How to Ship Wine: Use Full-Service Shipments for Added Safety

How to Ship Wine

Individual Styrofoam shippers that wrap around the bottle are the safest insulators for your wine. Photo Credit: Flickr CC user mycobond

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 As someone who, when I was younger, used to buy wine exclusively at my favorite shop down the street from my house, I never thought that I’d need to know how to ship wine. However, everything changed for me when I decided to order my first bottle online. Suddenly, I was faced with tough decisions like whether shipping insurance was worth the extra fee, and whether my wine should be overnighted or shipped in the next three days instead.

Nearly every collector will have to learn how to ship wine at one point or another. Whether you need to move your bottles to a brand new cellar, or you’re ordering rare bottles of wine online for the first time, safe shipments should be your number one priority. The collectors who have the most success when shipping their wine usually understand the common risks associated with shipments from the beginning, and work to prevent them every step of the way.

The Risks of Shipping Wine

Deciding how to ship wine is far more complex than you might imagine; it’s not enough to simply place your bottles in a box and send it off to its destination. A number of shipping factors can put your bottles at risk, including poor handling, exposure to the elements, excessive vibration, and lost packages. The rarer or more valuable your bottles are, the riskier shipping gets since you have more to lose. This is why it’s important only to ship your wine if it’s absolutely necessary. For instance, keeping your wine in a separate storage warehouse, rather than at your house, can save you multiple shipping trips over the decades. Whenever you move, your wine can stay in the same location, which reduces the risks associated with transporting your collection.

However, chances are you’ll need to learn how to ship wine eventually, especially if you’re ordering bottles online. Here are some of the risks you’ll need to be aware of before you ship your first bottle:

Broken Bottles

If your wine isn’t handled properly due to unclear labeling on the package, it could break in-transit. However, even if your bottles are handled with the utmost care by shipping personnel, bottles can still get broken if they’re packaged without enough cushioning inside of the shipping box.

The Elements

Wine shipments face a unique challenge: sensitivity to the heat and the cold. If a wine gets too warm, either due to the temperature outside or even bright lights in the shipping warehouse, it will taste cooked when you finally open it. Likewise, if a wine gets too cold, its flavor development temporarily shuts down, or it could freeze–this is a problem for wines that you plan on drinking soon. In addition, both the heat and the cold can cause the cork to expand and contract, which could result in premature oxidation.

Vibration

Like wine that’s been exposed to the cold for too long, the wine vibration effects that occur during a shipment can result in a dull-tasting wine; this dull taste can last for days, and sometimes even weeks. Unfortunately, there will always be some mild vibration no matter how careful you are with your bottle shipments. That said, you can prevent most vibration by using specialized packaging, which will absorb some of the “bottle shock.”

Lost Shipments

As with any other kind of shipment, your package could get lost in the warehouse, or even get sent to the wrong address. This is a very rare occurrence, but you’ll still want to be prepared with a full-coverage insurance plan before your wine ships.

The best way to ship wine is to use full-service shipping, which offers specific solutions to each of the potential risks above. A great shipping company will package your wine in a way that prevents vibration, breakage, and temperature fluctuation as much as possible, and will compensate you in the event that your wine doesn’t arrive at its destination safely.

Insulate Your Bottles

Proper insulation resolves both the vibration problem and the risk of exposing wine to the elements. However, some insulation methods are better than others. If you use the wrong type of shipper during extreme weather conditions, your wine is at risk.

For instance, a Wine Berserkers forum member ordered Aubert wine during a Napa Valley heat wave, but he didn’t find out what type of insulation the shipper would use until it was too late. Rather than individually packing the wine in Styrofoam, he says the shipper used a roomier egg carton-style cardboard insulation instead. Even with temperatures reaching nearly 90 degrees outside, the shipping company kept the wine inside the hot truck for about 13 hours. What’s more, the collector says he wasn’t able to reorder new bottles of the wine, since the winery had already sold out its stock for that particular vintage. You can often get compensation or a refund for spoiled wine, but you can’t always replace the wine itself. For the rarest, most collectible vintages, this is a serious problem.

One wine enthusiast did an experiment and found that Styrofoam shippers (which wrap all the way around the wine bottle) held the temperature of liquid inside a bottle steady for a much longer period of time compared to cardboard “egg” shippers or pulp shippers. If possible, you should request your wine to be shipped inside of Styrofoam, rather than cardboard, especially during the summer heat or winter cold.

How to Insulate Your Wine Yourself

Most full-service shipping companies will package your wine for you, but if you need to do this yourself, you should invest in individual Styrofoam shippers that wrap tightly around every bottle. Once you have the bottles properly wrapped, place them inside of the smallest box that will hold them, leaving no extra room for the bottles to move around. This will keep them still during the shipping process, and will keep the bottles cooler, as there’s less space inside that has to be kept cold. You should never ship your wine inside its original wooden case. Not only do wooden cases have poor insulation, they are also more likely to break if dropped.

