CEO Mark Vernon looks back on nearly 50 years of wine club history at RIDGE and recounts the story of how our Z List membership program was born.
“Ridge created the Z List in the early 2000s. Several forces were at work that lead to the establishment of our second wine club. Ridge launched the Advance Tasting Program (ATP) in 1977, and it was California’s first wine club. After almost 30 years of successfully providing customers first access to newly-released small batch productions, ATP had grown in size and was filled with passionate members. While early club shipments were dominated by zinfandel-based wines, over the years Ridge expanded its production into different varietals such as petite sirah, carignane, syrah, and grenache. We started hearing from customers about our choices of wines for the club. One vocal group wanted us to go back to providing more zinfandels, while another group expressed their appreciation for the inclusion of the different varietals in the club. A third group wanted to know why Ridge’s most famous zinfandels such as Lytton Springs and Geyserville were not part of the club offerings.
“There were numerous discussions at Ridge about what to do. We felt that ATP had reached a kind of crossroads. Do we go back to more zinfandels in the club? Do we keep including the other varietals? What about our ‘national’ zinfandels, Lytton Springs and Geyserville? Then one fateful day, we had a meeting in the old kitchen in the barn at the Monte Bello tasting room. Paul Draper, Wilma Sturrock, Ridge’s President; Donn Reisen, VP of Sales & Marketing; Kathy Martinich, long-time Tasting Room and Wine Club Manager; and myself (I was General Manager at the time) got together to see if we could reach a consensus on how to proceed. During the meeting, Kathy, who had been instrumental in the creation of ATP, surprised us with an idea no one had previously considered. ‘Why don’t we create a new club focused 100% on zinfandel? And, the new club can include our nationally released wines like Lytton Springs and Geyserville.’ It was a brilliant solution to our problem. Those who wanted all zinfandels could join the new club, while those who liked a variety of wines could continue in ATP. Donn voiced some concern that our wholesale distribution partners might not react well to our so heavily promoting and selling the same wines we were selling through distribution. But by then, many other wineries were offering the same wines in their clubs that they were also selling through distribution, and this had not been a big issue for distributors. Customers obtaining wine via a club often would follow up and buy more of the wine from their local wine retailer if it was available. A win for everyone.
“The club was launched with a large mailing (both electronic and paper) to our customer list as well as the members of ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers). The response was overwhelming. The club attracted hundreds of members in just a few weeks and rapidly passed the 1,000 member milestone. Most remarkable was the number of customers who were in the ATP club that signed up for Z List but also kept their ATP membership. Once again, Ridge was at the forefront, becoming one of the first wineries to offer multiple clubs tailored to different customer preferences. As we approach 50 years of ATP and 20 years of Z List, we want to thank all of our customers that have supported these clubs over the years.” -Mark Vernon, CEO