About Bright Cellars
Wisconsin-based Bright Cellars was founded by a pair of guys in Massachusetts: Richard Yau and Joe Laurendi. The two entrepreneurs were tired of other wine services that sent you random bottles of wine without thinking about the average person’s taste preferences.
So, the pair combined their business experience and computer smarts (both guys went to MIT) to create a subscription service that’s more like Pandora. You choose what flavors and styles you like and Bright Cellars sends you wines you’ll supposedly like.
If you’re like us, your answer is probably going to be, “No,” and you need help in the form of a website like Bright Cellars.
That doesn’t mean you can’t tell the difference between a cabernet sauvignon and a pinot grigio, but it most likely means that you find yourself at a loss when you’re standing in front of hundreds of bottles of wine at the local grocery store.
Thankfully, the past few years have seen a rise in wine subscription services like Bright Cellars. Basically, you go to their website, answer a few questions about your taste preferences and then choose a few wines from a curated list.
Within minutes, your first shipment of wine has been ordered, and each month after that you get a new batch of reds and whites…or maybe all reds or all whites.
All that confusion and stress you feel about choosing the right wine? These subscription services take away the hassle and make life easy for your taste buds.
According to Bright Cellars’ website, they have a “passion for wine” and their goal is to “help you discover wine.”
Our goal in this review is to walk you through who Bright Cellars is, what you can expect from their service, what you need to know about their ordering and return policy, a little bit about their wines and a section on what people are saying about their Bright Cellars experience.
What Can You Expect From a Bright Cellars Buying Experience?
A look at Bright Cellar's Wine Quiz
The key to this website’s Pandora-style wine selection is a seven-question quiz all new users complete before buying their first shipment. Each question has six answers from which to choose (ours are in parenthesis):
- What is the one type of chocolate you could eat for the rest of your life? (Milk chocolate)
- How do you like your tea? (Iced and sweet)
- What’s your-go to drink? (Whiskey/scotch)
- What is your favorite juice? (Orange)
- What is your favorite wine pairing? (Your group of close friends)
- How adventurous are you with new food and drink? (I’m here to try delicious, unique wine. Surprise me!)
- Do you have a preference for red or white wines? (Mostly red wines, but I’ll try an interesting white.)
Bright Cellar's wine recommendations based on the quiz
All in all, we were pretty satisfied with the suggestions. Based on our quiz answers, we were fairly impressed with the wine suggestions they gave us. The sangiovese excited us because it looked like it had some pretty big flavors. The merlots, not so much based on our own personal preference. We were pleased with the rosé because it wasn’t a white wine (our quiz answer indicated we preferred reds) but it was still lighter than the other choices.
Just to test out the quiz’s ability to detect subtle changes, we went through the questions again and answered everything the same way except the first question, which we changed from milk chocolate to dark chocolate. We assumed we’d get different results since dark chocolate is drier and more bitter than milk chocolate, but to no avail.
So, we took another crack at the quiz and changed three of the seven answers we gave the first time: dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, tea brewed strong instead of iced and sweet, and drinking with a good book instead of good friends.
Those are some pretty big changes in our flavor profile. But guess what? We got the exact same results at the end of the test. In our opinion, the Bright Cellars flavor quiz isn’t really an effective judge of your taste preferences.
We talked with a Bright Cellars representative about this, and she said the company encourages members to rate the wines they drink. Doing so helps Bright Cellars further refine your taste profile and match you with wines more aligned to your preferences.
“We ask our members to rate each wine and that helps us fine tune algorithm,” the representative said.
What Are Bright Cellars’ Ordering and Return Policies?
To get an idea of Bright Cellars’ pricing and return policies, we clicked on the “Start Your Experience Now” button at the bottom of their post-quiz wine recommendations.
The Price of the Wines
The following page showed us the prices for each wine: $15. The total for the whole order was $68 ($8 for shipping). We were told that we saved $20 (5 bucks per bottle).
So, here’s the big thing to remember about wine subscription services, especially Club W and Bright Cellars: most of the wines they sell aren’t available anywhere else. What does that mean for us wine drinkers? We have no idea whether or not $15 is a fair price for Bright Cellars’ wine. We couldn’t find any store or site selling the wines suggested to us.
Here’s another way to think about it: You got a boutique shop to buy European chocolate. The shop owner says you can’t get his chocolate anywhere else; he’s managed to cut out all the middlemen and provide you the chocolate direct from the supplier in Europe.
Like any good consumer in our modern world, you take a second to Google the name of the chocolate. You can’t find it anywhere. There’s absolutely no way to know how much it’s worth. If the same chocolate was sold in supermarkets, you could cross-check the price and see that “middleman markup”, but you can’t. It’s the salesman’s word against your intuition.
We feel like that’s what’s happening with wine subscription services. You can’t compare prices, so you either believe the website is giving you great wine at a great price, or you don’t.
