The Ultimate Strategy for Getting on the Best California Wine Mailing Lists

best California wine mailing lists

Shafer is among the best California wine mailing lists because members get first access to the most sought-after wines from the estate. Photo Credit: Flickr CC user Tony Takitani

 Would you wait 10 years to get on the best California wine mailing lists? For collectors wishing to buy directly from the state’s top producers, spending a decade trying to get onto a winery’s mailing list is simply routine. Estates like Sine Qua Non are so popular that they’re forced to send out hundreds of “rejection” letters every year to patient collectors hoping for a chance to buy their wines. Currently, SQN is making its way through waitlist applications from as far back as 2007 and 2008, and the vast majority of collectors who sign up today likely won’t see an acceptance letter for another eight years, minimum.

Knowing that it could take almost a decade to clear the best California wine mailing lists, it might seem like these lists aren’t worth the effort. However, if you love an estate’s wines and you want to get the absolute best price per bottle, then a mailing list is an invaluable tool for your collection. It gets you first access to bottles, guaranteed authenticity, and a higher return on your investment should you resell those bottles in the future. While many wineries in other states have mailing lists, because of the quality of California wines, lists from this state tend to be much more difficult to get on, and require a bit more planning. In order to take advantage of the benefits associated with being on the best California wine mailing lists, you’ll need a solid strategy for signing up and staying on the lists.

How to Choose the Right List for You

California is currently home to more than 4,600 wineries, and at least 400 of those wineries are located in Napa Valley alone. With this many producers to choose from, it can be difficult to decide which mailing lists are worth your time and effort. Before you put your name on a single waitlist, consider the reasons why you want to join the mailing list in the first place. The wineries you should focus on will have the following qualities:

Rarity: If a producer’s wines are widely available on the secondary market at a reasonable price point, then there’s little point in signing up for a mailing list for that particular producer. The rarer a wine is, the more valuable a spot on the mailing list will be.

Perks: Many wineries offer special tasting events or discounts to mailing list members. Although these added perks aren’t essential, they can be a huge plus if you spend a lot of time in a particular estate’s tasting room.

Resale Value: The vast majority of collectors will at least occasionally buy more wine than they can drink, or will want to make a profit off of their collections. If you fall into this category, you’ll want to choose lists that offer valuable wines that you can “flip” on the secondary market for a profit after a few years of aging.

Taste: Never join a mailing list because you feel obligated, or because the wines are particularly rare. At the end of the day, you have to enjoy the wines you buy, especially since you can’t always predict what the market value for those bottles will be in the future.

After you narrow down the best California wine mailing lists based on the four qualities above, you’ll also need to be mindful of how many mailing lists you sign up for each year. If you’re on too many mailing lists at once, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, or even kicked off of your favorite lists (some wineries require you to buy a minimum number of bottles every year in order to remain a member).

By signing up for too many mailing lists, you might:

Not have enough funds to buy all of the allocations that you want
Miss important membership offers or alerts
Get kicked off of a mailing list due to inactivity on your account

This is why many collectors choose to sign up for only a small handful of the most sought-after lists, or choose just two or three of their favorite wineries. I generally recommend being on no more than about five mailing list memberships at once, depending on your available free time and budget.

What Are the Best California Wine Mailing Lists?

Here are a few of the best California wine mailing lists that you might consider joining, along with your anticipated wait time if you sign up for those lists today. Each of these mailing lists feature rare, valuable wines, and occasionally other perks that collectors will find useful.

best California wine mailing lists

The waitlist times above can vary greatly depending on market demand and, sometimes, sheer luck. For instance, Harlan’s most recent wait times have been slightly shorter over the past year than they were even a few years ago, in part because some of the wines have increased in price. As a result, some members of the mailing list have dropped off and are being replaced by new mailing list members who are willing to buy fewer bottles at a higher price point.

More Mailing List Options

In addition to the list of the best California wine mailing lists above, you might also consider Kapcsandy Family Winery and Bedrock, both of which have less traditional mailing lists that can be easier to clear. For example, Kapcsandy doesn’t really offer a waitlist, but instead offers perks to customers based on how much wine they buy annually. If you spend anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 each year, then you’ll be automatically grouped into one of three membership tiers, each of which has special perks; the more you spend, the more perks you get.

