Stay on Your Favorite Winery’s Mailing List: Keeping and Managing Your Wine Allocations

managing your wine allocations mailing list

It can take years to get on the mailing lists of excellent wineries like Shafer. Photo Credit: Flickr CC user Dominic Lockyer

So you finally get on allocations lists for two of your favorite California wineries, but when your wine options arrive, you discover that you don’t love every wine on the list. What do you do? This exact situation happened to a Chowhound forum writer, who says that he signed up for Rhys’ and Dirty & Rowdy’s mailing lists, but only wanted about half of the wines offered. While he loved Rhys’ Chardonnay, he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to invest in the winery’s Pinot Noir, since he enjoyed the Pinot less than the Chardonnay. The forum writer didn’t want to get dropped from the list or lose his current number of bottle allocations the following year, so he agonized over which bottles to buy. He wondered whether he should buy as many wines as he could, including the Pinot Noir, and sell the extra bottles to his friends later, or if the wineries would accuse him of “bottle flipping” and kick him off the list.

As it turns out, Dirty & Rowdy’s Hardy Wallace saw the question, and responded to the online thread himself. Wallace told the forum writer that he would risk losing some of his allocations the following year if he didn’t buy all of his Dirty & Rowdy allocations now, but that the winery had no issue with the writer sharing his wine with friends. As long as he wasn’t scamming his friends by charging too much for the bottles, he’d be in the clear (although Wallace did encourage the writer’s friends to join the list themselves). This is a prime example of just a handful of the many questions that collectors have when they join allocation lists. And since not all winery owners take the time to answer these questions on forums, like Hardy Wallace, it’s essential for collectors to learn to answer these kinds of questions themselves.

Buying the Right Number of Bottles

Wine writer Kirsten Georgi, who blogs under the name “The Armchair Sommelier,” says that she was once on a half dozen allocation lists, and by 2013, this number had doubled. She says, “You know how allocations work — once you get an allocation, you gotta order…or you risk getting blackballed the next year. And the wine accumulates.” Georgi explains that she was already having trouble storing all of her wines, and her newest allocations were making matters worse. Not only do collectors need to know how many bottles they should buy to stay on an allocation list, they need to effectively manage the bottles they order. It’s tempting to stop buying wine from allocations for a year while you get your cellar in order, but when you skip a year of allocations, you risk the winery either removing you from the list to make room for others on the waiting list, or being given far fewer bottles to choose from the following year.

Rather than accepting an allocation decrease as an inevitability, follow these two rules: buy only what you can safely afford every year, and store your wine with a third party facility, rather than in a home cellar. How do you create an effective allocations wine budget? I suggest following the 50/20/30 rule that finance experts recommend to clients. Essentially, you should spend 50 percent of your total monthly budget on the absolute essentials (like groceries or bills), 20 percent on savings, and 30 percent on the things that you want, such as new bottles of wine. For serious collectors, it’s safe to spend as close to 30 percent as possible on wine to give yourself as many options as you can when your allocations arrive. Beginning collectors might want to spend closer to 10 or 20 percent of their budgets on allocations, especially if they’re not yet sure which bottles they enjoy.

Calculate how much you can afford to spend on wine based on your budget. You can give yourself a monthly, quarterly, or yearly budget depending on how frequently you buy wine. I recommend quarterly budgets for allocations, especially for collectors who buy wine in bulk more than once per year. If you only order wine once per year via allocations, a yearly budget will be a better fit for you. After you have your budget, decide which bottles on your allocations lists are the ones that you absolutely cannot live without (regardless of which wineries they are from), and determine how much of your budget will be left after you buy these bottles. If you have more to spend, move on to your second-favorite bottles until you reach your budget goal. If you reach your budget limit, but none of a certain winery’s wines made the final cut, it might be worth dropping that allocation list entirely. It’s better to be a frequent buyer on lists that you truly enjoy than to buy wines that don’t excite you in order to stay on a list.

