Marketing Matters


Bringing Wine Home

July 2008
by Kate Lavin
Wine on Airplanes
Foldable cardboard boxes from the Spirited Shipper (left), and the bubble-cushioned Wine Mummy (right), provide options for traveling wine drinkers looking for a way to get new bottles home.

  • With recent restrictions on carry-on luggage, and interstate direct shipping hit-or-miss, many travelers have been restricting purchases at wineries they visit on vacation.
  • Wineries now recommend sending wine home as checked baggage, or tucked away in suitcases.
  • Secure options for taking home purchases can help tasting rooms maintain sales, and even provide marketing opportunities.
Since 2006, when the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) adopted regulations limiting to 3 ounces the amount of liquids passengers could carry onto a plane, vacationers visiting tasting rooms--and the wineries that want their business--have been forced to get creative.

Because the option of shipping wine home is subject to state-by-state regulations that require wineries to pay governmental fees sometimes in the thousands of dollars, many wineries suggest that vacationing customers check their wine purchases as a piece of luggage or store them in their checked bags.

"Presumably, these bottles are larger than 3 ounces," TSA spokesperson Nico Melendez said, "and any liquids that are over the 3 ounces need to be checked."

The regulations that took effect in 2006 have taken a toll on wineries that sell to visiting tourists. BottleWise, a Madison, Wis.-based company that produces bags to keep bottles safe during flights, recently conducted a study, which concluded that nearly 25% of respondents no longer buy bottles of wine if they have to fly home with them.

Wine on Airplanes
Many wine shipping industry experts agree that using padded packaging and arranging it in the center of a piece of luggage rather than the edge is key to making sure bottles arrive intact.
Christi Day, spokesperson for Southwest Airlines, said a growing number of airport retailers have started to sell packaging specifically created to protect wine while in flight. But rather than subject their customers to a last-minute airport shopping frenzy, most wineries have packaging on hand for customers who live where shipping wine is not an option.

Paula Hegele, general manager of Tedeschi Vineyards in Kula, Hawaii, said that many visitors tell her their suitcases already are too full to accommodate the bottles of wine they'd like to take home--the winery offers red, white, rosé and sparkling wines, in addition to a raspberry Framboise.

And since the average price of shipping a case back to the mainland is about $60, Hegele said the winery has lost a lot of business since the current carry-on regulations took effect.

"Some states can allow for shipping, but the cost (of permits and licensing is) so huge that we could never make a profit," Hegele said. "Unfortunately the struggle of getting it home restricts your sales. People are fearful of getting in trouble when they get to the airport. It's a huge factor in deciding whether people will buy your product or not."

Still, Tedeschi Vineyards sends hundreds of non-local customers home with cases of wine each year. "We use a Styrofoam shipper," Hegele said of a product the winery buys from the California Glass Co. to ease customers' fears about packing wine bottles. "It works the best for breakage, and it provides temperature control" to keep wines cool in hot weather.

Rodney Johnson, customer service representative at California Glass (, said Styrofoam molds are popular with wineries because they come in a variety of sizes and help keep temperatures from varying quickly. The company sells an assortment of molds that hold anywhere from one to 12 bottles. "You can ship them and your bottles won't break," Johnson said. "You can ship the wine, store it, get it there in one piece."

Wine on Airplanes
The Bottlewise Duo (above) features two bags used in tandem. Wine bottles first are placed in a watertight pouch and then inserted into a larger shell made of nylon and urethane.
Other options

Wine customers, however, often are leery of Styrofoam because of its lack of biodegradability, said Bruce Cappels, owner of the Spirited Shipper, a Long Island City, N.Y., purveyor of boxes. Cappels said the number of individual customers looking to buy boxes to ship wine back home forced him to implement a minimum order. Often, customers ask him to ship boxes to the hotels where they'll be staying, so they don't have to go through the trouble of packing the empty boxes into their luggage. However, he noted, the boxes he's had patented are designed to lie flat inside suitcases and pop up to separate and protect wine bottles during travel.

Many of Cappels' customers are online wine retailers such as Super Cellars of Ridgewood, N.J. Like the wine tourism business, the wine shipping business is seasonal, the entrepreneur said, with sales spiking in the months leading up to the holidays. Though many tourists visit wineries in the summer months, some customers shy away from shipping wine at that time for fear that their orders will be damaged by the seasonal heat, Cappels said.

Bobbie Hendrickson of Vino Amici, which makes a bubble-cushioned and zip-sealed bag called the Wine Mummy, said using a padded carrier to surround wine bottles is key to keeping them intact during flight. She also cautioned customers to pack bottles in the center of their suitcases, surrounded by clothing, rather than putting bottles at the edge, where they could be cracked by overzealous baggage handlers.

Marketing manager Mary Bart echoed those sentiments while discussing Bottlewise, a brand of laptop-size bags sold in the tasting rooms of various wineries. One client, a winery in Portugal, recently ordered a shipment of bags embroidered with its logo, another way wineries can help keep their merchandise safe and advertise their product at the same time.

Dorothy Fry, co-owner and manager of Homer, Alaska-based Bear Creek Winery, said she encourages all visitors who stop by her bed-and-breakfast winery establishment to take their purchases on the plane home with them.

"They have wonderful boxes these days that are not only ecologically friendly, the boxes break down when tourists get home, and they can save them and use them for new trips. They're like egg crates, the wine bottles can just lie down," she said.

Fry said she found a system to get customers home with their wines after years of trying to navigate the interstate-delivery system. "The shipping is a logistical nightmare" for small wineries, Fry said, citing the paperwork and fees involved. "My husband and I are making the wine, producing, bottling; we do the gift shop and run a bed-and-breakfast. It's mostly a two-man show, and there's no time to do that other paperwork."

Years ago, Fry said, she ordered packaging from a Napa, Calif.-based company, and though the cost for the boxes totaled just $800, the company charged her $1,500 to ship the order to Homer, located 200 miles south of Anchorage.

"Living in Alaska, it's hard to get things; it's really expensive. There are a lot of people that won't even ship up here," she said. "But we found another source, which is much better."

Today, Bear Creek Winery buys boxes from Alaska's West Coast Paper, a business relationship Fry said she has found infinitely better. Her customers, in turn, are able to regale their friends with stories of Alaska while enjoying crisp, original Bear Creek blends such as blueberry Zinfandel, raspberry Shiraz and a gooseberry Sonoma Chardonnay in the comfort of their own homes--wherever they may be.
Posted on 07.02.2008 - 15:49:23 PST
take a look at am surprised that that product was not mentioned in this article...i just visited bear creek for the first time and they carry them; tedeschi started carrying the skins a few months ago as well (i was there as well)...i love these things!!!
Carson City, NV USA

Posted on 07.03.2008 - 04:41:58 PST
I'm really surprised you didn't mention the new surcharges on checked baggage. I checked a 6-bottle styrofoam shipper as my "second bag" to Mexico last winter, and filled it with tequila on the way back. That was before the fees were imposed. With the current charge of $25 per second item, you might as well take a 12-pack and fill it up -- as long as it's under 50 lbs and within the dimensions and allowable limits of the airline. (Alaska Airlines limit is 5 liters of alcohol greater than 24% up to and including 70%. No limit on wine.) Btw, the shipper survived fine on the way down, but on the return the bottom busted out of several of the bottle slots.
Seattle, WA USA