Mention the words 'Wine Subscription Service' and, until recently, my first association would have been those stands at the airport. The ones where passengers pre-emptively dressed in flip-flops and board shorts sample as many tiny plastic goblets of wine as they can before the 10am flight to the Gold Coast begins boarding.
But the internet era has seen a host of new wine clubs popping up. Not just because of the ubiquity of online shopping but, more convincingly, because technology now enables these services to form a sophisticated profile of each client and to send them wines that they are highly likely to enjoy.
It should be said that these services are generally still geared towards providing fun, everyday wines, rather than stocking your cellar collection, and the three or four bottles most send out each month wouldn't last more than a week in my house.
However, if you think of them as more of a curated recommendation service – something along the lines of your weekly Spotify recommendations playlist – then there are compelling reasons to consider joining.
Two of the new-school wine clubs that seem to be leading the pack are Vino Mofo (which was selected as the online retailer of the year in the 2015 ORIA awards) and the Wine Gallery, which launched in 2015 and boasts one of Australia's best sommeliers, Banjo Harris Plane, as a co-founder and head wine buyer.
Making wine accessible
Speaking with Tom Walenkamp, co-founder and CEO of the Wine Gallery, and Justin Dry, co-founder joint CEO of Vino Mofo, the pair discussed why they started their respective businesses and what they can offer you that your local wine seller can't.
For Justin, the core values behind Vino Mofo are accessibility and egalitarianism. "Right from the start," he says, "we wanted to take the bow ties and BS out of the industry."
His business model was simple: "Only 5 per cent of the wines that cross our tasting bench make it onto the 'Fo. Focussing on the premium end of the market and curating the offer then allows us to buy more than anyone else of these featured wines and offer [the customer] the opportunity to try great wines at a price that hadn't been seen before."
Tom from the Wine Gallery emphasises the tech aspect of his business.
"Imagine you walked into your bottle shop and the friendly clerk knew who you were right away and remembered all your preferences," he explains.
"What you liked, what you didn't like, and remembered all the previous bottles that he or she had sold you and what you had rated them after you finished them. They then used all this info to select a number of new bottles which you hadn't tried before, that they thought you would love."
Engaging new and old
Where Tom and Justin agree is that the core appeal of wine subscriptions has moved beyond simple value for money and now rests on a sense of curiosity and adventure.
"Generally we've found the Wine Gallery appeals to a younger demographic who haven't yet decided what they like and don't like and who want to try new things," Tom tells me.
"But one pleasant surprise has been also appealing to customers at the upper end of the market, who know what they liked and consider themselves connoisseurs, but who have really taken to using the Wine Gallery to help them discover new and interesting bottles they otherwise wouldn't have come across."
"The main aim with our Clubs," says Justin, "is to have our tribe go on this amazing journey with us and discover new and interesting wines, producers and regions. Our audience has grown significantly but at the core it remains the same – it's not about age but an attitude: adventure."
What are you waiting for?