Shipping wine can be a delicate and tricky business. Since a 2005 decision by the Supreme Court, more and more states have allowed out-of-state licensed wineries and wine brokers to ship wine. In fact, only five states (Delaware, Kentucky, Alabama, Oklahoma and Utah) now prohibit the inter-state shipment of wine, according to the Wine Institute, the advocacy group for California’s wineries and affiliated businesses.
Once the legal hurdles of mailing have been overcome, licensed wine shippers have an even more difficult task: safely getting the fruits of their labors into the glasses of those who want to appreciate them.
Here are a few tips for making that happen:
Upright or Flat?
Experts recommend shipping most wines standing up. For older wines that have been aged on their sides, Wickman’s Fine Wine Auctions advises laying them flat. They have this advice: “If you have a collection of premium, good quality wine and you are certain of the purchase and storage history (provenance) and if you know it has been lying flat, undisturbed, then you can confidently ship it lying flat. However, wine that has not been stored in cellar-like conditions or in temperature control should be shipped standing upright as poorly stored bottles are more likely to leak if shipped lying flat.”
The Right Box
The right box for shipping wine is a strong, corrugated cardboard box with dividers designed to protect the bottles. Choose a box with a thick outer shell and sturdy separators if you’re shipping the wine standing upright. Do not use boxes that intended for other purposes. They won’t be able to protect and support the weight of a full box loaded with heavy wine bottles. Shipping this way can lead to wet and disappointed wine customers. “Multiple wine bottles in a box can be heavy and hard to handle, an undesirable combination for fragile items,” points out uShip’s Joseph Ho in a blog post for Grape Thinking. For those concerned with the safety and security of those shipments, we recommend sealing the bottom with water-activated tape. It offers the additional benefit of being reinforced with fiberglass fibers and provides a superior bond with the box.
The Right Protection Inside the Box
Make sure the bottles are tightly corked. This makes sure corks don’t loosen during shipping. A good preventive measure is to secure corks with wire cork cages. This is especially important for sparkling wines.
Wrap the bottles in two to three sheets of paper, rolling the bottle forward. As you roll, mold the top of the paper to the bottle's neck to ensure that it's well-wrapped. Then secure the paper with tape.
Place each wrapped bottle into the cell-divided box and make sure the bottoms of the bottles are well-protected. To ensure the bottles don’t move around in transit, fill the voids with air pillows.
Before fully permanently sealing the box, shake it gently to make sure you don’t hear the bottles clanging together. If the bottles are moving around too much, add extra packing paper or more air pillows to fill the gaps.
Closing it up and sending it on its way
Once you're satisfied that the bottles are secure and stable, tape the box closed with water-activated tape for safety and security. This tape offers the extra protection of being tamper-proof. Add a “fragile” label in addition to the address label.
Be sure to advise the shipper you’re using of the box’s contents and urge them to keep the temperature as low as possible during transport. Ideally, the wine should be kept at 55°F to prevent damage. Some carriers have climate controlled vehicles which is a great option. And one final caution: Do not ship wines during periods of continuous hot weather.
Following these tips offers you the best assurance that the wines the vintner carefully crafted deliver the taste, aroma and experience the consumer wants to savor.