Consider Seasonal Shipping

With proper insulation and temperature-controlled trucks, you can realistically ship your wine any time of the year without worrying about spoilage. However, if you want to know how to ship wine in the safest way possible, it’s best to do so during the spring and fall months. These are the mildest times of the year temperature-wise, which gives you a greater degree of safety. In the event that your wine isn’t insulated properly, or your shipping gets delayed, your wine won’t be exposed to the hottest or coldest temperatures.

Although it’s safer to ship your wine during the spring and fall, this isn’t always possible. You might see a supremely rare bottle of Latour that won’t stay on the market for long, and you can’t afford to wait for the weather to cooperate. Here’s how you can maximize your bottle’s safety, depending on whether you’re ordering it in the winter or the summer.

How to Ship Wine in the Winter

All you’ll need for a successful winter shipment is a heated shipping warehouse and relatively quick truck shipments. If your wine is going to spend any time sitting in a warehouse, awaiting shipment, make sure that the warehouse your shipping company uses ranges between 40 and 60 degrees in the winter. If the temperature inside drops below 32 degrees, your wine could freeze.

In addition, trucks often don’t have a heating system in the back, where the packages are stored, so you’ll need to choose the shortest shipping time available. Have your wine shipped to you first thing in the morning so that it spends as little time in the back of the truck as possible.

How to Ship Wine in the Summer

If I had to choose between shipping my wine on the coldest day of the winter versus the warmest day of the summer, I would pick the winter. That’s because summer heat is far more damaging to wine than the winter cold. In the summer, the heat can actually kill the flavors of your wine permanently. To prevent this, you should only use shipping companies that insulate your bottles properly, and, ideally, that have some temperature controls in the truck itself. And always opt for overnight shipments–even a few extra hours in the heat could damage your wine.

Get Shipping Insurance

Taking steps to insulate and package your wine properly is important, but these steps can’t always prevent every potential problem. A truck might blow a tire on the freeway, delaying your shipment by as much as a day, or your package might end up in the wrong shipping warehouse. Having shipping insurance ensures that you’ll be fairly compensated if your bottles get broken during shipping, or if they get lost entirely.

Most trustworthy online wine shops offer basic insurance on every bottle. For instance, Vinfolio automatically insures your wine up to $100 per bottle at no extra cost. You can also get additional protection for 90 cents more for every $100 in added coverage. That means if you want to ship a bottle of 2009 Margaux, it will cost you less than $45 to get that bottle fully insured. 

To get shipping insurance on your bottles, you should:

  1. Ask to see your seller’s existing, default bottle insurance policy.
  2. Calculate the full, current market value of the bottle.
  3. Get insurance that covers the entire bottle value, not just the minimum default insurance.
  4. Ask whether insurance covers handling damage, theft, fire damage, heat or cold damage, and natural disasters like earthquakes or floods.
  5. Get a copy of your insurance statement before your bottles leave the warehouse.

How to Ship Wine

Most of your wine shipments will travel by truck, plane, or temperature-controlled van. In some cases, if the wine has to travel a great distance in a short amount of time, your wine will be shipped by plane first, then transferred to a truck.

A temperature-controlled van is much faster and safer for your bottles than a regular truck, but it’s usually only available for short-distance, local shipments. It’s a good idea to choose this option over truck or plane shipments, if it’s available to you.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to ship wine by truck or plane to your home:

How to ship wine

You’ll need to be at home when your wine is set to arrive, both for legal reasons and to prevent your wine from spoiling. The driver will need your signature, and he might need to look at your ID as well to confirm that you’re of legal drinking age. You’ll also want to take your wine inside as soon as possible to prevent heat or cold damage.

Full-service storage warehouses will offer “white glove” shipping options to some of their local customers as an alternative to traditional ground or air shipments. White glove services include shipments via a temperature controlled van, with careful handling of every bottle and faster delivery times. This option is usually only available to customers located relatively close to the warehouse, rather than for bottles that need to travel a long distance. These warehouses will ship wine this way to you from your own collection, if you’re storing your wine with them, or, if they sell wine as well, from their stock. Here are the steps for these small-scale, white glove shipments:

How to ship wine

White glove shipments can keep your bottles safer than traditional ground shipments, and they usually arrive at your doorstep more quickly, which is why I always choose this method when I can.

Shipping Requires Planning

As long as you plan for the worst case scenario, you’ll never be surprised by a wine shipment gone awry. By sealing your wine using the best insulation available on the market, and ordering the fastest shipping option, you’ll prevent the vast majority of shipping problems. However, mistakes still happen, which is where wine bottle insurance becomes essential. The key to a successful wine shipment is to have as many failsafes in place as possible before your wine leaves the shipping warehouse. This will protect all of your investments, from cheap cases of Pinot Gris to your rarest bottle of Ausone.

Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storageContact us today to get access to the world’s best wine.