Wed 23 Mar 2016

Behind The Scenes: The Society’s List


The Society’s List has been the backbone of The Society’s communications since the founding days in the 1870s; consistently produced over 140 years, through two World Wars and times of economic triumph and tragedy.

The Wine Society List covers

Technology hasn’t made the List obsolete but instead has complemented it rather nicely. We quite often receive a little flurry of tweets from members showing photos of their new List arriving with all the anticipation of the various delights lying within just waiting to be discovered.

I’m told some members even read it in bed but I’ve yet to verify this personally.

The production of each List follows a relatively similar pattern, though some editions are typically more challenging than others – often due to Bank Holidays (good luck trying to find sober proof readers between Christmas and the New Year!). The plans start about four months before the List is due to be mailed, which means that – a bit like painting the Forth Bridge or cleaning skyscraper windows – the wider List process never truly stops.

After initial briefing meetings and setting up various bits of software, the first major step is when the buyers select the wines and write all the tasting notes. It’s very important to the quality of the List and integrity of The Society that the wine notes are written by those who buy the wine. It wouldn’t be a huge stretch to employ someone who had never been out of the office let alone having actively sought out these wines to cobble together a bunch of formulaic tasting notes. This does not and will never happen.

Wine Society list covers

Some buyers are masters of the short note, an art form in itself, while others could take up pages for just a few wines. The buyers all have their own personalities which often come through in their choice of adjectives and rhetorical flourishes. ‘Ethereal’ and ‘beguiling’ are two of my particular favourite adjectives used, but over the years we’ve had mention of everything from tractors to members of the clergy included within the notes.

There are three proofing circulations of the List. A paperless office is still a far and distant dream when it comes to doing this, but I hasten to add that The Society operates a variety of recycling schemes and takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously. However, I can say from experience that reading a 160-page document on a screen several times a day over the course of a week ends up in a state akin to having a lemon-juice eyebath. Sometimes the old ways really are the best!

Circulations one and two go to 16 people each, with the final authors’ corrections stage only going to four proof readers. This means that over the whole process I have to amalgamate a total of 36 copies’ worth of corrections. With each List containing c.880 wine notes, this means that by the time it goes to print I will have read somewhere in the region of 31,680 tasting notes.

Sometimes people ask me what I drink at home after the List has gone to print. Well, the answer’s beer!

Sometimes people ask me what I drink at home after the List has gone to print. Well, the answer’s beer!

One common denominator throughout the five years in which I’ve been managing the List is that we will always have too many wines to fit in the number of pages. This sounds like a negative thing but, for me, it’s the opposite: every wine in the List is permanently up against competition from new wines trying to push their way in, so for this very reason each wine has justify its space on the page.

This doesn’t mean we judge everything from a purely commercial perspective. Indeed, one of the benefits of being a non-profit maximising mutual is that we can consider interest, diversity and overall quality on an equal footing with sales figures. But quite often the end result is more wines than can fit in the pages available. This situation is otherwise known as a headache.

Not being particularly large in stature, arm wrestling as a form of problem resolution is not an option for me, so this is where our Merchandising Team comes into play. After a period of negotiation / horse trading, we usually arrive a suitable number of wines with minimal conflict!

Whilst all this has been going on, my colleague Alex Chrysostomou has been quietly getting on with the process of commissioning an artist for the List cover and internal illustrations. This can be logistically challenging, and at times more than a little surreal (he was once asked to make a fish smile). Alex also does the clever bit of taking the List and forming into something that works in our publishing / content management system so that it can be set and printed.

'Can you make it smile?' The (comparatively) infamous April 2013 artwork

‘Can you make it smile?’ The (comparatively) infamous April 2013 artwork

Then there are the logistics of segmenting over 140k active members, ensuring that the printers deliver in time to the mailing house, making sure the mailing house sends out the Lists according to schedule and a 101 other things that have to happen involving six external companies and just about every department within The Wine society before it drops through your letterbox.

So on behalf of all my colleagues who are vital in producing this Wine Society staple, we hope that you continue to enjoy using The Wine Society List and of course welcome your feedback.

Gareth Park
Marketing Campaign Manager

Categories : Miscellaneous


  1. John Scott says:

    I have been a member for a number of years and have introduced a few others to the Wine Society as I think it is a great organisation.

    Something that has been bothering me for a while as I have my own business and know only too well the cost of producing brochures is I would rather you save money by not sending me stuff through the post. It goes straight in the recycling as I only read your online output and buy wine that way as well. I appreciate that many members may like having a catalogue and getting promotions via the post but you could save money by only sending to those people who want them.

    You can email members with an opt in to receiving post as the default so one has to decide to have the no post option. Worth a try just to see how many are happy with online contact only.


  2. Colin Forbes says:


    This is a very interesting post to me, a publisher / communications consultant who was once co-opted on to the committee to advise on producing the List and other TWS communications.

    It sounds like you could use a collaborative tool like Google docs to help with the proofing process!

    Also I would suggest that the list be available as a searchable pdf on the website as an alternative to html. Some people just prefer to look at a pdf which can be downloaded, e.g. on to an iPad or equivalent.

    I understood that TWS used to offer an opt out of receiving print material, but the list was an exception. Personally speaking, I do like to receive the list through the post – and yes, i do read it in bed. (No I’m not offering any verification of that …) But maybe now the time has come to offer an opt out from the list?
    Let me know if I can be of any further help.

  3. Jane Angus says:

    Dear Editor,
    As a Member of the Society of Indexers, I deeply sympathise with the struggles in reaching the final proof-reading and the relief of saying ‘good-bye’ to what, in your case, is a helpful and informative series of publications. Thank you for your efforts so that I do not have to sit at the work computer, but may rather contemplate a ‘clean’ and permanent text over supper and make choices as a pleasant distraction away from lesser print-outs. With best wishes to all your teams, Jane Angus

  4. John Kneale says:

    I am one of those sad people who read the list in bed. My frequent communications with the Society are invariably on line, and I agree the time is near when paper should be optional. My wife tells me that she must see Janet’s recipes and comments on paper!

    Congratulations to those who produce the lists.

  5. Paul Woods says:

    This would be way bigger than the Brexit decision for most TWS members.
    We surely need more facts ,time for lengthy reflection and widespread consultation before we can possibly allow such a radical suggestion as the offer of a voluntary opt out from receiving the printed list being put to individuals in order to save money. This is definitely an issue where we should not rush to judgment.

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