5 Tips on Shipping Wine Back from Overseas

A complete guide regarding how to ship wine back to the United States from overseas.

A sudden rainstorm drove us into the small wine shop off the main road in Castellina in Chianti in Italy. The walls inside Enoteca Biologica were lined with colorful wine bottles from the floor to ceiling and the proprietor welcomed us with a variety of wines to taste. Not a bad place to be stuck during a rainstorm.

It was our first trip to Italy and I can still remember the Morellino Podere 414, in its bright blue label. All 12 bottles we purchased that day in Enoteca Biologica were amazing wines, ones we could not get in the United States. Wines we were excited to have waiting for us upon our return…until they screwed it up. The wine was packed and shipped incorrectly. Customs then the held wine in a hot Denver warehouse. We never got it. Luckily, American Express was able to refund our purchase.

CastellinaBlue414_0591

I’ve learned many things the hard way, many of which I may never publish simply because I’m still too embarrassed. But, my Italian wine shipping nightmare I will happily share AND provide advice on how to avoid the same mistakes.

A Guide to Traveling Home with Wine

If you visit vineyards in Italy, most will be able to sell you as many bottles of wine as you would like. And it’s hard to pass up a $15 Brunello that is to die for or a $10 Nebbiolo that takes your breath away… However, unlike the United States where you can have the vineyard ship your wine purchase to your home, in Italy you must take it with you. Unfortunately, most vineyards cannot ship the wine back to the States due to importing legalities. (See State by State wine shipping laws). So what are your options for having wine shipped back to the United States?

A complete guide on how to how to ship wine back from overseas

1. Wine in Checked Baggage – Styrofoam Wine Shipping Boxes

Did you know wine can be boxed and checked as luggage? With proper packaging material, such as the Styrofoam wine shipping boxes you can get your wines home, with very little extra cost. Wineries can provide six-bottle or 12-bottle cardboard boxes, but these are not very sturdy even if you wrap bottles in bubble wrap; you’re asking for trouble if you pack/check your wine in cardboard boxes. If you can find the Styrofoam wine boxes I HIGHLY suggest this option as you will pay MUCH less in getting the wine home. (An extra “bag” of luggage typically costs $25-$50 vs shipping wine from Italy to the USA can run up to nearly $200. Shipping/costs are outlined in more detail below. Wine in checked baggage is the least expensive option I’ve found.)

A Guide to Traveling Home with Wine. Tip one - use wineboxes to check as baggage.

2. Wine in Checked Baggage – How to Pack Wine in a Suitcase

As with the first option, there is a HUGE cost saving having wine in checked baggage – assuming the bottles don’t break. Remember, you will have to check your luggage if you go this route per the airlines liquid laws (3oz bottles only). So packing to prevent breakage is essential. I have had a lot of success using this method and have a few tips on how to pack wine in a suitcase to prevent breaks.

A few things to keep in mind: If you have a hard cased bag, this is the best option for packing wine in a suitcase as it automatically adds a layer of protection. Additionally, I typically carry collapsible bags with me when I travel, RuMe bags or something like the Lipault weekend satchel. This way if I do make a larger wine purchase, I can take my clothing or shoes and put it in the extra carry-on bag.

Seven Steps on How to Pack Wine in a Suitcase

  • Put one layer of clothing down to create a layer of padding.
  • Wrap each bottle individually. If you are using clothing to wrap the bottle, make sure to wrap the neck very well to where it’s evenly wrapped with the rest of the bottle. If you have long socks, place the bottle inside a sock, enclose it in a plastic bag (trash bags from hotel rooms, shopping bags, etc.) to help keep any leaks contained. Then wrap the bottle in a shirt or another piece of clothing for added protection. I personally prefer to use wine totes vs wrapping the wine in my clothing. If you have wine totes use them – or go buy a few if you know you’re bringing wine home. These are easy to pack, take up very little room in your bag and help add that layer of protection the bottles need.

(Most wine shops will also carry wine totes, so if you need to grab a few on the road – do it.) A few products I use are BUILT wine totes. They are made of made of Neoprene, the wetsuit material so if the bottle does break, the liquid won’t leak out, at least not too badly. I also really like WineSkin. These reusable wine sleeves are made with a tough vinyl exterior and a bubble-pack interior with a seal at the bottom helping prevent leaks within your bag if they do occur. In Italy we found reusable wine bags at a local wine shop called BattlePro that worked very well. These seemed to be pretty easy to find in more remote area. All are great options when you have wine in checked baggage.)

