The joys of joining a wine club are many: expanding your knowledge of different styles and regions, having wines on hand that are unique, discovering a new gem or a style, and trying out something unusual at home or with friends.
However, the downside is a big one—arriving home to find that FedEx sticker flapping on your front door, requiring an adult at home to accept delivery without offering a clue about when that might be. Meanwhile, those precious bottles are rattling around on a truck before winding up in a remote industrial park for pickup.
Urban Wine Club aims to change all of that. The club is the brainchild of Fotios “Frank” Stamos, wine director at The Cork Stop in North Andover, who found that guests at the store’s wine tasting events enjoyed being in a wine club but did not enjoy the hassle.
“Customers told me that being part of a wine club was exciting, but the logistics were hard,” Stamos says, noting that FedEx is the only service licensed in Massachusetts to deliver wine—and trying to arrange a convenient time for delivery with the large carrier is not easy. “It just became one more thing to do,” he says.
Rather than arriving at the convenience of the delivery person, Urban Wine Club’s selections—three-packs for as little as $49 or six-packs for $99, including delivery—arrive at the convenience of the member, who can arrange for the package to be delivered to their home or office during a preselected window. Employees of the club handle delivery, so the wines don’t spend time bouncing back and forth on a truck or in a warehouse.
The personal service doesn’t stop there. Members fill out a 10-question survey, detailing what styles of wine they like and how adventurous they are, and Stamos and his staff craft a custom package for each person. Thus, a shipment might include everything from a cava from Barcelona, Spain, to a Bardolino—a red wine from the Veneto in Italy made in a style similar to its neighbor, Valpolicella.
“We try to make it not just convenient, but to make a personal connection with each member,” Stamos says. So each delivery is unique, selected for that individual. “We are working to build trust—we want members to trust us to find wines that they like.”
While the survey tells a lot about preferences, there is one question that is key to Stamos. “What stands out to me is the style. Whether someone prefers reds or whites is fine, but finding out the preference of light, medium or full-bodied will help me to cherry-pick wines that will please each individual,” he says.
For example, a member might say that they prefer light-bodied wines and that they hate chardonnay, but perhaps it’s just that their experience of the grape is limited.
“When we break it down, what they are meaning is they are not fans of chardonnay from California because it is too rich, too heavy, and there is too much of an element of oak and butteriness,” Stamos says, adding that a chardonnay from Burgundy—more restrained than a New World style—might be very much to that member’s liking. “So we can turn our guests who are not typically chardonnay drinkers into chardonnay drinkers. Even though they are using the same grape, there are going to be distinct differences in flavor profile or the way the wine finishes and so forth. There are so many elements and variables when it comes to the winemaking process.”
Stamos is uniquely qualified to curate the collection. Past jobs involved working for several wine importers, as well as stints as beverage manager at Legal Sea Foods and beverage director at Meze Estiatorio in Charlestown, where he used his unique expertise in the wines of Greece to craft a much-lauded all-Greek wine list.
As a result, his selections tend to be less well known. “Our concept is to focus on mainly small producers,” Stamos says. “We tend to stay away from the commercial brands. There are so many great wines at our fingertips that are overlooked.”
Delivery is available throughout the Merrimack Valley. Each package comes with either three or six bottles of hand-selected wine, a tip sheet with serving suggestions and tasting notes.
For details or to subscribe, visit thecorkstop.com