Traveling to Spain With a Luxury Wine Club Made Me Want a Membership ASAP — Here's Why

"All wine lovers can buy just about any wine in the world, share it with this great community is the real magic."

A picnic lunch atop mountains complete with food and wine.
Photo: Courtesy of Jamie Aranoff

When thinking of a members-only wine club for travel lovers, the words expensive and exclusive come to mind. But while tagging along with one group of traveling vino aficionados this summer in Spain, any preconceived notions I had of a possible "too cool" club of wine sophisticates were quickly put to rest.

"Wine shouldn't be snobby or make people nervous," Michael Evans, CEO of The Vines club with 270 members that enjoys vino all over the world, told in the beginning of the trip.

Starting in Priorat — an area about 90 minutes inland from Barcelona — I joined 25 members for a 3-day trip. And while some already knew each other, I quickly realized we'd all soon feel like old friends. Making things even better, in our first wine tasting, I was immediately told that there was no need to wait to take a sip until explanations of the wines in front of us were over — why postpone joy, right?

The wine tasting led straight into dinner at our hotel — the gorgeous Terra Dominicata in the heart of the Montsant Natural Park — which in true Spanish form, included many more glasses of wine, and ended just after midnight.

The saltwater pool at Terra Dominicata
Courtesy of Jamie Aranoff

The Vines, which was founded in 2019, hosts unique trips to famous wine-making regions across the world. Some of the club's current destinations include Champagne, France; Mendoza, Argentina; Napa Valley, California; and Willamette Valley, Oregon. And in the coming years, that list is likely to expand as The Vines has scouted locations in New Zealand and Georgia and hosted pop-up, spirit-based trips in Japan, Kentucky, and Mexico.

However, before The Vines was a group of travelers, known as the "explorers club," it started out as a wine resort of the same name in Mendoza in 2005. Today, it's a full-service operation, where members grow and cultivate their own grapes and even design their own labels.

Priorat is one of only two regions in Spain to earn the coveted Denominació d'Origen Qualificada (DOQ) designation meaning all wine produced in the region is of a government-regulated high quality. The region is also known best for deep red wines, as the environment can be too harsh for white (although there are still white wines produced). The region also primarily uses Garnacha (Grenache), and Cariñena (Carignan) grapes.

A landscape of Priorat, Spain.
Courtesy of The Vines

I quickly learned that the tour group of "explorers" live up to their name as members seemingly did not need sleep. We started the next day at 9 a.m. with wine blending, an activity that seemed like a bit of an endeavor at that early in the morning, before learning that the start time had to do with the palette being more open in the morning. Joined by local winemaker Dominik Huber of Terroir Al Limit, he, along with the rest of the group helped me decide on my perfect blend.

Once we had completed the morning blending session the group boarded a bus which took us through the incredibly narrow and windy roads of Priorat to a local, family-owned winery. We received a tour and tasting of the wine, straight out of the barrel and then were off once again to lunch at a local restaurant.

A restaurant exterior in Priorat, Spain.
Courtesy of Jamie Aranoff

The Vines works with local chefs and restaurant owners to perfectly curate a wine and food menu with the many meals throughout their trips. They also take into account dietary restrictions. (As someone who's gluten-free, I appreciated the options, which were some of the best I've ever had, available)

When it comes to membership, the price tag is pretty hefty, but can range depending on what a wine lover is looking for in their experience.

Entry into the club as an explorer or winemaker costs approximately $100,000. It includes unlimited access to The Vines experiences and the ability to make unlimited wine at their base in Argentina. The Adventurer tier also comes with a $2,500 credit to use toward experience trips. The other tier is the adventurer level for an enrollment price of $20,000 and is structured for members who want to use the membership more for travel, although it does also include limited winemaking opportunities. For the adventurer tier, there is an additional spend of $9,500 which can be spent on The Vines blending escapes, workshops, guest fees, or winemaking.

Both levels have an additional yearly fee of $6,000 and $2,500 respectively.

For those curious about membership but not yet ready to commit, The Vines allows potential members to join a trip. The interview process to join involves several interviews (friendly conversations) with founders and fellow members.

"There is an application process, but it's not a snobby application process," Evans said. "Basically, we get to know somebody a little bit, we meet them for a glass of wine or lunch or dinner and we get a sense pretty quickly if they're going to fit in with the group."

Encouraging connections among the group, The Vines team brings name cards to every meal and sets them up before the group arrives (just one of the many details that are always taken care of behind the scenes). While assigned seating may seem like a forced way to start interactions, it opened up the conversation and allowed all members to meet and converse over a shared love of wine, food, and travel.

A table setting with the author's name card
Courtesy of Jamie Aranoff

"What we aim to do is create really unique and exclusive opportunities, bucket list things, it's not just things that somebody can pull out their credit card and do," Evans told me. "All our members and all wine lovers can buy just about any wine in the world, do that and share it with this great community is the real magic."

"Our members don't need to have a sommelier degree," The Vines head of sales, Bryan Driscoll, added. "A big part of this is the learning aspect."

That said, the experience was also complete with a tour of a nearby monastery with a local guide where we learned about the history of the region and how it affects the wine.

The Cartoixa d'Escaladei monastery
The Cartoixa d'Escaladei monastery, where Priorat wine was invented. Courtesy of Jamie Aranoff

If one-of-a-kind experiences are what the members seek upon joining The Vines, they certainly left Priorat fulfilled. On our third and final day, we embarked on another early morning tour of the region's oldest wine cellar, Scala Dei complete with a full tasting. From there, we boarded our bus and visited with Huber once more where he presented his 100-point blend wine and then accompanied us on a short hike to the top of a nearby overlook. There, The Vines team had organized an entire picnic with gourmet food, and top-tier wine.

At our final dinner, which was naturally a paella feast, I sat with several founding members. When I asked why they had joined the club the answer came quickly.

"The common thread is wine and food, but it's really all about the experience," a member told me.

Her husband, added, "we don't care who makes what, no one has anything to prove — let's just have a good time and learn from each other."

A seafood paella prepared by the staff of Mater Terrae the restaurant of Terra Dominicata
A traditional seafood paella prepared by the staff of Mater Terrae the restaurant of Terra Dominicata. Courtesy of Jamie Aranoff

The universal thread of the club isn't necessarily wine, but the members themselves, Driscoll added.

"We have so many different types of people from so many countries, and yet we all tend to merge and have amazing dinners and late nights," he said. "It's the people that really make the membership."

At the end of the trip, I was in the vast minority of trip members traveling back home. Other members were heading off to a new adventure, be it more wine tasting in Valencia, a few days in Barcelona, or for one couple, a trip in their camper van back home to the UK.

As much as I learned about Priorat wine, the trip filled me with the sweet reminder that wherever you may be in the world, and whoever you may be, there is always room for more friends (and wine) at the table.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles