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Expert Judging Guarantees Terrific Wines for Members

SONOMA, California (March 14, 2017)—Windee Smith and Chad Richards have created a wine club unlike any other. Called The Panel, it was recently named one of the ten New Generation Wine Clubs by Esther Mobley in the San Francisco Chronicle. The Panel is dedicated to finding small production, distinctive wines and delivering them to their members. Smith and Richards have done an excellent job. Mobley wrote, “Not simply for the country-club Cabernet guzzler. This is a sophisticated, diverse selection of fascinating wines.”

Smith and Richards use their wealth of experience, their insatiable appetite for wine research, and their well-established links with small importers and distributors to locate and obtain unique, delicious wines from all around the world. Each month, after researching and tasting dozens of wines, they select their favorite 12 to 15 wines. Then they bring in a panel of wine experts to pare the selection down to three killer wines to be offered to club members.

Smith and Richards seek out experienced, respected industry veterans to serve on the panels. March’s panel is a bit of a family affair. Anne Moller-Racke, President and Winegrower for Donum Estate is joined by her daughter Dorothe Cicchetti, Director of Sales and Marketing for Stone Edge Farm in Sonoma. Dorothe’s husband, Manny Cicchetti, a sommelier and certified wine specialist served on the panel along with T.J. Evans the winemaker in charge of still wine for Domaine Carneros.  

Since the wines being tasted are from different countries, grape varieties and price points, the judges have to rate each wine on its own merits, focusing on balance and character. Conducted as blind tastings, and using the UC Davis 20 point wine scoring system, the expert panel selects the three best wines. Those are the wines sent to club members. A different professional panel is selected each month, ensuring wines of consistently high quality, but with unique characteristics.

“Our goal is to place the absolute best wines into our club member’s hands. We created The Panel process to eliminate the guessing game everyone goes through when searching for new and exciting wines,” explained Windee Smith. “Being identified as one of the top wine clubs in the country for our efforts is positive reinforcement of the highest order.”

“The wines we offer are from small production wineries, and often are only available in this type of club situation,” said Richards. “Occasionally we come across truly remarkable wines in which only a few cases are available.  We purchase all that we can and allocate those bottles to our higher-level club members. Not only do they receive the amazing wines chosen by The Panel blind tastings, but they also get rare wines that no one else can.”

In addition to finding unique wines from around the world, The Panel caters to club members wanting to increase their wine knowledge. To that end, each member is presented with a loose leaf notebook. Detailed information and tasting notes on each wine are sent along with the wine selections each month, allowing members to build a personal encyclopedia on the wines. Additionally, The Panel has a physical location where members are invited to stop by for personalized tastings, just to relax in the comfortable surroundings, or to peruse the hand-selected retail wine shop.

The Panel Wine Club has three tiers of membership. Members in the first tier receive the three wines selected by the monthly panel. Cost is $99. A second tier made up of the three panel selected wines plus three more higher-end wines selected by Smith and Richards is $199 per month. A third level has the three selected wines and then three very rare, hard to get, exceptional finds. That tier costs $299.

The Panel is located at 535 West Napa St. in the town of Sonoma less than a mile from the town square. The retail shop is open to the public as well as club members from 10 AM to 6 PM Monday to Friday and by appointment on weekends. For more information about club membership contact Chad or Windee by telephone (707) 938-7152, or by email [email protected], [email protected].

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