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Champagne Ambitions, Plastic Cup Realities: How to Start a Super Fun And Totally Not Pretentious Wine Club

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Tip number one: be comfortable with the ridiculous state of your recycling bin the next morning

As mentioned in a previous post, my co-worker and I started a monthly wine club at the beginning of the year. Born out of New Year’s resolutions, a desire to drink during the week, and hours spent gossiping during our carpool, wine club has been a surprisingly successful little social endeavor. It is fun, informative, and probably one of the more adult things in my life. Well, that and finally starting to read the emails my retirement company sends me (although that’s just to find the surveys they send out that have Amazon gift cards as prizes).

That said, I highly encourage all of you to start your own wine clubs. Here are my top tips for doing so:

  1. Have a partner-in-wine

One of the things that makes wine night easy to keep up with is that I have my friend to share responsibilities and accountability with. It’s kind of like having a gym buddy, but actually doing something together that is enjoyable. Whether you’re starting a club with a large group or trying to build it from just the two of you, it helps to know someone else is pushing the bar cart trolley right alongside you. Identify someone who is as excited as you are to get a wine club started, and work together to make it happen.

  1. Mix your social groups

The next great part about having a partner-in-wine is that you can pull from different social circles. Sure, having a pre-set friend group that you already hang out with regularly can make a wine club easy to plan, but part of the fun is meeting new people and expanding your social network. It makes the event feel a bit more special than just a regular Friday night hang.

  1. Pick a theme

This is an important one. You need to have purpose and direction in your celebratory imbibing. This helps people select a bottle of wine, and gives the night a topic of conversation. Finding the right theme is a balance of wit and accessibility. Depending on your group’s wine knowledge, you don’t want to make the theme so daunting that no one shows up or they do but feel awkward about their selection. Push people to think a bit about their choice without overwhelming them.

Themes can be as specific as the type of grape to as broad as simply based on the color of the label. Some of our themes this year have been: Wines from Down Under (wines from Australia or New Zealand), Wine I’ve never heard of, Italian wines, Proud to be an American wine, Ask an expert for a recommendation.

  1. Be educational about it

I’ll be honest, some of our wine clubs have been more informative than others. If you can, ask each guest to bring a fact about their wine or take the initiative to gather some information about the region or the grape the theme is based on. It doesn’t need to be overly formal, but try to inject some knowledge into the fun. You want to feel like you’re learning something about wine, and not just leaving a party with red teeth and no increase in your intellect.

  1. Set a price range

Our wine club is pretty informal. We welcome all wines, low end to mid range. Be sure to communicate to guests your expectations about quality. Either set a minimum or maximum based on what you’re trying to accomplish, and that way no one feels like a dunce when they show up with Sutter’s Mill and everyone else has a vintage French varietal.

  1. Rotate locations

This just helps to mix things up a bit, and even out the power structure when mixing social circles. My partner-in-wine and I have typically rotated hosting, which I think helps each friend group feel more comfortable depending on the location. We also hosted an epic wine night at Eli’s Barbeque, and ended up back at a another friend’s place afterwards which was lovely. This takes some of the pressure off of hosting as well, because we can only deep clean our apartments every other month without going crazy.

  1. Provide snacks

This is just something that is required after the age of 25: if you are hosting people for a formal gathering, you need to put out something to nosh on. And try to step it up from the stale bag of Dorito’s you may have offered your friends in your smelly college apartment. You don’t have to provide a feast, but a couple types of cheese on a nice plate and a bowl of olives show that you have some class. It also helps when your friend is on their fourth glass of wine and probably needs some Triscuits to cushion the blow of a high alcohol California zinfandel.

  1. Open bottles & sample sizes

The point of a wine club is to try lots of different wine at the same time in order to learn more about what you like and don’t like. It is not time to bring a bottle, pour yourself an enormous glass, and settle in for the night. As the hostess, I always make it a point to open each bottle as the guest arrives. This may seem wasteful in the case that a bottle isn’t finished, but it’s to insure that everyone gets a chance to sample. People are much more likely to try a wine someone else brought if it’s easily accessible and already opened.

9.  The host gets to keep the leftover wine This is your special incentive for hosting, and also another rule of being over 25. If you bring alcohol to a party and it doesn’t get finished, then it belongs to whoever took the time to host you. It’s one thing if you’re a regular friend and want to bring home the leftovers from a six pack of craft beer after a casual Friday night, but this is not the vibe that is happening on wine night. Hosting people, especially if you’re doing it in the middle of the work week, is an effort and the least your host deserves is half a bottle of Cabernet. That said, the wine clubs that have been at my house have never resulted in a drop of leftover wine for me to return to the next time. What can I say, my friends are lushes.

  1. Be a nice person!

Another life lesson from me to you (see, wine club is already educational and you haven’t even started one yet!). Do a good job of introducing people that have not met, or refreshing people on names if they haven’t seen each other since the previous wine club. Mix and mingle with your guests, especially if someone is the odd man out. Have some good personal facts on hand to get people talking – “Oh Brian, this is Jeanette, she also likes to walk her cat in public like a crazy person”. Let people know where the bathroom is, and if your toilet handle has some weird quirk then try to discreetly communicate this to anyone before they relieve their bladder. We all know how awkward it can be to walk into a stranger’s house. Try to make it that much easier for people to relax and have fun.

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