  • Place wrapped bottles in the middle of the bag. The bottles need to be below the zipper line.
  • If there is room, line the sides of your bag with rolled up clothing to act as a side bumper for the bottles.
  • Add another layer of clothing above the bottles for padding.
  • If you have a front zipper pocket on you bag, fill it with clothing.
  • If the airport you’re flying out of offers a wrapping option for your luggage, do it. The plastic wrapping helps keep the items inside your luggage more tightly secure (less movement inside is the bag is best) and also protects your luggage with an added layer of padding. The cost is usually less than $5 per bag.
A Guide to Traveling Home with Wine. Tip Two: wine in checked luggage. Click through for tips on how to pack wine in a suitcase
Using the method above, I was able to fit seven wine bottles in this suitcase. None of them broke or were damaged on the flights from Italy back to Denver.

Getting Wine Through US Customs: We haven’t had any problems clearing customs with our wine but we don’t typically bring back more than 15 bottles (one case per person is considered ok and deemed “personal use”). If you are questioned about the excess wine, make it known it’s for your personal consumption. There are taxes that you may be charged for the excess bottles, but it’s only about 20 cents USD$ /per wine bottle. Make sure to check any updates US Customs has made since this post here.

3. Purchase a Wine Suitcase

On my last trip to Italy I walked into a luggage store in Alba looking to buy a hard-cased suitcase in which to bring my wine home. Alas, I didn’t make the purchase BUT it’s an option to consider. Another option is to have a designated wine suitcase – one that’s built specially to carry wine.

The VinGardeValise is just that. It’s a suitcase designed and constructed to accommodate a full case of wine (12) of 750 ml bottles. It features removable foam modules that hold a variety of different sized wine bottles. Since the foam can be removed you can also use the VinGardeValise as a suitcase. Pack six bottles on the left, seal it up and pack your clothing on the right. Or pack 12 bottles and forget the clothes.

A Guide to Traveling Home with Wine: Tip three, use the VinGardeValise wine suitscaseThis bag cannot be used as carry on luggage – even without wine – due to its size. I suggest packing your shoes, toiletries, and other bulky items inside it on your way to your wine destination. Once it’s filled with 12 bottles, your other items can be put into a collapsible bag and either carried on or checked depending on the type of collapsible bag you have. VinGardeValise  has also released the Petite version to its line, a smaller, carry on sized version that holds eight bottles. No, they didn’t make a deal with TSA allowing liquids to be carried on with their bags, but you can carry it on when it’s not filled with wine. The smaller, VinGardeValise will have the same removable foam modules allowing you to pack wine on one side and clothing on the opposite. (Carpe Travel readers will receive 15% off their purchase using CarpeTravel15 at checkout.)

A Guide to Traveling Home with Wine. Tip three, use a winesuitecaseThe VinGardeValise is really a cool wine suitcase (see what CNET has to say about it). Its impact resistant polycarbonate shell protects the bottles sealed inside the case. Oh, and if you’re worried about the changes in temperature, which can wreak havoc on your wine – don’t be. The VinGardeValise is temperature resistant too. One of the best things is that the VinGardeValise offers the Trakdot Luggage Tracker option so if you’re prone to loosing your luggage, you won’t.

4. Ship the Wine Yourself

As I mentioned earlier, most vineyards in Italy cannot ship wine back to the States due to importing legalities but that doesn’t mean you can’t send it to yourself. There are several different services in Italy you can use to ship wine back, but they’re not as conveniently located like UPS and FedEx are in the States. (The United States Postal Service does not allow wine to be shipped through its services so you do have to use a shipping service.) It’s best to check online before you leave to check shipping options in the destinations you’re traveling to. For instance, if you’re visiting the Piedmont wine region, is there a Mailboxes or FedEx in Neive or will you need to drive into Alba or should you just wait until you reach Turin to ship your wine? This can be determined before you head out either through an online search, checking with your hotel via email regarding their recommended shipping services or contacting the tourism boards (most will have the information listed online). Tip: Make sure to check the hours of operation of the shipping office; most businesses in Italy are not open on Sunday.A Guide to Traveling Home with Wine

