Joining a wine club shouldn't make you feel trapped. Caitlin Howlett discovers that if you choose the right kind of sustainable vineyard to support, it can be a rewarding experience that aligns with your ethics.
I've avoided joining a wine club in the past, for fear that I might be locked into a contract that I can't get out of.
Now I've done my research, I realise that supporting an independent vineyard, whose sustainable practices I admire, is a really smart thing to do. Sure, I'll potentially save some money, but what I love most is the development of a relationship with that wine and those who made it.
So, I did my research about who to support. I had a chat with Gemtree Wines, a certified organic and biodynamic vineyard based in the heart of the gorgeous wine region of McLaren Vale in South Australia.
Melissa Brown, co-owner and Biodynamic Viticulturist at Gemtree told me, “joining a wine club means that you can build a close relationship with the winemaker or viticulturist even if you don't live near your favourite sustainable cellar door”.
“We want to supply people with the best certified-organic wines, and help them to find new favourites year after year... So we’ve made the process of becoming a member as easy as possible – we don’t want to lock people in to something they don’t want.”
“We also reward members of our club with benefits such as 20 per cent off all wine purchases, as well as invitations to our exclusive events.” The events look like a great excuse to plan a holiday to the Vale too – check out this video of their 2015 Annual Insider Tasting.
The Gemtree wine club is quite different to other regular wine subscriptions, because they only send you wine once a year! Of course you can order more at any time of the year, but with a wine club like this you won't end up with a glut of wine in your home, or having to find loads of storage space.
Now, I admit that I can be a bit fussy with my wine – ideally it should be organically grown, and the owners of the property should make some kind of effort to impress me by having sustainable measures in place. And I have to like the taste.
Melissa tells me that with her partner in life and wine, Mike Brown (who is the chief wine maker on the property), they live and preach the message of sustainability. They have a 5km eco-trail that runs through an established wetland they regenerated with the help of Greening Australia over 10 years ago. Their winery has a 99 kilowatt solar power system, with 396 panels on the roof. The sustainable cellar door also has a 10 kilowatt system, uses only energy-efficient appliances, and the building is made from recycled materials. All the food sold in the cafe is sourced locally – either from the region, or from their on-site vegie patch, and there's a worm farm to recycle food scraps.
“Mike and I choose to eat local, organic produce, and so do our three children. It is very important to us that we know where our food comes from and what goes into it. We want to give our club members the opportunity to get to know us so they have trust in what they are drinking.”
Even the unwaxed, recyclable paper on their wine labels is made from the fibre from sugar cane waste. It's made in Australia, from a renewable resource that would other wise go to waste, known as RafWine Bagasse.
I realised that it's great timing now to have a look at the Gemtree Wines online shop, as the next vintage is about to be packed up, ready to arrive in August.
“The harvest was early than usual this year,” Melissa told me. “Higher than average temperatures lead to the grapevines flowering and maturing at a quicker rate. So the warm spring, combined with the very dry soils and small crops accelerated the harvest for 2015. Our diligent watering regime promoted slow ripening, post flowering, allowing flavour and tannin maturity to occur on the vines.”
Mike Brown also boasted to me that; “We love setting records at Gemtree. All of our shiraz was picked and tucked away fermenting before the end of February – unheard of. This vintage has been fast and furious, the quality is amazing with fantastic acidity and the concentration of the wine is extreme – we are excited!”
Upon reflection, perhaps the reason I've been most reluctant to join a wine club is also that it might somehow make me into a 'wine snob'. Quite frankly though, I'd much rather be able to take a wine I knew something about to a dinner party, and something that I have a personal story about.
Knowing where your wine comes from should be no different to the desire to know where your food comes from. So if I know a little about how the wine I'm taking to share with friends was produced, then surely that makes me a more conscious consumer moreso than being a 'snob'. And, if that's the case, when it comes to a good sustainable vineyard like Gemtree – I'm happily guilty!
If you join Gemtree's Wine Club before 31 July, 2015 you'll go in the running to win a trip to the McLaren Vale region, visiting Gemtree Wines, as well as some of the other great producers in the area. The trip is valued at $9,000! Enter here.
The author of this piece decided to join the Gemtree Wine Club independently of writing this article, and using her own out-of-pocket expenses. She did not receive any free bottles of wine – unlike some politicians!