I like this discussion. (Though I am new here, so I realize people might not care what I say )
Here is my rather winded perspective on clubs as I mostly rely on lists/clubs for my wine. And though I don’t have any from Oregon, I have several from Walla Walla right over the border.
First off, if I lived on the west coast or in a wine-making area, I might feel differently about clubs, but I live in Minnesota and will never be able to purchase most of the wines locally that I buy through clubs/lists/a la carte etc. I have to buy almost all of my wine directly. And even though I could forgo clubs, the reality of managing wine purchases (even from allocation lists) is somewhat unrealistic. To keep my daily ‘drip’ going, I belong to 30+ lists/clubs all with different release times, yearly shipments, shipping charges, rules, etc.
But which is better for me – club or allocation list? Just as an example, I love Torrin wines out of Paso and Rasa from Walla Walla, but I almost missed both of their allocations this year because I didn’t see their list e-mail and almost responded too late (I had a distracting child born). But I would fully have trusted them to ship me wine via a traditional club – with an additional allocation if possible. And there are actually a handful of wineries that I completely support and want them to send me their club selection without my intervention. Just off the top of my head: Booker, Denner, Tensely, and Efeste. The number of times any of those wines has failed me could be counted on one hand, and I simply don’t have the information to choose their wines exactly to my preference vintage after vintage. An information asymmetry exists when you get farther from the area of production – and I live there.
Other clubs I simply try for a while. Maybe I get a free tasting and a discount on some bottles I want, and if they don’t consistently send me interesting and very good wines, I drop the club shortly afterwards. It’s easy, and harmless to be a member. But it served a purpose.
But from my perspective (a consumer) there are two types of clubs. (1) The amazing winemaker who sells everything mostly through members (list/club) and produces consistently high-quality wines and (2) those winemakers who have reserve wine to sell and whether they admit it or not – are unloading some mediocre wine. They are almost never good clubs – and this is probably 90% of them unfortunately. They also tend to offer gimmicks (free shipping, lock-in lower pricing, a free bottle with each shipment etc.) A gimmick almost always means you should not join the club IMO.
Of course there are those super exclusive clubs like Cayuse which are a completely different monster yet. I’m on the waiting list and will be for years, but I doubt I would even join when they contacted me. And the new wineries are also in a different situation. I joined Tero out of Walla Walla when no one knew them (and still don’t) but I like them and think they will be a rising star. So I keep them for now.
With that said, I do highly prefer list allocations with no obligation, but if a maker is supply is restricted to club members, I have no problem belonging to a club in whatever form it comes in. I have around 5 clubs that I really like and trust and will continue. I would probably trust another 5 or so winemakers to ship me wines via a club if they ever chose to do so. And that number will grow and change as my preferences and their winemaking changes.
I mean let’s face it, people get burned on wine futures all the time. There are many instruments to buy bad or mediocre wine – clubs are just one of them.