How to Pack the Wine if You’re Shipping it Yourself: The best option is to purchase a Styrofoam wine box that can hold six or 12 bottles.  The one problem with Styrofoam wine boxes – they aren’t always easy to find, especially in remote wine areas of Italy. If you are able to find them (Mailboxes typically carries them) expect to pay 8-12 euros / $10-$15 per box. The Cost of Shipping Wine: Shipping prices will regularly change. If you are able to check the destinations you’re visiting and their shipping options, you can get a good feel online for pricing ahead of time. For instance, shipping wine from Alba, Italy back to Denver, Colorado via Mailboxes for six bottles is 80 euros / $100 and 12 bottles is 135 euro / $171. (That’s A LOT of money when you’re thinking you may be saving money since you grabbed a $10 bottle of Nebbiolo. If you ship that bottle in a box of 12, it basically brings its $10 price point up to $24. Just something to remember… ) Best Shipping Practices:

  • Know your States laws. Not all sates in the United States allow wine to be shipped. Check FreeTheGrapes.com to see your State’s shipping laws and here is more information from US Customs.
  • Have wine sent to your office where people can sign for the wine in your absence. If you have it shipped to your home and you’re not there, the wine goes back onto the truck and to the warehouse (think heat, more movement and possible breakage).
  • If you purchase wine from any Enoteca (wine shop), make sure to put it on your credit card in case the wine never arrives so you can get reimbursed, which is what happened to us.
  • Get a tracking number and make sure the box/es are sent fast mail vs. barge — you don’t want the wine sitting out on a dock for a few weeks.
  • Several travelers and wine lovers have told me the shipping services they have worked with have marked their shipments as olive oil to avoid issues with the first two noted above.

 

5. Work with a Wine Importer

If you simply fall in love with a wine and can’t get it home via one of the ways mentioned above, ask the winery to provide a list of their importers in the United States. Most will happily give you the list and then you can simply place an order through the importer directly who can have the wine shipped to you. Often times you can also ask a wine store to place the order for you. Something to note though, that $20 bottle of Brunello will run $30-50 via the importers. In other words, if it’s just a few bottles you want it can be more cost effective to purchase the wine on your trip and bring it home in your checked baggage (even if you’re paying for checking extra baggage).

What are a your best strategies for how to get wine back from overseas?

 

A complete guide on how to how to ship wine back from overseas

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52 Comments

  • I’m always bringing back Spanish wine for friends and family in the US, and this suitcase would be such a handy travel tool! Usually I carefully wrap the wine bottles with many layers of clothes or fabric before locking them inside of a large ziplock bag. Finally, I make sure they are cushioned (not rolling free). So far no broken bottles, but I always worry about what a mess it would be if that did happen.

    Loved your idea of “packing your shoes, toiletries, and other bulky items inside it on your way to your wine destination.” Great tip!

  • I have styrofoam packing containers that I’ve saved from wine deliveries, and I use those when I travel (plus I cover the whole thing in a garbage bag in case of leaks). The wines I took to Brazil last time were not very good, and I’ve wondered if they were altered by the temperature at some point in the long flights.

  • Some great tips here. Lazenne (www.lazenne.com) now sells a specialized wine luggage that works with wine shippers in Europe. They also have their own line of \”bottle protectors\” aka wine shippers. They have a list of European (currently primarily French) retailers, but also ship directly to a traveller\’s hotel. This is pretty convenient because if you are travelling all throughout a region or country, you can have the wine luggage delivered on the last leg of your journey before heading off to the airport for example.

    • It’s not for everybody but those of us who travel with and many time specifically for wine, it’s a huge relief knowing your wine bottles aren’t going to break in transit.

  • Great contest! I normally put wine and liquor in my luggage, wrapped in clothes or in a box, and hope for the best. I’m planning on a big shopping trip to my next trip to France and this would be great to bring some of my favorite bottles back home!

  • We often travel with the cardboard shipping container with styrofoam inserts, but what a pain to lug around! The VinGard Valise looks like a great solution. Also, good advise on carrying a collapsible duffle so you can return with wine in the suitcase and clothing in the duffle!

