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We Join Firstleaf Wine Club
Where All That Bulk Juice Goes.... 

Back in 2010 we joined the Wall Street Journal Wine Club and were pretty underwhelmed with the experience.... so, when I saw this cover wrap on November's Food & Wine Magazine, I had to find out if their $5 wine was really better than most $50 wines.

I received my three $5 wines in December and my first six club selections in January for $95.17.

It looks like a fresh take on the wine club idea where, based on your reviews, they tailor each shipment to match your taste. Here is how they explain it....

"Our experts explore the world looking for new and exciting wines from new and exciting places. Then they buy direct to cut out the middle-man, and bring the savings back to you. After drinking the wine, you rate it on the site so that our experts can update each order to your palate. That's why we say that Firstleaf gets better with every box.

I began by doing some research. Firstleaf wine club is owned by a company out of New York City called Penrose Hill whose website says that they were founded in 2015 and actually call themselves a winery.

"As an independent winery, we eliminate the middleman to give our customers exclusive access to small-batch wines for less and deliver higher margins to our partners."

And, it appears that they are. In spite of the fact that each wine has an attractive label and a winery name implying that it comes from an existing winery, the wines....

  • All appear to be bottled in the same brand of bottle
  • All appear to be corked with the same corks
  • Were all bottled in Healdsburg California, each by a different entity with only one matching the winery name on the bottle.
  • The three French whites were also bottled in Healdsburg meaning that the juice was shipped here in bulk from France.
  • We have to assume were all bottled in the same facility which is why Penrose Hill calls itself a winery.

Usually when you Google a specific wine you get hundreds of review sites and hundreds of places to buy it. Not here... not one of the nine wineries had a website or a physical address that we could locate. None of the wines could be found for sale at retail with the exception of one that we found at a liquor store in Connecticut. And, we could not find a single review by a major wine publication.

So, how were the wines?  

Each wine came with a glossy, full color 6" x 9" description card with background on the wine and "Winery," food pairings and details on the wine like the grape varietal, growing region, vintage and suggested retail price. The quality of the marketing material was excellent, I wish I could say that for the wines.... Here is a sampling of what we thought.

Of the nine wines the whites showed the best. This French white showed the best of the four whites.... And while the winery seemingly does not exist, the winemaker they credit with the wine does. He owns a winery called Maison Idiart in the Loire Valley, a long way from Bergerac....


Chromatrope Bergerac Blanc 2016 Bergerac, France
Under "varietal" on the card it is only described as Bergerac Blanc so we really don't know what was in the bottle but is pretty pleasant. With tropical nose and a viscous palate filled with apricot and stone fruit, it has balanced acidity and pronounced sweet edge to the finish.

The second French white was less pleasant. Again no trace of the winery on the internet....
Decollete Pinot Gris Viognier 2016 Languedoc, France
This blend could only be described as drinkable, hollow and vapid, but drinkable with plenty of residual sugar.

The only domestic white was a Chardonnay that was called "Our members favorite 91 Point Chardonnay," they just don't tell you who scored it. And, while we could not find anything about a Lost Dog winery, they do credit Joe Otos as the winemaker. He is also the winemaker for Willowbrook Cellars who make their wines in Healdsburg....
Lost Dog Lane Chardonnay 2016 California
This wine has a floral nose and a thin palate that leads with its acids before the openly sweet fruit kicks in.

While none of the five California reds were anything I would choose with dinner the Astrae Mars Red was the best of the reds. And, while the winery does not seem to exist at least they tell you what's in the bottle. The card says that the varietal is "red blend" but the bottle tells you it is made from Cabernet, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Petit Sirah.
Astrae Mars Red 2016 Lodi, California
The blackberry, black raspberry fruit is a little thin and but it's certainly there displaying notes of licorice, a pronounced sweetness and no tannic structure.

The Hawthorn Grove Merlot was a puzzler....the information card touted Hawthorne Grove as "The Monterey County Winery of the Year" yet why would the winery of the year not have a website or a physical address in Monterey County?
Hawthorn Grove Merlot 2013 California
Looks like Pinot Noir, thin and hollow with plenty of residual sugar.

Again, no record of the winery actually existing anywhere. Mat dubbed this red "Franken Wine" and speculated about how much Mega Purple they had used to make it drinkable....
Sunscript Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 Lodi, California
I can only describe this wine as appallingly bad, thin, woody, stemmy yet sweet on the finish.

I won't go on to describe the other three wines, I am sure you get the idea. While there is nothing illegal about this kind of deceptive branding, I think it damages the entire wine industry. This is an industry that prides itself on the art, craft and traditions of winemaking. Businesses like this only serve to deceive the public and diminish the image of fine winemaking.