Once you’ve chosen your wines, you’ll still need to find a place to store them. Third party facilities like Vinfolio make it easier to maintain wine allocations lists because they provide unlimited storage space. If you’ve ever had to turn down allocations because you don’t have room for more bottles, you should seriously consider signing up for third party storage. Vinfolio not only inspects the bottles for damage and authenticity after they arrive, but the bottles are also stored long-term in a temperature-controlled warehouse, and shipped directly to your doorstep whenever you want them. You can even use Vinfolio’s space as excess storage when your allocations arrive in the spring, then transfer the wines to a home cellar later.

Reselling Your Allocations

By far the greatest danger of wine allocations is what can happen if you decide to sell the bottles on the secondary market. In 2013, Screaming Eagle kicked a few collectors off its sought-after list when the winery discovered that the collectors were “flipping” bottles of Sauvignon Blanc for a much greater profit than the initial price. Screaming Eagle later claimed that they removed the collectors from the list not because they were selling bottles at unfair prices, but because they were shipping wines in the middle of the summer. The winery explained that wines are easily damaged in the summer heat, which proved that the collectors were reckless and cared little for the wine. The estate manager added, “All that person is interested in is a quick buck, and they don’t care about the health of the wine.”

The only sure-fire way to stay on a winery’s good side is to keep all of the wine you receive from allocations for yourself, which is why budgeting for your bottles and storing them properly is the most important tool for maintaining wine allocations. However, for many collectors it can be virtually impossible to drink all of their allocated wines by themselves, especially if they’re members of multiple lists. To sell your bottles without compromising your relationship with a winery, you should first check with the estate to see if they have specific rules against selling the wine. After you’ve checked in with the winery, ensure that your bottles are always shipped properly, and that the shipping company respects your wine. When you sell wine through Vinfolio, your bottles are always shipped in temperature-controlled containers and vans, and the company never takes unnecessary risks with the bottles, like shipping them during the hottest or coldest seasons of the year without protection.

Pricing is also important. Never charge five times more for a bottle the moment the winery ships it to your doorstep, because wineries are often watching closely for bottle flipping. When you sell bottles for about as much as you paid for them immediately after release, most wineries should allow you to stay on the list. The only way to make a major profit on bottles that you buy through allocations, while still staying on the winery’s good side, is to store the bottles long-term and sell them as they approach their prime drinking dates.

Managing Your Wine Allocations for Multiple Lists

When you have dozens of wine allocations lists to manage, how do you keep track of them all without a few slipping through the cracks? I suggest using the VinCellar app to manage the bottles that you already own, but for the bottles you have yet to purchase, try using an excel spreadsheet. First, list out all of the wineries that have offered you allocations, along with the winery’s rules. Are you only allowed to buy two cases of wine from this winery? Will you lose your place on the list if you skip a year? What are the consequences of buying fewer bottles than your maximum allocation? On the spreadsheet, list out the wineries that have the strictest rules, from most-strict to least-strict. Next, highlight the wineries that make the bottles you most want, which you already prioritized when you created your wine budget.

Order wines from the highlighted wineries near the top of the spreadsheet first, immediately after you receive your letter or access code online. Move down the list until all of your highlighted wineries are accounted for, then move on to the non-highlighted wineries, starting with those near the top of the list (those that are most strict). By the time you reach the bottom of the non-highlighted list, most of the wineries will have looser rules about staying on the allocations list. Many of these wineries will let you skip a year without being dropped, so you’ll have the freedom to decide, after ordering your other wines, whether you want to skip the year or not for the remaining wineries. The number one, overarching rule is to buy as many wines as you can from the strictest, most sought-after estates first. You can always reapply to smaller wineries that drop you, but major, sought-after wineries like Hundred Acre are far more risky to skip. After all of that time you likely spent on the waitlist for these wineries, you don’t want to risk getting dropped simply for skipping a year.

Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s best wine.

Leah Hammer is Vinfolio’s Director of Cellar Acquisitions, guiding private collectors through the selling process. When not on the hunt for amazing cellars, she competes in marathons and rehydrates with Champagne and Burgundy.