Meanwhile, Bedrock does have a traditional mailing list, but they offer more options to collectors for getting on this list. The estate offers bottles to its mailing list members three times per year, and at the end of this third round, any leftover wine will be offered on a first come, first-served basis to anyone on the waitlist. If you buy just one leftover bottle of wine, then you’re automatically added to the mailing list for future purchases. This usually allows you to clear the waitlist faster than if you simply put your name on the list and wait for a membership slot to open up.

How to Sign Up for a Mailing List

You’ll need to cater your mailing list application to the specific winery, as each estate has its own way of handling applications. Generally, though, you’ll go through the following process when you apply for a traditional mailing list:

  1. Sign up with your name, address, and contact information online or by mail.
  2. Receive an immediate confirmation of your application from the winery.
  3. Wait for your application to clear.

On rare occasions, knowing someone who works closely with the estate could help you clear the waitlist faster. One Wine Berserkers forum member happened to meet Sine Qua Non’s Manfred Krankl in the early days of the estate, and says he was able to get on the mailing list soon after. Today, this isn’t really possible, since there are far too many people waiting in line for SQN wines, and the estate prefers not to play favorites. In short, even if you’re good friends with the lead winemaker on an estate, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get on the mailing list faster. The only trick to signing up for a mailing list is to get your name in the system immediately–don’t wait for allocations to roll out.

Prepare for Membership Early

Once your name is in the waitlist system, you shouldn’t wait around doing nothing. Instead, you should be actively preparing your budget every year as if you’re going to clear all of your waitlists at once. I’ve known too many collectors who have signed up for sought-after mailing lists, only to blow their entire budget on other wines too early in the season. Once they clear the waitlist, they don’t have enough funds to cover their new allocations, and they have to turn down the membership spot.

This is where a spreadsheet or wine app can help. In each column, you should list:

• The name of the winery
• The date on which you first applied
• Any dates that you received additional correspondence (confirmation letters, rejection letters, etc.)
• A list of wines that you want to buy when you clear the waitlist
• A minimum and maximum budget for each estate

It might seem like a waste of time to shop for wines that you might never get the chance to buy, but this could ultimately be a huge help if you clear the waitlist. Often, you’ll receive a membership offer just before allocations roll out, meaning you only have a very short window of time to order your bottles. When you already have a wishlist of wines in mind, you can order them more quickly, and prevent yourself from overextending your budget.

While you wait to clear the waitlist, you can buy other wines online in the meantime, but hold aside enough funds to cover your mailing list allocations just in case. If you don’t end up clearing the waitlist by the time allocations roll out, then you can either save these funds for future mailing list purchases, or use them on wines that aren’t sold via mailing list.

What to Do When You Clear the Waitlist

The moment you receive confirmation on your membership, you’ll need to act fast. Missing out on even the first round of allocations for the year could get you kicked off the mailing list before you’ve had the chance to order a single bottle. Here are all of the steps that you should take after you find out that your application was accepted:

best California wine mailing lists

Although waiting to clear the best California wine mailing lists can be difficult, it’s actually the easiest part of the process. Staying on that mailing list is far more difficult, and requires a greater attention to detail. If you mismanage your allocations just once, you could get kicked off of the mailing list, even if you have an excellent buying history. This is why it’s important to buy the minimum number of bottles required to stay on the list every year, but also avoid buying too many bottles at once. On some estates, if you buy, say, $1,000 worth of wine in a single year, that estate will expect you to spend the same amount of money on wine the following year.

To solve this problem, only buy as much wine as you can reasonably drink or store, and keep a careful budget. Even if you see an incredible packaged deal on wine from a particular estate, never go over your allotted budget for that estate unless you’re willing to cut your budget from other mailing lists. You should also evaluate the state of your memberships at least once per year. If you had trouble finding enough wine to buy on a particular mailing list, or none of the wines excited you, then it might be better to drop that mailing list entirely in favor of one that can offer you more. It’s better to have just one or two memberships that offer you cases of fantastic wine every year than to stick with five memberships that only offer a bottle or two that are of interest to you.

Mailing Lists Should Match Your Tastes

Knowing how to get on, and stay on, the best California wine mailing lists should make your wine shopping process easier, and give you more access to the rarest wines on the market. By following this guide, you’ll make the mailing list experience less stressful, and you’ll get more enjoyment out of the memberships that you already have. The most important thing to remember is that a wine membership means nothing if you’re forced to buy wines that bore you–save your energy and resources for the wines that make you want to spend every waking moment in your cellar.

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