After nearly 20 years in the wine club business, it is not surprising that Vinesse manages a total of 15 different wine club memberships. All of their clubs share the common goal of exposing the average consumer to interesting, unique wines that aren't likely found in their local wine shop due to the wine's limited production or the size/location of its winery. Vinesse's Élevant Society is currently the most premium wine club membership that they offer with bottles ranging from $29 - $35. The focus of the club is on "big, bold" reds from around the world, however, Vinesse admittedly chooses many of their featured wines from domestic wineries. Vinesse's customer service representative explained that the wine selection process is managed by a tasting panel of wine experts (including some club members), but they were not able to provide the exact number of panelists or elaborate on their backgrounds. Regardless, Vinesse is so confident you will love their wine selections that they offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee and will replace or refund any bottles that you don't like. Members are also strongly encouraged to submit feedback on the featured wines by using the comment card that is included in each shipment or by using Vinesse's online rating system.
There are no signup fees or annual dues required to become a member of the Élevant Society, and you can cancel your membership at any time without incurring cancellation fees. As a member, you will have the choice between receiving 5, 7 or 14 shipments per year and whether you want 2, 4, 6, 8 or 12 bottles in each shipment. Individual shipments will contain 2 different types of red wine for you to try, and, if you order more than a 2- bottle shipment, you will just receive multiples of the same wine. Vinesse also includes 2 handouts in the shipment that provide tasting notes on the featured wines, as well as background on the wineries, winemakers and growing regions. There will also be food pairing suggestions and re-ordering information.
You can purchase an Élevant Society membership online at www.vinesse.com. Prices will vary depending on your membership level and on the featured wines that particular month, but each bottle will cost between $29 and $35 (tax and shipping are not included). According to Vinesse's website, shipping costs are typically around $16 for 1 - 2 bottles, $19 for 3 - 4 bottles, $23 for 5 - 6 bottles and $32 for 7 - 12 bottles. Please note that an 8.5% surcharge will be added to your shipping costs if you are shipping to NY, NJ, MD, ME, DC, PA, MA, IN, AZ, KS, MT, DE, RI, FL or MI. If you are shipping to AK or HI, please expect a 20% surcharge to be added to your shipping costs. Lastly, if you ship to a residence (instead of a business), Vinesse will charge an additional $2.50 to your order.
We give the Élevant Wine Club by Vinesse a B because we agree that the club delivers interesting, robust red wines at a good value. We are also impressed that Vinesse backs up their wine selections with a 100% satisfaction guarantee and will replace or refund you for any bottles that you don't like. We deducted a few points however because we feel that their marketing claims are a bit over the top. A $35 bottle of wine is expensive but definitely not considered "super-premium" or "ultra-premium" by wine industry standards. Also, we are disappointed that Vinesse doesn't publicly archive previous wine selections on their website and that they don't offer members discounts for reordering additional bottles of favorite wines. We do recognize that Vinesse has received some negative feedback on another wine club (see "Reputation" section below), but we are only grading their Élevant Wine Club in this review.
Vinesse has gotten a bad rap from customers online, but it is important to note that its Élevant Wine Club has actually received pretty good feedback, and that the vast majority of the complaints against Vinesse are directed towards its American Cellars Wine Club, which is one of its lower end memberships ($12 - $15 per bottle). To make a long story short, certain airlines partnered with Vinesse's American Cellars club in order to supplement their revenues, and they offered bonus miles to any of their frequent fliers who purchased a membership to American Cellars. Customer complaints were generally about not receiving bonus miles, about the quality of the wines, about the overall value of the offer and/or about ongoing shipments/ credit cards charges. While the airlines and American Cellars share the blame on all of these issues, we didn't feel that Vinesse demonstrated any ill intent in the situation, and, according to the BBB, it sounds like they have been able to resolve the complaints. Regarding the ongoing credit card charges however, it is really the responsibility of the customer to understand the Terms & Conditions of ANY ongoing membership/subscription service that they sign up for. Whether it is with a wine club, gym or newspaper, our advice is to just assume that you are going to continue to be charged until you actually call and cancel your membership.
With all of that said, we are not recommending the American Cellars Wine Club to our readers, but we would recommend trying the Élevant Society if you want to sample "big, bold" reds in the $29 - $35 price range. In the interest of full disclosure, when we told Vinesse that we wanted to review the Élevant Society, they sent us 2 free bottles of wine to try out. While we appreciate free stuff, we made sure to reiterate that we couldn't guarantee them favorable review. Fortunately, we didn't have to worry about it because we were very impressed with the bottles that we received: a 2008 Mathis Sonoma Valley Grenache and a 2007 Bodegas Balbas Ribera del Duero Crianza. My husband and I tend to purchase classic varietals from classic growing regions, but we have recently been trying to expand our knowledge of Spanish wines, and I personally had never even tried Grenache. Obviously, Vinesse could never have known these things about me, but, as promised, they delivered very interesting, robust reds that I would never have found at my local wine store. While I wouldn't call the bottles "super-premium", they were really good and definitely fun for a tasting party or to pull out for a dinner party.
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