Wine Society

Wine Society

The Wine Society is the world's oldest wine club [ [ Wine on the Web] ] having been founded at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 4th August 1874. [Edmund Penning-Rowsell: "A Short History of The Wine Society", 1989] The Wine Society was created and still operates as a co-operative with each member owning one share. After more than 133 years The Wine Society continues to be owned solely by its members and trades only with them.


The International Exhibition Co-operative Wine Society Limited, which is more commonly referred to simply as The Wine Society, was established in London in 1874.

The foundation of The Wine Society followed the last of the great Annual International Exhibitions. Various countries had sent large quantities of wine in cask to the exhibition to be stored in the cellars of the Royal Albert Hall, but visitors to the exhibition were unaware of its presence. With no return to show for their investment, the growers from Portugal appealed to the British Government for assistance. In response to this, a series of lunches was held to publicise the wines. The organisers of this publicity drive were the "Committee of Gentlemen" that would become the founding fathers of The Wine Society:

Major-General Henry Scott was one of the architects of the Royal Albert Hall and Secretary to the Great Exhibition Commissioners. After many of the lunch guests expressed an interest in purchasing wine, Major-General Scott proposed the setting up of "a co-operative company" to buy good quality wines on a regular basis to sell to members. He served as The Wine Society's first Treasurer until his death in 1883.

R. Brudenell Carter F.R.C.S. was a Fellow of the Medical Society of London and worked as an ophthalmic surgeon at St. George's Hospital. He had previously served as a staff surgeon during the Crimean War. Carter replaced Major-General Scott as Treasurer and in 1895 became The Wine Society's second Chairman. He remained a member of the Committee until his death at the age of 90. More than anyone else, Carter was responsible for the supervision and conduct of The Wine Society during its first forty years.

George E. Scrivenor, a senior Customs and Excise official, became the first Honorary General Manager and did much of the early day-to-day work of The Wine Society until another appointment forced his resignation in 1876.

Although there is no evidence explaining why Major-General Scott suggested following the example of the Rochdale Pioneers to form a co-operative society rather than a joint stock company, the founding members' aim was to buy wines direct from growers to ensure their authenticity and quality and to offer them to members at fair prices.

The "Objects of the Society" were originally published as follows:

* "To purchase and import Foreign Wines, and to sell them at cheap rates to Members of the Society."
* "To introduce, in addition to the Wines in general domestic use, other Foreign Wines hitherto unknown or but little known in this country."
* "To endeavour to obtain Wines direct from the growers, in a pure, unadulterated condition, and, as far as possible, free from added spirit."
* "The Society is enrolled under the Industrial and Provident Societies' Act, 1876."
* "The Interest of a Member is limited to One Share."
* "No Dividend will at any time be payable on the Shares, which will form the Working Capital of the Society."
* "Wines will be sold at the lowest possible price, and for ready money only."

The first Chairman of The Wine Society was Norman MacLeod, the 25th Chief of the Clan MacLeod. The first Trustee was Earl Spencer K.G, the Liberal statesman, who had also been one of the Great Exhibition Commissioners.

Other famous members during The Wine Society's early years included Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, the Rt Hon Earl Russell, Sir Henry Wood and Alexander Fleming.

The Wine Society grew gradually and, without any external shareholders to consider, surplus trading profits were used to provide better services to members and to increase the value of its wines.

By 1965 The Wine Society was operating out of three separate cellars in London: one under the London Palladium, one at Joiner Street under London Bridge Station and one at St. James's Bond in Rotherhithe (which flooded at high tide).

In 1965, thanks to the foresight of the then chairman Edmund Penning-Rowsell, The Wine Society moved to more suitable premises in Stevenage to the north of London, where all its operations have since been concentrated.

The freehold of the Stevenage site was eventually acquired, adjacent land purchased, a fleet of own delivery vans built up, and 175,000 square feet of temperature-controlled warehouses built to contain some four million bottles of wine. [ [] ]

The Wine Society has over 90,000 active members who together spend more than 1 million GBP per week, and a list made up of 1,000 wines from 20 countries. [ [] ]


Only members of The Wine Society are able to purchase its wines. The Wine Society still elects new members, who may be proposed either by other existing members or by The Wine Society's Company Secretary. The cost of buying a share in The Wine Society is currently 40 GBP. [ [ The Wine Society] ] This provides lifetime membership and a share can be bequeathed to a friend or family member.

Wine Buyers

The Wine Society's six buyers, who have been referred to as "some of the best noses in the business", [ [ Wine on the Web] ] are briefed to buy only wines that they are enthusiastic about from producers who share their passion for quality at all price levels. [ [ The Wine Society] ]

The team includes two Masters of Wine: Sebastian Payne MW, the Chief Wine Buyer, and Joanne Locke MW, the current chair of the Institute of Masters of Wine.

According to Charles Metcalfe of the International Wine Challenge, "much of The Society's success is down to the buyers - truffle-snufflers, experts at finding interesting parcels from smaller producers and not buying for the sake of fashion." [ [ The Wine Society] ]


The board of The Wine Society is known as the Committee and it consists of up to 13 members. Eight are elected by the membership; one is the Chief Executive; and up to another four may be co-opted for limited periods by the eight elected members. The elected members appoint from their number the Chairman and Deputy Chairman (known as the Officers).

The Committee has responsibility to the members for the direction of the business, with day to day management in the hands of an executive team led by the Chief Executive. [ [ The Wine Society] ]


*Edmund Penning-Rowsell: "A Short History of The Wine Society", 1989

See also

*Glossary of wine terms
*History of wine
*List of grape varieties
*Classification of wine
*Wine tasting

External links

* [ The Wine Society]
* [ The Wine Society of India]

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