The California Wine Club

The California Wine Club Review

Were you looking for The Best California Wine Clubs or Wine Clubs that Ship to California?

What is The California Wine Club? Founded in 1990, The California Wine Club is the best online store to buy wine from small-production, family-owned and operated wineries. Membership is not required to purchase, but members enjoy significant benefits including a 100% satisfaction guarantee, $1 shipping on all purchases outside regular subscription shipments, and wine country travel planning assistance.

FYI: I find great wine deals so you don’t have to. To keep me on the hunt, I earn a commission when you buy wine based on my recommendations.

Small-production California wines

California wine is world famous. Ever since the famed Judgment of Paris, where Napa wines were first compared to the Bordeaux establishment in a blind tasting — and preferred by several of the French judges — Napa wines have been a hot commodity. Many of those upstart wineries — Chateau Montelena, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Chalone Vineyard, and Ridge Vineyards — are now world famous in their own right, and significantly contributed to building the reputation California wines have today.

With all of the mega wineries producing massive amounts of wine in the US, it can be hard to keep up with California’s ~4800 wineries, roughly 80% of which produce less than 5000 cases per year. Fun fact: J Lohr, available nearly everywhere that sells wine, makes 12 million bottles of Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon and 5.4 million bottles of Riverstone Chardonnay each year (source: Wine Enthusiast Magazine).

Smaller wineries, often owned and operated by families, are both the stuff of legends and the stuff of obscurity. Some, like Massican Wines or Corison Winery, both in Napa, are darlings of sommeliers and wine critics alike. Others, like Ken Brown Wines and Barton Family Wines, both in the Central Coast region, rarely achieve that (much deserved) appreciation outside their devoted wine club members.

Why are small-production wines so desirable?

Wine enthusiasts, sommeliers, and wine critics pretty much agree on one thing — the most interesting wines are made in small batches at (usually) small wineries. When she makes 1000 (or even 5000) cases of a wine, a winemaker doesn’t need to be primarily concerned with the palate of the average wine drinker. Instead, she can also focus on how different grape varieties thrive in different microclimates, how native yeasts help bring out the unique flavors in those grapes, and let the wine be the wine.

Differences in weather during the growing season cause each vintage to be different in wines from small wineries. This is in direct opposition to the large-scale wineries who diligently produce the same wines year in and year out (what their customers expect and want). This variety — through winemaker creativity and natural weather variations — is what keeps people who are fascinated by wine (and who drink it for a living) coming back for more, and coming back to small, family wineries.

Sadly, because of the legal system for alcohol distribution established in the wake of Prohibition’s repeal, most of these wineries can’t (or don’t) sell their wines at stores and restaurants across the country. It can be extremely difficult for a small winery with two or three full time staff members to get their wines reviewed and picked up by wine distributors. They are mostly left with two paths to market: sell wine directly to consumers via their tasting rooms and wine clubs, and work with companies who help these small wineries distribute their wines, like The California Wine Club.

Wine clubs at wineries in California

Most of the time, when I mention I review wine clubs for a living, I get two responses, in this order: “that sounds awful” (jokingly, of course), and “like winery wine clubs?” This is because the most common idea of what a wine club is what wineries have pioneered for their biggest supporters.

For a small winery, the most efficient path to profit is to sell their wine directly to consumers. No distributors or retailers in the middle means they earn the full retail value of every bottle sold — and they can offer discounts to their loyal members that most wine stores can’t. This creative bunch has come up with a few models that work really well for attracting and keeping wine club members. Here are some of the most common winery wine club perks:

If you have a favorite winery (or two), I highly recommend joining their wine club, even if you don’t live near wine country. In addition to supporting them in a meaningful way, you’ll get to know the winery in ways you probably haven’t yet considered. The feeling of belonging is palpable.

If you don’t have a favorite winery, well, it’s time to start trying more wine! The perfect way to taste your way through California’s small-production wines is to join The California Wine Club. It’s like joining dozens of wineries’ clubs all at once.

Benefits of membership at The California Wine Club

Unlike a winery who relies on visitors to come and taste the wine, The California Wine Club doesn’t have a tasting room. Instead, they’ve considered how best to serve their online customers and have a leading selection of membership benefits.

All of their subscriptions include:

What wine subscriptions does The California Wine Club offer?

They started by shipping two bottles of artisanal California wine every month, but they’re so much more than that now. The California Wine Club offers six unique wine subscriptions (details below): Premier Series (affordable), Signature Series (premium wines), Aged Cabernet Series (one of a kind), Pacific Northwest Series (Oregon and Washington wines), International Series (small producers, global), and the Case Clubs (12-bottle, heavily-discounted).