As a side note, one way to cut down on the per-bottle cost of your shipment is to get your friends to sign up via a link Bright Cellars gives you. As your friends sign up, you get bonus (free) bottles sent to you with your monthly shipment.
What Happens If You Want to Return Your Wine?
Let’s start this section off by stating the obvious: no matter how accurate a wine quiz is and no matter how many reviews you do, you’re bound to get a wine you don’t like.
We called Bright Cellars customer service line to get the details on their return policy (at the time of research, it wasn’t available on their website).
The representative we talked with said that, if you want to send a bottle of wine back because you didn’t want it, you’ll have to float the shipping cost. However, she said, Bright Cellars gives you a three-day notice telling you what wines will be shipped, so you can swap out something you don’t like before it’s sent.
If you don’t to go through the hassle of returning a bottle, you can contact Bright Cellars to let them know you didn’t like one of their wines and they’ll send you a bonus bottle as a sort of refund for your subpar experience.
That leads us to our next question: How many subpar experiences have people had with Bright Cellars wine and/or policies?
What are the People and Publications Saying About Bright Cellars?
Buying wine based on other people’s reviews is a very tricky proposition. Because each of us interprets a wine’s taste in our unique way, what tastes horrible to one person may taste amazing to another person. So, we think the best way to read reviews is to stick with what people say about the packaging/presentation of the wine and their experiences with customer service.
At the end of 2015, foodie website Eater reviewed four wine subscription services; Bright Cellars was one of them.
Writer Caroline Helper (@ForgetBurgundy) gave Bright Cellars high marks for their packaging (brown box with Bright Cellars logo, wine wrapped in blue tissue paper), but noted that she wasn’t too excited about the wines the site suggested after she took the quiz.
“The wines that were selected for me didn’t make my pulse race, but for a novice drinker, they seem like solid choices,” Caroline said. “(It’s) good place to start if you literally have no idea what you like and want to figure it out.”
On the consumer side of things, review website Site Jabber had eight reviews, resulting in an overall rating of 2 stars, with only two of the eight reviewers saying they’d recommend it to a friend.
Half of the customers gave the site a 1-star rating, citing shipping issues, wrong wines, spoiled wines and frustration that the quiz gave the same recommendations despite changing some answers.
On the bright side, customers who gave the site 4 or 5 stars said they enjoyed the wines and the customer service experience: “I would definitely recommend Bright Cellars to people who enjoy wine,” one reviewer wrote.
Our Conclusions About Bright Cellars Wine Club
Let’s do a quick recap. Bright Cellars sends you four wines a month based on the answers you provide during a seven-question quiz. When you go to their site to rate the wines you received, they fine tune their recommendations based on your ratings.
It’s hard to figure how much their wines are worth because, in our case, we couldn’t find anyone selling the wines suggested to us. Were we being overcharged for unimpressive bottles or were we getting a bargain on great wines? It’s hard to give a straight answer.
Bright Cellars does an excellent job of packaging their wines, which is a great way to get customers excited about their purchase. Sure, heading to your local supermarket or liquor has some intrigue, but it can’t really match the fun of opening up a Bright Cellars box and unveiling interesting bottles of wine wrapped in cool tissue paper.
As was our experience with Club W, it’s actually pretty exciting to open your wine shipment even though you already know exactly what you’re getting.
On the flip side, though, customers have complained about shipping issues and, in the case of one review and our own experience, a taste quiz that’s not exactly precise.
Should you sign up for Bright Cellars? That’s a question you’ll have to answer on your own, especially since wine is something that’s so unique to each person. One Bright Cellars wine could taste amazing to you, but not to your friends. The key with websites like Bright Cellars is that they make account maintenance (choosing your deliver, cancelling your subscription) as easy as possible and choosing wines as fun as possible.
If you don’t think that Bright Cellars offers those two things, you can always take a look at other wine subscription services like Club W (read our review here), Firstleaf or Wine Awesomeness. Find out which ones resonate with you and go from there.
If we could give you one overall piece of advice, it’s this: the wines you get from any of the subscription services we mentioned will cost you, at the very least, $13 a bottle. If you’re hesitant about joining these wine clubs, set a budget for yourself ($10 per bottle, for example) and head to your local grocery store or wine shop.
Pick a varietal that sounds interesting to you (cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, pinot grigio, Riesling) and buy a bottle. Take it home – or a to a picnic or party – and drink it. Make notes on your phone about what you liked and didn’t like. Next time you go on a wine run, try the same varietal at the same price but from a different winery.
Or, you have the option of working through different varietals from one winery. If you’re looking for an affordable brand, try Yellow Tail. It’s Australian, basic and the most popular imported wine in the United States.
If Yellow Tail bores you after a while, take a modest step up and try the various varietals from Cupcake Vineyards, a popular brand at around $10 per bottle. Once you get your legs under you, branch out to other wineries and varietals you haven’t tried.