Joining the club

Gracie McKowen, right, explains different wines to, from left,

Groucho Marx said he’d never join a club that would have him as
a member, but had been a South Santa Clara or San Benito county
resident, he may have joined one of the many wine clubs.
Discounts, tastings and unique offerings are just some of the
benefits Marx would have enjoyed and what many area residents can
look forward to when joining a wine club.
Groucho Marx said he’d never join a club that would have him as a member, but had been a South Santa Clara or San Benito county resident, he may have joined one of the many wine clubs.

Discounts, tastings and unique offerings are just some of the benefits Marx would have enjoyed and what many area residents can look forward to when joining a wine club.

Wine clubs that have grown in popularity over the years, and becoming a member of a wine club involves nothing more than taking the time to find a vineyard of your choice and signing up.

In Gilroy, Kirigin Cellars mixes vintage surroundings with a home-like atmosphere. The large vineyard is spread across lush green the hills off Watsonville Road. The home in the middle of the vineyard is an old colonial- style residence built in 1829. It gives the winery a rustic look and rural charm.

“We are like a well-kept secret out here,” said Gracie McKeowen, tasting room and office manager.

Kirigin Cellars is one of the oldest wineries in the area and offers a wide variety of reasonably priced wines.

“All of our wines are under $20,” McKeowen said, “We wanted to make wines affordable to everyone.”

Kirigin Cellars is open seven days a week and offers free wine tasting. All their grapes are grown and pressed at the vineyard.

The winery also has a wine club that was started in 2004. Functions are held for people on the mailing list and guests are welcome to picnic and wine taste as well as play cricket on a grass field behind the tasting room.

“We are old-fashioned but trying to blend old traditions with new tradition,” McKeowen said.

Part of that old tradition is the unique tasting room. The door is made of a huge wine barrel. The sweetness of the wine is in the air. The brick flooring and deep earth-tone painted walls are beautifully accented by bottles of home-grown wines. Ribbons hang above almost every row for award-winning wines.

“We were six-time winners in the past two years,” McKeowen said with a smile.

They recently were awarded first place for their chocolate and coffee wine, which is only sold at Kirigin Cellars.

At Emilio Guglielmo Winery on East Main Avenue in Morgan Hill, wine club members receive discounts ranging from 15 to 20 percent. Several times a year, “Bottle Your Own” days take place with premium wines sold at much lower prices.

During the holiday season, a Christmas Fair is held where all wine club members receive a free bottle of wine.

At Solis Winery on Hecker Pass Highway west of Gilroy, wine club members are catered to with monthly gatherings that include wine tasting, food sampling and an assortment of music. The wine club boasts more than 1,000 people and has a wide variety of special pricings.

“People can come in and fill out an application or it can be done over the phone,” said Richard Arioto, who organizes events and tasting, “With every event we have some kind of special price for wines.”

Earlier this month, Solis hosted its eighth annual Merlot Madness event where anyone visiting could sample four different merlots.

A well-known winery in Gilroy is Fortino Winery, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year.

With wine tasting available seven days a week, anyone with a busy schedule can easily be accommodated. Though larger and more business oriented, the winery still has a comfortable environment of welcoming faces.

“It’s a friendly atmosphere; we have good red wines, and a lot of return customers,” said Gino Fortino, one of the winery owners. “Once they try a wine they like, they come back to us.”

The winery, on Hecker Pass Highway just west of Watsonville Road, carries a large assortment of wines, including chardonnay, champagnes and its best seller – burgundy reserve.

Members of Fortino’s wine club receive two bottles of wine six times a year and are invited to two annual dinners.

Another nice feature is the ability to hold weddings and birthdays – under a shade tent – on the spacious property of the winery. People are free to dream up a perfect occasion filled with a great selection of wines to drink.

Though Zanger Vineyards at Casa de Fruta in Hollister, on Pacheco Pass Highway, does not have a wine club, it still offers plenty of entertainment and choices in wine.

The winery carries gourmet fruit and vintage wines along with a wide assortment of other drinks. A variety of cheeses as well as sauces, olives and oils found only at their location are offered.

At Sarah’s Vineyard, another winery on Hecker Pass Highway, the Roussanne is making quite an impression by winning a bronze medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Competition.

With a number of award-winning wines Sarah’s Vineyard has kept its customers returning. It, too, has a wine club that offers discounts on any purchase at the vineyard. Twice a year a shipment of pre-release wines are available to all members.

“We have a number of significant discounts,” said Dave Heiber of Sarah’s Vineyard. “The club has only been around for a couple of years but it is definitely a growing part of the business. We are a small premium winery dedicated to making great Santa Clara County wines.”

Another winery, which appeals to people passing through the South Valley, is Rapazzini Winery, because of its busy location off U.S. 101 just north of the Highway 25 exit to Hollister and San Benito County.

The winery has produced gold-medal winning dessert wines including Aprabella, Raspberry Delight, Berry Berry and Almond Champagne.

“We have a large assortment of wines that are diverse in flavor that may appeal to people who usually don’t drink wine,” said owner Alex Larson.

They enjoy keeping their wines personal by only marketing them at the winery. All of their blending and bottling takes place on site.

Aside from wine, various garlic products are sold at Rapazzini Winery under the Mama Rap label.

So if you are looking for more than just wine, Rapazzini’s has a wide variety of food products as well. There is a wine club that focuses on accommodating everyone. A big event each year is a lobster feed where they serve dinner as well as carry live lobsters for customers to take home.

“The atmosphere is great for the people who come and taste wine,” said a grinning Adam Pagnani, a tasting room employee. The atmosphere is fun and relaxed, which makes for an interesting experience.

On Saturday, April 30 the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley will present The Spring Barbecue at Casa de Fruta complex on Pacheco Pass Highway from noon to 5pm. Many area wineries are represented.

The cost is $37.50, including wine tasting, barrel tasting and a hearty lunch of New York steak, pasta con pesto, garlic bread, salad and dessert.

Entertainment will include live music and barrel racing. Tickets are available through the participating wineries.

Wine Clubs

Several of the top South Valley wine clubs:

• Emilio Guglielmo Winery


or visit them at 1480E. Main in Morgan Hill

Hours: Daily 10am-5pm

• Fortino Winery


or visit them at 4525 Hecker Pass Hwy in Gilroy

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm

• Kirigin Cellars


or visit them at 11550 Watsonville Road in Gilroy

Hours: Daily 10am-5pm

• Rapazzini Winery


or visit them at 4350 Monterey Road in Gilroy

Hours :Sat. & Sun. 10am-6pm M-F 9am-5pm

Summer hours: M-F 9-6

• Sarah’s Vineyards


or visit them at 4005 Hecker Pass Hwy in Gilroy

Hours: Fri. 12pm-5pm Sat. & Sun.11am-5pm

• Zanger Vineyards

(408) 842-9316

or visit them on Pacheco Pass Hwy in Hollister

Hours: open daily, call for seasonal hours

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