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Wine: The Allure of the Elite Mailing List


Rebel Rose
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With the recent sale of Screaming Eagle, I got to thinking about 'limited' mailing lists as they seem to have become all the rage recently. Cult classic wineries like Screaming Eagle, popular producers like Turley and others have long been known to have a private, closed availability and long, long waiting lists. They generally offer a closed selection based on your past buying power--the more you spend, the better the wines you are offered. As a first time mailer, you are generally offered a selection that includes lesser wines, and if you don't take it, you lose your place to someone who is willing to buy in.

Brand new producers with no track record of consistency are now billing themselves as having a 'full mailing list' and a 'waiting list' after receiving one or two high scores. And on the other hand, some wine aficionados collect mailing lists like librarians collect folios, and exercise their bragging rights with obnoxious predictability.

I myself recently graduated after moldering for 2 years on a waiting-list-for-the-mailing-list, only to find that I am expected to buy an allocation of $1300 worth of various wines from a producer that I have never once tried. Thanks to reviews on this board, I quickly became aware that the wines would be waaay too oaky for my taste.

Does anyone have any favorite mailers? Coveted allocations? Or stories of disappointment like mine? :sad:

Are you a recovering mailcaholic--has your wife challenged your pregnant cellar? :angry:

Are closed mailing lists a form of good customer service, or have they become marketing hype?

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Mary Baker

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With the recent sale of Screaming Eagle, I got to thinking about 'limited' mailing lists as they seem to have become all the rage recently.  Cult classic wineries like Screaming Eagle, popular producers like Turley and others have long been known to have a private, closed availability and long, long waiting lists.  They generally offer a closed selection based on your past buying power--the more you spend, the better the wines you are offered.  As a first time mailer, you are generally offered a selection that includes lesser wines, and if you don't take it, you lose your place to someone who is willing to buy in.

Brand new producers with no track record of consistency are now billing  themselves as having a 'full mailing list' and a 'waiting list' after receiving one or two high scores.  And on the other hand, some wine aficionados collect mailing lists like librarians collect folios, and exercise their bragging rights with obnoxious predictability. 

I myself recently graduated after moldering for 2 years on a waiting-list-for-the-mailing-list, only to find that I am expected to buy an allocation of $1300 worth of various wines from a producer that I have never once tried.  Thanks to reviews on this board, I quickly became aware that the wines would be waaay too oaky for my taste. 

Does anyone have any favorite mailers?  Coveted allocations?  Or stories of disappointment like mine?  :sad:

Are you a recovering mailcaholic--has your wife challenged your pregnant cellar?  :angry: 

Are closed mailing lists a form of good customer service, or have they become marketing hype?

I gave up buying from Martinelli because I was tired of being a captive of the list. While I love their wines, and can't get them at retail here in DC for the most part, I just couldn't justify continuing to buy a case of wine to get the three or four bottles I really wanted.

I am on quite a few lists, most of which are not "closed" per se, though my allocations are limited. For example, my allocation of Karl Lawrence is what I bought last year (not that I have a problem with that). I wish I had gotten on the Kosta-Brown list when I had the chance a couple of years ago. While they haven't been around long, their track record so far is unbelievable. What PNs of theirs I have tasted have been outstanding. Their list is closed because they have more requests than they have wine. Same thing with lists like SNQ.

I also find that if I don't want to buy the whole allocation, I can usually find someone who wants to "piggy back" on my list. Of course, I don't even try to get on the lists that would require me to pay $75 and up per bottle since my wife has been eyeing the growing cellar with the fact that the kid is getting ready to start college.

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Cult classic wineries like Screaming Eagle, popular producers like Turley and others have long been known to have ... waiting lists.

I argue that the "long" designation above depends on context. I believe that "cult" California wines are the core of this thread, and that these are mainly a phenomenon of the last decade or so. Anyway I saw little mention of them earlier. Even setting aside new wineries that announce full mailing lists (!), a cult winery a few years old can't have much of an aging track record, so the (rational) consumer doesn't buy it assured of brilliance a decade or two later (a traditional payoff with serious red wines). Many people online admit explicitly, I could quote, that they sit on those lists to "flip" the wines to the market (arbitrage).

Meantime there are quiet old standards, here yesterday, here tomorrow. Ridge Monte Bello Cabernet (AVA Santa Cruz Mountains, California) is not a "cult" wine, but many think it a great one. Around for decades, longer than even many of the humans who clamor for hip wines, longer than any US wine publications. Lots of track record. (A recent large democratic reader poll on the Robert Parker site naming hundreds of US winemakers found that a small group of them stood out as widely respected and I believe Ridge's was #1.) Available to anyone who wants it, no "list." Just as it was 25 years ago and I am new to this wine, compared to some. It's not cheap, but compared to some of that stuff we're talking about it's a serious value, if you actually think in terms of serving it. There are other examples too, the Ridge is just an illustration.

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