Winery allocation lists to join

By J'aime Cardillo

13 Mar, 2024

These are the cult Australian winery allocation lists your name should be on.

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Every Sunday I would walk down my street from number 32 to number 18. Inside the weatherboard house was a lounge room with plastic-coated furniture, including the special-occasions-only table (that I’ve never eaten at). At the back, a large sun room that could host 16 people for lunch. My grandfather no longer sits at the head of the table, but my grandmother still cooks for a small army. 

We would come together over pasta and irreplicable meatballs. I say irreplicable because there is no recipe. My grandmother doesn’t measure – the base is beef mince from Footscray market, the rest is up to her.

The legend goes that to move yourself up the Wendouree wine allocation waiting list, you need two things: a handwritten letter and a family recipe. Getting off the waiting list, like my chances of becoming a gold AFL member, probably won’t happen in this lifetime. But I think if I can get down the recipe for those meatballs, we might have a chance.

Tolpuddle vineyardTolpuddle vineyard.

It’s not unusual for allocation lists to feel like a secret society. In fact, Yarra Yering pretty much has one. The Medallion Membership is invitation only and is separate to the mailing list. It’s a ‘thank you’ to customers for their commitment to the label over the years. Members receive access to back vintages and museum stock when released, priority purchase of new releases, 10 per cent off purchases, and a medallion.

“It depends on the vintage and yield for the year if everyone on our mailing list receives an offer,” says Jan Morey from Beechworth’s Sorrenberg. Jan and her husband Barry co-founded Sorrenberg in the 1980s in what was then an emerging region. Down the road is fellow Beechworth giant Giaconda. Giaconda’s last release of chardonnay – sent to members only – sold out in under 10 minutes.

Tasmania’s Tolpuddle, which produces single-vineyard chardonnay and pinot noir in limited quantities, has a waiting list that continues to grow, “and far outweighs the amount of wine we produce,” says Mathilda Hill Smith. She says that while the allocation list is spoken for, Tolpuddle continues to supply top independent retailers and restaurants.

Fraser McKinleySami-Odi's Fraser McKinley.

Fraser McKinley’s Barossan label Sami-Odi sends collectors into a spin with each limited release. The latest wines, released under allocation in February, included three syrahs. Fraser says the mailing list for Sami-Odi includes customers across Australia, America, Asia, and Europe. “Those four mailing lists combine for a total of 1600 customers. There’s a waiting list for each of them which combines to a total 24,000.” In the past 12 months, just 45 names were added to the list. 

Fraser only has one list price, which means retailers pay the same amount as consumers (it’s important to note that allocation prices can be significantly less than secondary markets).

Serrat in Yarra Valley has a four-tier release system, which owner Nadège Carson (alongside husband Tom Carson) says is the fairest approach, and one that focuses on the regularity of purchases over the quantity ordered.

Tom and Nadège CarsonTom and Nadège Carson of Serrat.

The first tier is for the die-hard Serrat fans. Nadège says that list is filled with people who purchased from the winery before the 2014 Shiraz Viognier was named Wine of the Year in the 2016 Companion. Tier one receives access to the wines two months before everyone else. Tier two consumers have purchased regularly since the 2016 Companion and receive their offer three weeks prior to the official release date.

“[Tier two] also has a generous allocation, however I try to ensure there’s still some of our best sellers (chardonnay, pinot noir, grenache noir and shiraz viognier) for tier three who are newer customers.” 

Nadège says due to yields over the past few years, certain varieties have been limited to one bottle per person. “This strategy allows hundreds of people to experience our wines... Our website is inundated when each offer is sent, so the allocation is not a guarantee…especially when the demand is greater than the number of bottles produced!”

Tier four is the waiting list, which has more than 2300 people on it. 

Dan StandishThe Standish Wine Company's Dan Standish.

At Heathcote’s Wild Duck Creek Estate, it’s a loyalty system, says director and vigneron Liam Anderson. "Each year we can make up to 20 different wines, however new members have limited access to some wines due to scarcity. We also make a couple of wines just for Puddlers, meaning that access to those wines takes five years of purchasing from us.”

And while the Met Gala happens on the first Monday in May, on the Tuesday, The Standish Wine Company’s new-release wines are offered to the private mailing list. It's a once-a-year release for the Barossa Valley producer, but Nicole Standish says for new customers added throughout the year, if there’s stock available, newcomers will receive an offer of current-release wines.

Hentley Farm's members unlock rewards that correspond with their yearly spend. The top-tier members for each calendar year are invited to the Clos Otto Club, named after the flagship shiraz, and gain access to an allocation from the cellar release catalogue, along with pre-release access to the winery's most coveted wines (all with a 25 per cent discount).

Clos Otto ShirazHentley Farm's Clos Otto Shiraz.

Finally, Rockford. James Halliday once wrote: “Rockford can only be described as an icon.” To get your hands on the equally iconic Basket Press Shiraz, you need to be a member of Rockford’s loyalty program, Stone Wall. 

Stone Wall members, the Barossa winery’s most loyal followers, receive first dibs and an allocation of six bottles of the shiraz. There’s also an allocation of three bottles available for newer members who make regular purchases.

There is somewhat of a loophole. If you visit the cellar door from the first of March, you’ll be able to purchase three bottles of Basket Press (there’s usually stock for about eight weeks). But don’t even think about going back to the car, putting on a hat and heading back in for seconds – the cellar door staff will remember you.

Image credits: Tolpuddle Vineyard, Sami-Odi/Wine Australia, The Standish Wine Company, Hentley Farm.