Money & Business

New Money: The Cup Overflows for the American Wine Society

By / Dec 1, 2016 (Stockbyte/Thinkstock)
We’re a nonprofit educational organization, so we try to be very careful about commercial interests.

The American Wine Society finds a new revenue varietal.

A couple of years ago, the American Wine Society (AWS), a group dedicated to promoting the appreciation of wine through education, found itself increasingly relying on revenue from special events to meet its bottom line.

Most of the society’s revenue came from its membership dues, though its annual meeting, special wine competitions, and, to a lesser extent, sponsorship dollars also contributed to its coffers. But more and more, it became apparent that another vintage of nondues revenue was required.

Travel agencies had long been interested in affiliate relationships with AWS, especially because wine-related travel is such a popular pastime—so popular, in fact, that wine tourism has its own cache of fancy names, including enotourism, oenotourism, or vinitourism. And, according to the Wine Institute, 23.6 million tourists visited California wineries—in 2015 alone.

Still, AWS wanted to be smart about a potential affiliation. David Falchek, director of membership services, says any relationship would have to tick several boxes for the society to move forward: It had to interest its members, it had to require minimal effort on behalf of the national office, and it had to benefit to the organization.

“We’re a nonprofit educational organization, so we try to be very careful about commercial interests,” says Falchek. “We don’t sponsor wines or wineries or recommend wines. We’re educational, so we try to be very, very selective about the commercial interest that we affiliate with.”

But in 2015, when a trusted contact in the wine industry approached AWS about an affiliation with a travel agency for a wine tourism trip, the society discovered that all its boxes were ticked.

“Wine tourism is something that we felt would be of interest to our members,” Falchek says. “And it didn’t require much effort on our part, other than promoting it to our members through emails and our newsletter. And it benefited [AWS] because for every person who bought a travel package, we would receive a percentage of it.”

And so the AWS River Cruise for Wine Lovers was born. The cruise will depart Budapest, Hungary, on April 13, 2017, and glide along the Danube River for seven nights, stopping at destinations like Bratislava, Slovakia; Vienna, Austria; and Passau, Germany. Travelers will enjoy access to unlimited wine aboard, as well as special tours and tastings on terra firma. Wine experts Paul Wagner and Madeline Triffon will accompany AWS wine tourists.

The cruise organizers will pay AWS a portion of the fee for each wine tourist who registers with a special AWS code. The society expects to bring in $30,000 in nondues revenue from the program this year.

“We were able to net as much from this effort as we do from running our national conference,” Falchek says.

Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. More »

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