Collectors trade mailing list horror stories like baseball cards. A Don Rockwell forum member once signed up for the Cayuse mailing list in 2009, and by 2014, he still hadn’t moved off of the waitlist. When he asked the winery when he could expect to become a mailing list member, he was informed that he was “close…very close.” Another forum member topped this story, saying that he’d been on the Sine Qua Non waitlist for eight years before his membership was approved, and the whole complicated mess had turned him off of mailing lists entirely.
Mailing lists can help you get your hands on sought-after wines at a fraction of secondary market price, but this doesn’t make the process easy. Just because you can buy Screaming Eagle wine for $750 per bottle on the mailing list (and resell those bottles for more than $1,000 on the market later) doesn’t mean you’ll have instant success. Competition for mailing list spots is stiff. You won’t get on the most sought-after lists for 10 years or more. To make the most out of your mailing list application, you need to know which wineries are worth the wait, and how to apply for them.
Find out Whether a Mailing List is Worth the Wait
The first step to getting on a wine mailing list is to decide which wineries are the right fit for your collection. You’ll spend an average of three or four years on most waitlists, so you’ll want to make sure that the wine is something you really want before you start this long process. Consider the following qualities before you apply for a mailing list:
Follow the guidelines for determining what types of wine appeal to you. You should only join mailing lists for wines that you love to drink yourself. That’s because you can never predict how much a wine will be worth 10 years from now, and you don’t want to fill your cellar up with wines that you dislike.
Ask yourself, “Can I easily find vintages of this wine for sale on the secondary market?” The best wineries are those that sell rare wines, or that sell wines exclusively to mailing list members. Only apply to mailing lists from wineries that make less than 20,000 cases of wine per year.
Look at how much you have in your savings that you can spend on wine, and compare that to the winery’s allocation minimums. If a winery asks that you buy at least two cases of wine every year from the mailing list, make sure you can afford to buy at least this much wine before you sign up. Most experts suggest setting aside at least $10,000 for mailing list wine.
Finally, you need to decide how long you’re willing to wait before you get on the wine mailing list. Are you prepared to get behind 100 people who are in line in front of you, or as many as 5,000 people? Many collectors sign up for the longer waitlists first, then sign up for smaller mailing lists while they wait for the longer waitlists to come through.
How to Get on a Wine Mailing List
To get on a wine mailing list, you need to use a spreadsheet. First, make a two-part list in your spreadsheet. In the first column, write down all of the wines that you love to drink, regardless of their market worth. In the second column, write down all of the valuable wines that you’d love to own (these are the high-end, sought-after bottles). Next, check all of these wineries against the four qualities listed above (personal taste, rarity, budget, waitlist time). If a winery doesn’t fit one or more of the qualities, drop it from your list.
Now that you’ve whittled your list down, you need to prioritize your wineries. Start with your sought-after wines in the second column, since these likely have the longest waitlists. Apply for each of these mailing lists, then write down the date in which you applied in your spreadsheet. If the winery gives you a waitlist number or time estimate, write this down in your spreadsheet as well. At least once every quarter, you should check on the status of your waitlists for these sought-after wineries, and note any changes in position in your document.
While you wait for the sought-after mailing lists to come through, apply to the wineries in your first section. If the winery doesn’t have a waitlist, you can start buying wine off of the mailing list immediately, which will help you understand how the process works. As your waitlists come through, be prepared to drop some of the less sought-after mailing lists in favor of these new lists. The harder it is to get into a mailing list, the more valuable that list is for your collection.
Your applications will vary depending on the winery’s guidelines. Follow the application process to the letter, and never add more information than the winery asks for when you apply. Pestering the owners via email won’t get you through the list any faster, and it could actually hurt your chances. The key to success is applying early, having patience, and staying up-to-date on the status of your applications.
By: Harley Hoffmann
Harley is an Executive Wine Specialist for Vinfolio, helping collectors find the best wines for their collection. He’s a lover of everything outdoors and the proper bottles to go along with it. You can find him at any of the newest cocktail bars and restaurants in SF or on an adventure somewhere in between Lake Tahoe and the California coastline.