers, and not the sale of wine
The “Wine Clubs” of Italian wineries: a growing phenomenon, driven by the pandemic

There are those that allow to buy old vintages impossible to find on the market directly from the producer’s cellar, those that simply offer discounts, those that, together with more or less rare and peculiar bottles, limited editions and not only, offer to their members personalized experiences, “Taylor made” visits in the winery, and many other services, for a relationship between producer and wine lover more and more direct, through digital, and based on the experience, more than on the product itself. These are the many “wine clubs” of Italian wineries, a tool that is, on the whole, far from new, but which now, on the wave of digitization accelerated by the Pandemic crisis, which is also pushing companies to reinvent part of their business with the restaurant business still essentially at a standstill (and it is still unclear for how long, in Italy and in many areas of the world), has found a new, important push. With wine clubs directly managed by producers which are joining the many “third party” experiences which, for example, already allow wine lovers to receive at home, on a regular basis, selections of wines based on the most different criteria. According to data from the research “The wine business in the post-Covid-19 era” by the Vinitaly-Nomisma Wine Monitor on a panel of 165 wineries representing 4 billion euros in turnover, if in 2019 wine clubs were a niche tool (11% of the panel), in 2021 they will be adopted by 57% of Italian wineries.
And there are many famous examples. Among the most recent to be launched, there is Repertorio 1694 of the Sicilian label Planeta, which will allow subscribers (selected by invitation, with membership lasting one year, and also including guided tastings, private events and en primeur purchases), to receive 12 bottles of old vintages that the winery led by Alessio, Francesca and Santi Planeta has “archived” over the years and in its “Journey in Sicily” from Menfi to Vittoria, from Noto to Etna and Capo Milazzo. “We thought of all our customers who have passed through the Planeta world and who have invested in us, visitors, customers of our hospitality facilities, people who have already shown an attention for the brand transformed into a purchase - explains Alessio Planeta to WineNews - to whom we want to give different and exclusive wines and services, not to replace wine shops or other channels, we cannot and do not want to compete with realities such as Tannico or Vino.com. The idea is not to create Planeta's virtual shop, but to propose old bottles that we have been saving since our first harvest, when nobody knew us, or born from the experimentation we do in Milazzo, for example, a few hundred bottles from “relic vines” that we do not distribute, or to allow people to buy oil en primeur and so on”.
Umberto Cesari Wine Club, the reference point for wine in Emilia Romagna, focuses on loyalty and “rewards”: by purchasing bottles and experiences, customers accumulate points that allow them to move up a level (from Classic to Platinum) and that give them the possibility of redeeming prizes ranging from glasses and decanters to personalized bottles for birthdays, exclusive large formats, and more: “our Wine Club has existed for 5 years, it had a satisfactory growth rate, but it is useless to deny that in this 2020, following in full the growth trend of everything that is digital - underlines Gian Maria Cesari - it has recorded a real boom. We have seen new customers approaching us, and in part it has compensated for the lack of winery visits, which have always been very important to us. Among the prizes those related to exclusive experiences, which are not for sale, are the ones that are the most popular, as it happens in real clubs”. Among the historical ones, still from Tuscany, there is the Mazzei Wine Club, founded by the Tuscan reality in 2006, which allows privileged guided tours in the family estates (Castello di Fonterutoli and Belguardo in Tuscany and Zisola in Sicily), the purchase of Cru wines in preview, special activities and promotions in anniversaries and so on: “it is a tool that has grown organically over the years, reaching 5,000 members and many active members - comments Francesco Mazzei - then it is clear that in this year there has been a strong acceleration, in 2020 we made +50%, starting from an already important base. This growth is due to the experience gained, and then to the development of a more focused strategy. We have tried to make up for the lack of visitors to the winery, which for us has very important numbers, through the Wine Club activity, which has compensated not completely, but in good part, the losses in terms of visitors we have recorded. It is an increasingly important tool, both because it is not clear yet how long this situation will last because of the pandemic, and also because by now mechanisms have been created, also on line, which have conquered many new consumers with purchasing and contact modalities which will remain even after the pandemic”.
