Wine 101: Start a club

Originally published in Lake & Sumter Style, April 2011

A wine club is an economical way to learn about wines from around the world… and about what you like.

WINE 101: Start a Club • Originally published in Lake & Sumter Style, April 2011Exploring the world of wine is especially fun with a group of friends who are also interested in learning more about the varieties and complexities of wines from around the world. And one of the most economical ways to learn is by organizing a wine club.

Wine clubs of all different sizes exist throughout Lake and Sumter counties. You will not see them advertised because most began as small groups of friends who were looking for a way to sample different wines without breaking their budgets. Wine shops can occasionally point you toward a wine club that may be looking for new members, but starting your own club can be even more rewarding and fun.

“The first thing is to find people who are like-minded and truly want to learn about wines,” says Bill Biebesheimer, who has helped to organize numerous wine clubs in The Villages and surrounding area. “If someone is there only because his wife said it would be a good idea, and he only drinks Scotch, well, it’s not going to be as successful.”

While Biebesheimer has participated in wine clubs with up to 40 people, he said that smaller groups tend to work better. Most wine websites, including, also recommend having no more than 10 people. Everyone should have a chance to talk about what they like or dislike about the wines. Smaller groups also tend to develop more camaraderie, which is important to keep the wine club going month after month.

As the host — or club’s organizer — you will need to have an initial meeting to discuss the following:

Day and time: All members should plan to get together on a regular basis, preferably once a month.

Budget: Most wine clubs set a per-person budget. Will each person contribute $10, $15, or more? If 10 people each pay $15, then the budget for each meeting is $150.

Hosting duties: Will each person (or couple) take a turn hosting in the months to follow? If so, put your schedule in writing and distribute it to all members so everyone knows who will be the next host. The host should also plan to provide French bread and possibly one or two cheeses.

Wine Quantity: Most wine clubs select about six wines per meeting. For 10 people, one bottle of each wine would give everyone about a 2-ounce pour. Invest in a wine pourer that limits each pour so that every member gets an equal amount.

If members are going to rotate hosting duties, the host can select the wines and the theme for that particular month. Some clubs, however, vote as a group what wines or themes they’d like to see at upcoming meetings.

“A theme is important so the meeting will be a learning experience,” says Biebesheimer. “At one meeting, compare American Cabernets and at the next meeting taste all New Zealand whites. Talk about the regions where the wines came from.”

Biebesheimer also recommends finding a trusted wine merchant who will guide you and make suggestions as your club gets started. You will also find a wealth of magazines, books and websites about wines where you can get ideas for themes. The person who selects the wines should be prepared to talk about them and to share information about the varietals and regions.

Another thing to consider is whether or not members will bring their own glassware or if the host will provide glasses. It’s a lot less work if everyone comes equipped with their own glasses. Finally, be sure to have a rating sheet with each wine listed so members can record notes on the wines they tasted. At the end of the evening, ask members to vote for their favorite wine. And it’s always fun to ask them to vote on which wine they thought was the most expensive. Then, and only then, reveal the wine prices. Rarely do the favorites tend to be the most expensive, which proves that good and even great wines come in every price range.

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