"In Austin, we had a group of people who would meet once a month to taste and discuss wines," Hooper says. "We wanted something like that here as well."
"Our wine-tasting group in Austin had a structured and educational aspect to it," Brown says. "There was a group discussion led by a wine professional who helped us understand and communicate what we were tasting or experiencing with the wines. He or she also chose the wines for us without our input."
Eventually Brown and Hooper started their own wine club in Memphis with friends from work and church. Their group is a mix of individuals who have been drinking and seeking out wines for quite some time, as well as those who haven't been into wine for that long.
"Our Memphis wine group is less structured than our Austin group, more focused on tasting a wide range of wines and more social," Hooper says. "We focus on in-depth dives into specific regions or varietals, but we also try to emphasize the aspect of wine in our daily lives."
According to Brown and Hooper, no one in their club makes anyone feel uncomfortable because he or she doesn't have enough wine knowledge. And, much like book or supper clubs, it's mostly an excuse to get together with others who have a common interest. The group "themes" each club meeting, so that they continue to expand their palates and wine knowledge.
"We are learning what we like and what to buy for daily drinking, special occasions, and cellaring," Brown explains.
Like any club, the logistics must be in place before the enjoyment can begin.
"When we set out to develop this wine group, there were quite a few things that needed to be worked out before the first glass was poured," Hooper says. "First, the ground rules had to be laid, such as how frequently we would meet and a regular meeting date/time. Establishing the dues and that the dues were an obligation whether one attended or not were very important. We also had to determine what the goals of the members were in relation to what expectations were."
Determining the format was especially important, Hooper says. "We decided on a potluck format where members would bring foods that each believed would go well with the wines. Last was buying the equipment such as glasses, water pitchers, spit buckets, pourers, etc."
Brown and Hooper's wine club has been meeting since late 2005 and is still going strong. The meetings have a clear focus on what's being tasted and why, but that doesn't mean members don't have a good time doing it.
Recently, I attended one of their tastings. The theme was "A Tour of Tuscany." We tasted nine wines in groups of three, with some extra wines that others had brought to be tasted alongside. The wines themselves were a cross-section of what Tuscany has to offer in terms of quality and price. Members passed the bottles around and poured for themselves.
The conversation was constant: "I could drink this wine every day." "You know, I really don't care for this one." One taster exclaimed, "Oh, I really like this wine!" To which another responded, "Of course you do. It's the most expensive one!"
Toscolo Vernaccia di San Gimignano
2007, Tuscany, $17.99
Il Molino Il Volano 2006, Tuscany,
Colognole Chianti Rufina 2003, Tuscany,
Caparzo Rosso di Montalcino 2005,
Poggio alle Sughere Splendido 2001,
Le Macioche Brunello di Montalcino
2001, Tuscany, $75.99