It's like Christmas, only four times a year.

That, briefly, is how one friend summed up his wine club membership.

And you? How does your wine club treat you?

Our topic the last time this column appeared was about how wine relationships are built by visiting wineries and meeting the people behind the labels.

The next step, which involves much less driving, is joining a wine club, where you commit to buying a certain number of bottles over a certain time period.

This can be a good way to explore a winery's range of wines and sometimes to enjoy wines not available to the general public.

In the most basic terms, a wine club, whether from a winery, a liquor store or a wine magazine, sends you wines on a pre-set schedule for which they charge your credit card.

You might have the option of letting the winery select the wines or choosing the wines yourself based on personal preference.

"Hello, My Favorite Winery? I want all red (or white or dry or sweet or fruit) wines in the next shipment. Great, thanks."

Easy.

Depending on your commitment and level of membership, you may receive two bottles of wine monthly or three or four times a year or as many as 48 bottles or more over the course of the year.

In most cases, the fee covers the wine (often at a discount) and shipping. Some wineries offer flat-rate shipping, which means they eat part of the cost. This is good deal for you, since shipping fees can negate any savings you might have enjoyed with the wine-club membership.

Also, most clubs are recurring purchase wine clubs, meaning they bill you on a regular basis whether you want the wines or not.

Obviously, this may be negotiable, in case you, say, die and can't drink the wines.

But basically, that's it. You pay a few dollars and someone ships you wine.

Many Grand Valley wineries and at least one liquor store host wine clubs while several other local wineries still are weighing the pros and cons.

What should you look for? For starters, look for a variety of levels, not a one-size approach; pricing, as in are you getting a good deal on wine you actually will drink; and third, overall customer service, including the ability to select wines other than the standard choices or any discounts such as shipping and other in-house purchases.

I've compiled a list — it is not at all comprehensive — and I'm sure there are other local wine clubs out there. This is, however, a sampling to give you an idea of how some wine clubs function.

You can check online to see if your favorite winery offers a wine club or, better yet, take a few minutes and visit in person.

As Tony Miller of Talon Wine Brands told me, people are much more likely to join a wine club after they have visited the winery.

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