White wine lovers who want to benefit from the best wines at the best prices might want to consider buying a share in The Wine Society. The long-standing co-operative organisation was named 2009’s Large Independent Merchant of the year by the prestigious International Wine Challenge and sells only to its own members.
Founded in 1874, the Wine Society is the oldest wine-buyers’ co-operative in the world and is owned solely by its members. For a one off payment of forty pounds, investors buy a share of the co-operative and thereafter are able to reap the benefits of this unique organisation. The share literally lasts a lifetime and can even be passed on to a family member or friend after the member’s death. With no annual subscription fee, white wine enthusiasts can take advantage of well-established connections with quality wine producers, bagging some excellent deals on some of the finest white wines on the market.
As the co-operative operates purely for the benefits of its members, its key aim is to deliver quality for members rather than to reap profits. There are no external shareholders, so profits are reinvested into the society – increasing the variety of wines available and enhancing the services available to members.
The Wine Society’s buying team of six wine experts looks for ‘quality and individuality’ when buying wines and white wine available through the wine society ranges from affordable but high quality easy-drinking white wines to special occasion wines that benefit from being cellared for several years. In some instances, the Wine Society lays down bottles itself, only putting them on sale to members once they have reached their prime drinking age.
The International Exhibition Co-operative Wine Society Limited, to give the organisation its full and rather unwieldy title, came about as a result of international wine producers’ frustration at a lack of public awareness of their wines and where they could be bought. Portuguese growers had sent vast quantities of high quality wines to be exhibited at the Royal Albert Hall, only to find that most visitors passed through the hall entirely unaware of the presence of the wines. The British government heeded the growers’ appeal for help and commissioned Albert Hall architect Major General Henry Scott, together with wine expert R Brudenell Carter and high-flying customs official George Scrivenor, to hold a number of lunches at the esteemed venue, inviting the Who’s Who of society to sample the previously overlooked wines.
When a number of members expressed an interest in buying on a more regular basis, Major General Scott proposed the founding of a co-operative aimed at buying and selling high quality wines at fair prices. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The aim of the society has not changed since those early days – its objective being simply to buy wine directly from the wine producers and not via middlemen and to offer the wine to members at non profit-driven prices.
As news of the Wine Society’s existence spread, more and more red and white wine lovers signed up for membership and by 1965 the organisation operated from three cellared premises in London – under the London Palladium, under London Bridge and at Rotherhithe. The latter cellar often flooded when the tide was high and the society’s members began to seek alternative, more suitable, locations for cellaring the wines. Eventually, premises were found in Stevenage and the Wine Society continues to work out of this base today.
The Wine Society wines are bought directly from vineyards across the world, ensuring fair prices for the wine producers as well as members. There are special offers throughout the year and budget-conscious buyers can even take their pick from an extensive range of ‘under five pound’ wines. Regular tasting events are held throughout the year and members are kept informed of news and activity from the wine world. There’s no obligation to buy, but with so many tempting offers it’s safe to say that most white wine lovers will find themselves making regular purchases, whether for special occasions or gifts, or just for a good-quality affordable wine. Furthermore, membership of the Wine Society can be bought on behalf of another person – making it a good gift idea for the white wine lover in your life. For peace of mind the Wine Society’s own fleet of delivery drivers make most of the home deliveries, ensuring no clumsy handling of the precious bottles!