In 2010, Screaming Eagle released special edition cases of its Sauvignon Blanc to members of its elite mailing list, selling each case for $1, 500 a pop. Soon after the first shipments arrived on customers’ doorsteps, some members turned around and resold the wine on the secondary market for as much as $15,500 per case. Consumer manager Patrick Chapman told a journalist, “People are turning it over for profit, for their own selfish greed.” The following year, the estate offered just 300 bottles to its access list subscribers, in the hopes that it would teach greedy investors a hard lesson. Unfortunately, their message has yet to sink in, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to invest in fine cult wines without becoming an access list member. Serious collectors are left with two choices: get on a long waitlist and pray for an opening on the access list, or pay far more than they should for the wines they love.
Why You Need Mailing Lists
- Sine Qua Non has a waitlist of 4,000 people, all vying for a handful of spots on the access list; against these odds, is it even worth putting your name on the waitlist? The answer is, “Absolutely.” Aftermarket mark-ups are so steep that bottles can be sold for more than three times the price of the original bottle. This is the reason many investors looking to get on the access list have no intention of drinking the wines they buy. Their intention in getting on the list is to resell the bottles for double, triple, or quadruple the price weeks after the release date.
- Screaming Eagle wines sell for about $750 to members on the mailing list, but to buy one of these bottles on the secondary market, you’ll have to dish out thousands of dollars more. Dalla Valle wines sell for about $200 on the mailing list. Since the estate only makes about 400 cases a year, collectors can often sell them for $300 on the secondary market long before they have reached peak drinking age. Scarecrow wines cost about $150 on the mailing list, but collectors have been known to sell those same bottles for $450 or more on the secondary market.
- Beyond the financial benefits of becoming a mailing list member, you receive the peace of mind that your bottles have been stored under the perfect conditions before arriving in your cellar. When you buy from an unverified seller, there’s no guarantee that your secondary market bottle is authentic or that it will arrive undamaged. While some secondary market sellers, like Vinfolio, check for bottle authenticity and keep bottles stored safely in a controlled environment before shipping them to buyers, this is not the case for all secondary market sellers. Getting the bottles straight from the winery allays these concerns.
Keep Your Expectations In-Check
- Before you start signing up for access lists, put together a detailed spreadsheet of your options. Start by listing out every winery mailing list that interests you, then split these options into three categories: you’re top-choice estates, your mid-range picks, and your easy picks. Top-choice estates are those that have long waitlists, but that would be the crowning jewel of your access list collection (this is where you would include Bryant Family Vineyards or Screaming Eagle, for example). Mid-range estates are those that might have a waitlist, but fewer people are lined up for it. Easy pick estates are wineries that you personally love, but that typically have plenty of room left on their access lists. Once you have the three sections listed out, research application requirements and contact information for each estate.
- Apply for your top-choice estates first. If they’re not accepting applications, make a note of this in your spreadsheet, and set a reminder to check on the estate’s status again in a month. When waitlist slots open up, you want to be one of the first to send in an application. If you get any feedback from the estate telling you where you are on the waitlist, write this number down on the spreadsheet. Be prepared to get turned down by every producer on your top-choice list. Screaming Eagle owner Charles Banks recalls having a conversation once with co-owner E. Stanley Kroenke’s wife, Ann Walton (whose family founded Walmart). Since she was part of the Screaming Eagle family, Walton asked Banks if she could have a few bottles of wine to serve at her daughter’s upcoming wedding. Banks looked at Walton and simply said, “No.” If Ann Walton can’t even get her hands on a few bottles of her husband’s own wine, there is no point in trying to sneak around the access list application process. In fact, owners will be less likely to approve your application if you pester them, spam them with cute baby photos, or try to scam the system.
- If you’ve been rejected by all of your top-choice picks, which is likely, you can start applying for your mid-range picks. Apply to just three of these estates at a time, since you have a better chance of getting into one of these than you did with the top-choice picks. Once you’ve been accepted or rejected by one of the three estates, move on to the next one down on the list. Repeat this step until you have as many access list memberships as you can handle. Don’t get approved for too many access lists at a time, otherwise you’ll be asked to buy more wine than you can handle, and you risk being dropped from the list if you can’t buy all of your allocations. You should only apply to your easy picks when you’ve exhausted your top choices and your mid-range picks. You can always cancel your membership with these easy estates later if you get a membership with a top-choice or a mid-range estate. Never stop checking in on your top picks, even if you have a full docket of wine memberships. If you stay on the waitlist long enough, you might become an elite mailing list member.
Always Play by the Rules
- When the application process is over, be on the lookout for your letters in the mail (whether by snail mail or by email). This step can absolutely make or break your entire mailing list status, and it’s one that far too many collectors take for granted. If you’ve been approved on an access list, or your name is fairly high on the waitlist, you should start researching which bottles you want to buy now, before the letters arrive. The moment the estate’s access list letter arrives, you will have permission to order wines. You should send in your order, along with a check, as quickly as possible after you receive your letter to ensure that you retain your spot on the access list and that you get the bottles you request. For online orders, you should use your access code as quickly as possible when it becomes available to you.
- Some estates are extremely particular about the rules for access list members, so it is essential to keep every rule listed in a document you can access when your letter arrives. Casual mailing lists simply require you to inform them when you’ve decided to leave the list, but others will unceremoniously kick you off of the list if you fail to buy a certain number of bottles within a set timeframe. The top estates in California rely heavily on bottle allocation rules to keep their mailing lists full of active, enthusiastic members.
- Your first bottle order will set the tone for the rest of your mailing list experience. If you buy only a few bottles, you risk being kicked off the list, but if you buy too many bottles, you will be forced to repeat that performance during the next round of purchases. With many elite estates, your status on the list depends entirely on how much wine you buy. A collector who bought five cases of wine every year for the past five years is going to be higher on the mailing list than a collector who bought eight cases last year and only three bottles this year. Estates prefer consistent orders, or orders that increase in value. Consistent collectors often receive their letters before anyone else on the list, securing their bottles before they sell out. When you first get on an elite winery mailing list, don’t be surprised if you only have a few bottles to choose from by the time you get your letter. For some, letters never even arrive because the wine already sold out among the top members on the mailing list. Patience and years of hard work are still required after you get on your favorite lists, significantly rewarding those who make the effort.
By: Leah Hammer
Leah Hammer is Vinfolio’s Director of Cellar Acquisitions, guiding private collectors through the selling process. When not on the hunt for amazing cellars, she competes in marathons and rehydrates with Champagne and Burgundy.