  • That’s so frustrating that you lost the shipment! Great tips on how to pack wine though! I have never tried to bring any wine home with me yet, but I will definitely keep these tips in mind for when I find a bottle to bring home!

  • Wow, this case would be ideal for when we next return to the UK. We’re really keen on introducing our family and friends to the undderrated Canarian wines. One of our favourite places on Gran Canaria houses a coffee plantation, tropical fruit farm, and vineyard.

  • I’ve never heard of this before and I think it is AMAZING!! The first time I went to Napa I brought back a few bottles wrapped in my suitcase and amazingly they came through ok. The next time we got proper packaging but the box was so awkward to carry. A suitcase is perfect!

  • Fascinating. We’ve used a Wine Check case (basically a standard wine case size). It’s workable and we took it to Tuscany, but it’s a bit large. We’d like to try this VinGardeValise some day. Thanks for the tip.

    • It’s a great suitcase that can be used for wine and clothing, the versatility was one of the selling points for me. If you know you’re going to travel for wine, it’s worth the investment. Cheers!

  • Oh wow, that’s interesting to know that wine can be shipped out to you from such a far off country as Italy. Well, with the wine bottles arriving to the United State, why would a
    customs broker even hold the wine for such a while? The thought of it came to my mind but I guess it would be best to some more research on it.

  • I’ve never attempted to ship wine from Italy, but I imagine it would be somewhat of a difficult process. The trick you shared about putting padding in your checked suit case to make it safe for holding and shipping wine was quite clever. It takes up quite a bit of space, but it saves you having to ship it by air through a company. Overall, this is quite a clever post and one that I will keep in mind, should I ever try to ship bottles.

  • Great idea to bring wine totes and pack the wine in your checked luggage! I’ve had many things break open or spill in my luggage, so hopefully the totes you suggested will help with that if it happens. I’ll have to share these tips with my family as well! Thanks!

  • It is really good to know that I won’t be able to ship my wine back from Italy with me. Now I know I need to bring an extra suitcase. The plan is to bring a duffle bag and put my clothes in that, so that I can put the wine in the suitcase for the flight home. Will that work with the airport?

    • Just to confirm, you can in fact ship your wine back to the states from Italy it just costs a TON. The suitcase and duffle bag trick should work well. Make sure to pack some bubble wrap to protect the bottles in the suitcase.

  • I really liked your suggestion to get a wine suitcase designed for transporting your finest wine bottles from your trip! It can be tricky getting these transferred safely because airport professional can be a little rough sometimes. Plus, I think that this would make it easier to go through customs because everything that you are taking out of the country and bringing into wherever you\’re going to will be in one place for them to check. Thank you for the suggestion!

  • Elaine, what would be some of the rules when it comes to shipping wine to a different country? This is something that I have a question about because of a cousin of mine that’s in Sweden and wants me to ship him some European wine. Hopefully I can find a mailing service that would let me send a package of wine bottles out to him.

  • Lots of credit card companies offer purchase and return protections, so if your goods are lost, stolen, or damaged you can typically submit that and get up to a certain amount back (if not all).

    These are great and often underutilized benefits. I think its a combination of the perception of the complexity of them as well as the fact that credit card companies don’t exactly blast these out everywhere because it costs them money when you collect.

    • Great point! There are a lot of protections and even insurance related benefits on certain credit card. It’s just remembering to check on these things that people need to do.

  • Great read! I usually pack the wine bottles I buy abroad in my check-in baggage with my clothes. I’m going to look for a wine suit case very soon. I just hope there’s a store that sells them in my area.

  • This is really great information! I had no idea you had to personally bring your wine back from Italy, good to know! I really like the idea of the wine suit case. Thanks for sharing this!

  • The only time I brought wine over a border it was packed in my suitcase. And that was carry-on, so I didn’t have to worry much about it being man-handled by airport staff.

  • Hey Buddy,

    Really liked your post…!

    I have a nice collection of wine in my house. Whenever I travel to different places, I do not forget to buy wine for myself. Shipping of wine in huge quantity may be a problem some time. All I know was to ship them through shipping containers, which was a bit costly. So, I usually prefer to buy one or may be two bottles of wine.
    But thanks to you, now I know about these great ideas for wine shipment. Especially that suitcase….I was not aware of that..!

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece of information.

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