These days, it’s easy to find good, great and even exceptional wines in Wine Country. The problem is how do you get the wine you like onto your dining room table? If you live in the area of wineries you like, this really isn’t a problem at all. You simply buy some wine, load it into your car and drive home. But for those less fortunate and for those who like to include wine tasting in their travel plans, especially overseas, getting the wine home is tricky.
Wine clubs Wine clubs are one way to solve the dilemma. If you live in a state that allows out-of-state shipping (most of them, these days) joining a club means that wine will show up on your doorstep at regular intervals, usually four times a year. This is, after all, the raison d’etre of these clubs in the first place. It benefits the winery to be sure, but there’s a lot of benefit to the buyer as well, especially if you are a collector and are willing to let some of the wine age for a bit.
The problem – and this is a common theme – is the shipping cost. Almost all clubs offer you a discount (20% is common) but the cost of getting the wine to you often cuts, if not wipes out, the discount. Some wine clubs are becoming sensitive to this and are offering special deals and flat rate shipping, but this only benefits the individuals who buy in volume. For example, a $15 shipping charge for three bottles adds five dollars to the price of every bottle. That’s cost is not unusual.
Shipping services The wine clubs are great if you want a case a year from one producer. But if you are on a wine tasting trip, you are more likely to buy one bottle from each of twelve wineries than twelve bottle from just one. Here’s where shipping services come into play. Of course, there are UPS and FedEx and they are usually present in the towns of Wine Country. But check first; not every common carrier has a license to ship alcohol and those that do don’t have it in every office.
Another alternative is specialized shippers whose primary business is to send wine home to people just like you. They specialize in packing and shipping delicate freight, i.e., wine bottles. A few that we have used are Fitch Mountain in Healdsburg, Buffalo’s Shipping Post in Napa and Safe Haven Wine Services in Paso Robles. A quick Google search will help you find more shippers wherever you may be going.
A variant on these services is to let your hotel take care of it for you. Many have arrangements with shipping services that allow you to bring your bottles to the front desk, fill out some inventory forms and they take care of the rest. It’s very convenient and we’ve never had any troubles using the service from hotels we have stayed in. But it is a bit nerve-wracking to leave your precious cargo in the hands of a hotel clerk.
The process of these services runs around $60 per case. In other words, you’re back to adding five bucks to each bottle. If you are proud of a fabulous little low-priced gem you found somewhere, an additional $5 takes away much of the bargain.
Lug it yourself There is the option of carrying your wine home yourself. The economics make sense. Almost any winery will sell you a foam insulated box for under $10. So fill it yourself and take it with you. It may cost you another $25 to include the box with your luggage, so you might be saving $25 in total. And, oh yes, remember to bring packing tape and scissors with you.
That may be good for your wallet but it’s bad for your back. You have to get the wine into the back seat of your car (in summer at any rate; in winter it can go in the trunk), out of the car and into the terminal and then reverse the process on the other end when you land. If your car is a rental, there’s one additional step. Don’t even think about sending wine as luggage if you have a stop on your itinerary.
You are also subject to the tender mercies of two sets of baggage handlers. For the most part, bottles we have taken home this way have arrived intact, but there have been some sad counter-examples. When we travel to Europe, we generally limit our purchases to the legal limit (four bottles per couple), wrap the bottles in bubble wrap that we have brought from home and put them in our luggage. We have had no horror stories thus far, but time will tell.