Premier Series by The California Wine Club

Premier Series. — Their most popular wine club, available as a personal subscription and as a gift (gift-giving is something The California Wine Club does exceptionally well). All Premier Series wines are from small California wineries. This wine club is ideal for beginners because the wines are approachable and they provide useful educational materials to go along with those wines. You can choose two or four bottles per shipment, in any combination of red and white wines, and have them delivered monthly, every other month, or quarterly. Two bottle shipments from $43.45 plus $21 shipping and handling to most states. Upgrade to four bottle shipments to enjoy free shipping.

Read my Premier Series review or shop it

Signature Series by The California Wine Club

Signature Series.Their premium, mostly-red wine club is also great for yourself or as a gift. This club features wines rated 90 points or higher. When you subscribe for yourself you can choose two, three, or four bottle shipments. Shipments can be sent monthly, every other month, or quarterly.

The price you pay as a member varies slightly, but two bottle shipments average $136 per shipment while three- and four-bottle shipments average $175 and $275, respectively (plus shipping and handling). Gifts are always two-bottle shipments and are a fixed price of $152 plus $21 shipping and handling to most states.

Read my Signature Series review or shop it

Aged Cabernet Series by The California Wine Club

Aged Cabernet Series. — A one-of-a-kind wine club. Members enjoy two bottles of perfectly cellared Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The wines are held at the winery while they age for 7-12 years. When they arrive they are ready to drink or can continue to be aged if you wish. The true benefit of this subscription is the ability to enjoy pre-aged wine, something many people lack the proper storage and patience to achieve.

Great for yourself and for gifts, shipments can be sent monthly, every other month, or quarterly. Two bottle subscriptions average $262 while gift shipments are a fixed price of $259. Both types of subscriptions add $21 for shipping and handling to most states.

Read my Aged Cabernet Series review or shop it

Case Club by The California Wine Club

Case Club. As the name implies, this is a 12-bottle case membership. It is not available for gift subscriptions and doesn’t include Uncorked magazine.

There are two configurations: the original selection and the new Reserve Reds. For both options, shipping and handling is $21 to most states and both options can be delivered monthly, every other month, or quarterly.

The original selection is three bottles each of four different wines for $180 (choose mixed red and white, red only, or white only). These wines are the same type and quality as those in the Premier Series for about half the price per bottle, and also sometimes includes wines from Oregon, Washington, or somewhere else in the world (see Pacific Northwest and International Series below). Compare Case Club with Premier Series or shop it

The second configuration is the new Reserve Reds for $780 per case. This option, also three each of four different wines, includes wines from the Signature Series. The discount here is roughly 20% off their normal prices. Compare Reserve Reds with Signature Series or shop it

The following memberships were originally intended to expand the experience existing members enjoyed from The California Wine Club. They’re each interesting options which fall outside the company’s namesake region, but share in the same approach of selecting exceptional wines from small family wineries, and bringing the experience of those regions to you at home.

Pinot Noir Club by Gold Medal Wine Club

Pacific Northwest Series. — Another unusual wine club, this one features small family wineries from Oregon and Washington state. Oregon is known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (like Burgundy is) and Washington is known for Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Both regions produce a large variety of wine grapes though, and they’re always special.

Great for yourself and for gifts, shipments can be delivered monthly, every other month, or quarterly. If you’re buying for yourself, your per shipment price varies, but averages $79. When buying a gift, two-bottle mixed red and white shipments are $77 and shipments with two red wines are $86. Subscriptions and gifts add $21 for shipping and handling to most states.

Read my Pacific Nortwest Series review or shop it

International Series by The California Wine Club

International Series. — This club offers a quality level somewhere between the Premier and Signature Series. This club features small family wineries from regions around the world. Regions featured recently include France (Rhone Valley), Portugal, Czech Republic, Australia, New Zealand, and Italy (Abruzzo).

Great for yourself and for gifts, two-bottle shipments can be delivered monthly, every other month, or quarterly. If you’re buying for yourself, the price varies and averages $83 per shipment. If you’re buying a gift, the cost is fixed at $102 (mixed red and white wine) or $122 (red wine only) per shipment. Subscriptions and gifts add $21 for shipping and handling to most states.

Read my International Series review or shop it

Other wine subscriptions similar to The California Wine Club

With all of the superlatives on this page, you may wonder how The California Wine Club stacks up to other wine subscriptions. While it’s true they’re among my very favorites, there are a few others worth considering, or at least comparing, with The California Wine Club. You might also want to browse my list of The Best California Wine Clubs (guess who’s #1?).

