Find The Next Cult Wine

Wine clubs can be cool, but they can be a little sleazy, too. Sometimes it seems like the winery is dumping its unsellable stuff on hapless club members. “2014 Hailstorm Field Blend … hmmm, how, um, interesting…”

If you’re gonna throw some money into a wine-in-the-mail crapshoot each month, why not support a good cause, too? And hey, maybe you’ll discover the next Paul Hobbs in the process.

The GrapeSeed Wine Fund is designed to help smaller winemakers find their market. It’s also a great way for socially conscious wine lovers to support the little guy. Here’s how it works.

You buy a membership (it starts at $49 per month). At the beginning of every month, each member’s contribution is added to his or her balance. Price points for GrapeSeed’s wines are about $20-$150 per bottle.

When you purchase one of GrapeSeed’s wines, you choose and order online and GrapeSeed deducts from your balance. If you go over, you simply pay the rest. The wine fund rolls over each month. There’s no obligation to buy or any restrictions on what you can choose.

GrapeSeed uses membership funds to purchase pre-determined allotments from participating winemakers. It’s a win-win: The winery doesn’t need to run around finding its market and selling direct, and GrapeSeed pockets the markup. “We have a production agreement and a statement of work (with participating wineries),” says GrapeSeed cofounder Matt Smith. “We say, ‘You want to make a single-vineyard pinot? Great, we think we can sell it. We want 200 cases and we expect it to be ready at this time, at which point we guarantee we will buy it all.’ We are the sole-source exclusive provider for that wine. They can’t sell it to a restaurant or someone else.”

That’s an attractive offer to many artisanal, small-lot winemakers and even some larger ones, Smith said.

“What GrapeSeed offers our winemaker partners is the ability to do something that is outside of the box. Let’s say he’s a pinot and chardonnay maker and he wants to try to make a sparkling wine. Maybe that’s something he doesn’t want to sell on his own because he hasn’t developed the market for it. We provide all the brand development costs, all the trademarking and design and publicity. If it flies and people want it all over the country, he has created a new brand.”

There are safeguards in place to assure delivery and quality, Smith said. “We’re a bonded California winery. We ship to all the states that allow it.” And Smith has assembled a panel of experts to evaluate each wine submitted for sale. “If it doesn’t pass our standards, it doesn’t make it.”

What if a GrapeSeed wine turns into a cult classic and word of mouth drives its price through the roof in online resale markets? Will GrapeSeed members be restricted from buying all of those rock-star bottles they can afford?

Smith chuckled. “We haven’t really planned for that yet. But that would be a pleasant problem to have.”

For more information visit the GrapeSeed website.

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