The McGregor Vineyard Clan Club
By Michael Welch
Imagine having 1,200 brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins and more distant relatives. For members of the McGregor Clan Club, this is what a “wine family” looks like, with Bob and Marge McGregor as the original Mom and Dad.
Their son John and his wife Stacy now run the shop and Bob and Marge have become Grandma and Grandpa. Like any proud parents, they look at what they’ve created with joy.
They started the wine club two decades ago, with hopes of generating customer loyalty and some upfront seasonal funding for their vineyard on Keuka Lake. Just as importantly, the club would be a way for them to stay connected to the people supporting their business; through newsletters, social events and barrel tastings, they let everyone know the happenings of the casks on Dutch street.
Calling it a clan, the Scottish word for “family,” they have watched it become bigger than they ever imagined.
As in any family, seniority is held like a badge of honor. Some even know where they are in the order, like Paul DeSteo, who proudly states that he is number 88. “We were there for a tasting one year and heard that number 3 was coming.Well, we were all eager to meet him!”
Several years ago, on a whim, Bob McGregor offered a “lifetime membership” package: $700 guaranteed a space at the family table for the rest of your days. For those who jumped on it, it has turned out to be a great arrangement. The bottles of wine keep coming, month after month.
Financially, it turned out less than great for the McGregors, especially with some members living well into their 80s.
“We love our lifetimers, but we won’t be doing that again,” John Mc- Gregor says with a smile. “Some have even asked if they can pass the membership on to their children.” Sadly for the offspring, the deal ends in this lifetime.
In addition to doorstep deliveries of wine half a dozen times a year, being part of this clan has another perk: Stacy McGregor’s cooking. She runs the kitchen at the vineyard and turns out specialties for member events, making sure that the dishes suit the wines poured in the tasting room. Her eyes light up when she talks about visiting the nearby Amish farms for fresh produce.
“All the kids come running when they see me, their hands filled with salad greens,” she says. “I’ll take that back to the vineyard and toss up a spinach salad with a red wine vinaigrette. Cooking for the members, is exactly like making dinner for a big family.” Other menus feature brasciole, grilled scallops and garlic scapes, crusted haddock with tomatoes and lemon oil, and plenty of chocolate and cheese platters.
With a family this large, there are bound to be members with strained relationships. There’s rumor of one couple, or ex-couple now that the divorce is final, who keep their distance at the vineyard—but also keep their membership.
Ask any of the members about the annual picnic and stories start flowing.
“It’s the best,” enthuses Terry DeSteo, who is a member through marriage (Paul #88). “We make it every year. Last year it poured rain the entire time but we came anyway. Imagine over 400 people slipping and sliding on the hill. Another time the McGregors were surprised so many of us showed up. Bob ran out of food twice! He had to make extra trips to the store to feed us all!”
Heartiness is a distinguishing feature of the McGregor tribe. Getting to the vineyard is no picnic. It’s an uphill and windy battle off the main road. “Buses can have a really hard time,” John says. Once there, if you drink a little too much Riesling or Rob Roy, be prepared to relieve yourself the way the old Scots did, outside.
There are wine clubs across the world, offering the usual discounts and member newsletters, but few that stand by their winery like this one does. Only 1 percent of wine sales at McGregor’s are off premises. The rest are purchased at the tasting room or through the club membership.
All the incentives for joining the clan aside, these folks come back year after year because what’s in the bottles is worth it. The McGregors are known for their unique, hearty red wines that defy the stigma that only thin, light bodied reds come out of the Finger Lakes. Using vines sourced from the OldWorld in the Republic of Georgia, their Black Russian draws great reviews and sells out every year, mostly to clan members who have access to it before anyone else.
The growth of the clan has its challenges for John, though he clearly cherishes each and every member.
“Some of these people have known me since I was a little kid, they’ve watched me grow up,” he says. “I do my best to remember all of their names, but with 1,200 of them now, it’s getting pretty hard.”
A comment anyone might make before a giant family reunion.
This article originally appeared in our Spring 2008 edition.