Gold Medal Wine Club

The wine club service that is most similar to The California Wine Club is Gold Medal Wine Club. The similarities are focused on two clubs in particular:

Premier Series is very similar to Gold Medal’s Gold Club when comparing the wineries offered, kinds of wine selected, and in pricing (once you factor in shipping and handling). Both companies do a great job of making these particular subscriptions easy to give at a reasonable price.

Read my Gold Club review or shop it

Signature Series is very similar to Gold Medal’s Platinum Club, when comparing the wineries offered, kinds of wine selected, and in pricing (once you factor in shipping and handling). Gold Medal wins on price in this comparison, but I still recommend The California Wine Club because of their bulletproof satisfaction guarantee and other member benefits.

Read my Platinum Club review or shop it

Roscioli Wine Club

Roscioli is a small Italian company with a big reputation. Their wine tasting bar and restaurant in central Rome is consistently ranked among the top wine experiences in Rome, and their hard-working team has turned their passion for Italy’s small winemakers into an exceptional wine subscription that ships almost everywhere in the US. Getting your wine directly from Rome is not without its logistical challenges, but it is an amazing wine club to try with a similar philosophy to that of The California Wine Club.

Read my Roscioli review or shop it

Cellar 503

I have not yet reviewed this wine club, but it has an excellent reputation among wine critics. 503 refers to the area code in northwestern Oregon and only features small family wineries making craft wine in all 21 of Oregon’s wine regions (there’s more than just Willamette Valley Pinot Noir out there). Like the other wine clubs on this page, it is a small company that only supports other small businesses.

As all good wine clubs do, you can see a full list of every wine Cellar 503 has shipped, going all the way back to December 2014. I love that while I can find many wineries I am familiar with and like on this list, I haven’t heard of most of them — which is the whole point of these types of wine clubs, to help small wineries increase their distribution and get their wines to consumers.

Memberships are $50-60 for two-bottle shipments, plus $19.99 for shipping. Shop it

Bounty Hunter

I’ve waxed poetic about the virtues of small production wines all over this page, but one of the major pitfalls of small production is that you may find a treasured bottle from a particular vintage that you are, quite literally, unable to purchase more of (because it’s all been sold).

If this situation sounds like a tragedy to you, consider a club like Bounty Hunter. They uniquely focus on big name California wineries.

Some people really like to buy well-known brands instead of obscure brands. That’s fine, that’s why there’s more than one wine club. For example, Bounty Hunter’s Killer Cabernet Club features wineries like Pine Ridge, Joseph Phelps, and Groth (and the wines aren’t aged, they’re the current releases). They also ship wine from wineries like Cade, Jordan, Freemark Abbey, and Etude — all with stellar reputations, but not typically made in an artisanal manner.

When you choose a club that features widely available wines, it is easier to get more of the wines you love, and possibly even for cheaper, depending on the wine and your deal-hunting skills.

Shop it

The Sunset Magazine Wine Club

This wine club, managed by Wine Access alongside the editorial team at Sunset Magazine, features great value wines from California, Oregon, and Washington. Shipments are $120 for six bottles, including shipping, and are not customizable. They’re a mix of red and white wine and arrive quarterly. Wine Access does not offer a satisfaction guarantee, but they will replace, at no cost, what the industry calls “bad bottles” — those with cork taint or that are damaged in shipping. I was very impressed with the inaugural shipment of wines for this club, and Wine Access’ team of sommeliers and Masters of Wine does a great job sussing out wines that are worth way more than $20 to include in this club. Generally these are not small production wines, but sometimes might be.

Read my Sunset Wine Club review or shop it

Gifting The California Wine Club

While The California Wine Club is an excellent way to buy wine for yourself, it is also a great gift for wine lovers. Whether you’re on a budget or you want to splurge, you can be assured your gift recipient will love what you buy them.

Gift-wrapped bottles

Here are my top reasons to recommend The California Wine Club above all other clubs for gifts:

More than just wine subscriptions

Not to take the name literally, but The California Wine Club isn’t just about wine clubs. They also sell discounted individual wines and curated wine gift sets — and you don’t have to be a member to shop. Peruse their online store, chock full of interesting wines from small family wineries, or browse the wine gift sets below.

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Where can I send The California Wine Club wines and gifts?

The California Wine Club ships wine to AK, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, DC, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, LA, ME, MD, MA, MN, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, WY

Don't see your state? The California Wine Club does not ship there. Browse wine clubs by state.