The historical Tuscan company and leader of Italian wine, Marchesi Antinori, has its “26 Generations Wine Club”, which, among other things, allows to buy directly old vintages, limited editions and special formats of Antinori’s production, from the different estates of Tuscany, from Antinori in Chianti Classico to Tignanello, from Guado al Tasso in Bolgheri to Peppoli, from Pian delle Vigne in Montalcino to Le Mortelle, among others, passing through the Umbrian Castello della Sala, Montenisa in Franciacorta, Prunotto in the Langhe and Tormaresca in Puglia, as well as Haras de Pirque in Chile and Antica in Napa Valley, for example. “It’s a project born well before Covid - explains Raffaella Alia, communications director and project manager - as a tool to stay in touch with those who have visited our Antinori winery in Chianti Classico. Then, from April 2020, with the lockdown, we decided to open access to the platform also to those who are not members of the club, in order to be closer to our wine lovers. Because the project is not only an e-commerce platform but also a portal of contents and stories about our estates and our wines, feeding a channel of dialogue and relationship. The possibility to buy is there, but with limited availability on the most scarce wines and pricing policies in line with the channels that remain strategic for us, such as restaurants and traditional distribution”
The Argentiera Wine Club of Tenuta Argentiera, one of the most beautiful realities of Bolgheri, presents itself as the “oenological parlor of Argentiera”, which gives access to guided tours with free tastings, participation in ad hoc events for members, purchase at privileged conditions, booking of bottles en primeur and access to favorable conditions to the accommodations of the estate. “It is certainly one of the aspects on which to invest - underlines the CEO of Argentiera, Federico Zileri dal Verme - because the customer must be followed more and more, there is direct contact through the Club, it is an aspect that cannot really be neglected. The value of the brand is very important, our Argentiera brand is more and more known and appreciated, the work we are doing is bearing fruit and has repercussions also on private customers, who may be looking for old vintages, special selections but not only. And then there is the aspect of the guarantee of buying directly from the winery, which, even on line, guarantees the authenticity of the wine, which is an increasingly important issue”.
Dievole, the oenological microcosm between Chianti Classico, Montalcino and Bolgheri owned by Argentinean oilman Alejando Bulgheroni, also has its own D’Wine Club, “launched four years ago, with the primary aim, which is not that of sales, which is important - explains Dievole’s director Stefano Capurso - but that of customer loyalty, of direct contact, even beyond social media, which are now quite overused. It’s an important communication tool that, in these times, has become even more crucial for staying in touch with customers. We have two levels of membership, the “basic” one, open to everyone, which also allows access to e-commerce, and other services when members visit our wineries, and the “master” level which, instead, is by invitation, intended for historical or high spending customers, and opens to more important benefits, such as special reserves, limited editions, old vintages and so on, but it also gives the possibility to access to our Wine Club room, where the member can keep their wines, at Dievole, and when they come they can book this room for tastings. Moreover, when there are events abroad, in the member’s city or nearby, the member is invited to the event. It is an important project which requires a lot of work, and we have a person dedicated just to this. But it is an important channel, we count almost 3,000 members of our D’Wine Club, 400 of which are masters. They seem small numbers, but in reality, even through word of mouth, which remains a fundamental driver, they generate a great driving force”-
From Langhe, on the other hand, it is possible to buy rare and old vintages, limited editions, special labels, dinners with the producer and special events at the Wine Club of the historic Michele Chiarlo: “we have reserved special vintages and wines for the Wine Club, rather than discounts or initiatives of this kind - comments Stefano Chiarlo - the success of this tool also depends a lot on the flow of wine tourists one has had in the past. It is a tool that must be cultivated, when the visitor comes to the winery you create a special relationship that must be maintained, you need the pampering, the rarity, it is not an e-commerce tout court, but a tool to build loyalty, thanks to special initiatives. The goal is not the sale of wine, but the creation and maintenance of a community that then becomes an ambassador of our world”. A voice that comes from the Langhe where, among the many, there is also the Poderi Luigi Einaudi Wine Club, signed by the winery of the family of the former President of the Republic Luigi Einaudi, which allows access to wine tours reserved to members, the booking of great vintages of Barolo exclusively, and free tastings every time members visit the Relais of Poderi Einaudi.
Among the most peculiar case histories, there is the one of Firriato Wine Club of the renowned Sicilian winery Firriato, managed by Vinzia di Gaetano and Federico Lombardo di Monte Iato, who explains to WineNews: “we have chosen for a long time not to sell wine through our wine club, but to focus more on services especially related to hospitality and welcome in the winery. As an example, since our Calici di Stelle events are always sold out, we reserve a part of the tickets to our club members which can also be booked with the early bird mode, just to mention one. The goal is to gather contacts and keep these contacts active, it can be a fundamental communication tool. The choice of not selling wine is mainly because we do not want to go against our customers, we have a network of 3,500 partners who sell and distribute our wines in Sicily and in the whole of Italy, with whom we have a splendid and consolidated relationship over the years, and we are certain that when this period will pass, wineries like us, with a strong brand, will remain on the menu of restaurants, provided they also guarantee services such as the integrity of the product, always, efficiency in deliveries and so on”.
But these are just some of the many possible examples, such as the Tommasi Wine Club of Tommasi Family Estate, to the one of the Franciacorta winery Il Monsnel, as well as the one of the historical Tuscan winery Barone Ricasoli or the recently born one of the Venetian brand Zeni, or again, going back to Sicily, of Cantine Barbera.
Just a small cross-section, this one of the Wine Clubs directly managed by the wineries of the Belpaese, which will be one of those phenomena to be observed with attention. Not new, on the whole, but which, like everything that is “digitalization” and “direct-to-consumer”, has received a new, intense and important push from a pandemic that still holds Italy and most of the world in check.

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